Instrument? Check. Sheet music? Check. Metronome? Check. Computer? On. Webcam? On. Scanner? Good…. And now we are ready to play.
We’re five minutes out from guitar teacher Mr Frank Ius’s 10.30am guitar lesson, and Mr Ius is busily preparing his desk, setting up his laptop and checking his mobile phone. The studio looks like any of the many others that are used on a daily basis here at Joeys.
An acoustic guitar sits in its stand in the centre of the room, the go-to instrument throughout the lesson. An electric guitar and an amp rest against the studio wall, just out of arm’s reach from Mr Ius. The walls are lined with posters and magazine clippings, of rock gods and classical virtuosos, sure to inspire the musical ambitions of any student. Yet something is obviously missing. It is late March 2020, and there is only need for one chair in this music lesson. The other sits hundreds of kilometres away in the bedroom of Mr Ius’s next student.
Making some last-minute adjustments on his keypad, Mr Ius talks about the importance of sound quality, and the extra work that has gone into the digital platform.
“We have spent considerable time working through and adjusting the audio settings in Zoom to ensure a full and clear sound with the instruments. Zoom is a wonderful tool vocally, and we are working hard to ensure the same quality with the sound of the instrument.”
“Zoom is a wonderful tool vocally, and we are working hard to ensure the same quality with the sound of the instrument”.FRANK IUS – JOEYS GUITAR TEACHER
For many of the Joeys music teachers, it is these infinitesimal adjustments and minute focus that have altered not only the audio settings in each lesson, but the way a lesson is delivered by the teachers.
“There were always going to be difficulties experienced throughout this process, and it is still early days. There are limitations due to some Internet connections, and small things you pick up on by working one on one with the boys, but we are quickly adjusting. For example, both the teacher and student working together with their communication to limit the difficulties with talking over one another, is a small thing but will benefit us greatly in the future.”
Down the corridor and two doors to the left, piano teacher Ms Anna Sydlowski is making similar minute adjustments. Perched to the left of her piano on a music stand is a strategically placed iPad, turned ever so slightly towards the keys.
“I am working out ways to get the best result out of the technology. I myself am using the functionality of the iPad, to position the camera across the piano, to give the student the best visual guidance possible. Because I am teaching boys who are using their own pianos and keyboards at home, I am able to work on their seating and positioning in a real-life scenario, rather than directing the student that is sitting right next to me.”
The degree to which digital technology has worked its way into these music lessons is evidently impressive. The implementation of the digital resources, the use of programs and applications such as Zoom, YouTube and Spotify in all of the music lessons, has been a revelation for both student and teacher.
With 34 years of teaching the guitar under his belt, Mr Ius is impressed by the speed of the digital uptake and implementation since the initiation of the Off-Site Learning Plan at the College.
“This has definitely been a learning curve for me. Like the students, I have never taught music in this way before. I am using the technology and the computer to direct the lesson, whether that is by using the cursor on the computer to pinpoint sections of music or to scan, email or direct message the changes and updates to sheet music, across to the student throughout the lesson. It is all a new way of teaching for me, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Before I was saying ‘bar 15’ or ‘this bar’, but now I am slowing down my instruction and direction, and I am already finding it to be a far more beneficial and interactive form of teaching. I’ve been so impressed as to how quickly the boys have adapted.”
It must be a wonderful experience for many of the parents to hear their son develop and improve, especially for all of those parents of the boys who board. I like to think that there are lots of little concerts taking place at the homes of Joeys boys each night.ANNA Sydlowski – JOEYS PIANO TEACHER
‘Adapting’ would have to be the most used word in 2020, but for both Mr Ius and Ms Sydlowski there is more than merely adapting taking place in the music rooms beneath Br Emillian Hall. For both these veteran teachers, March 2020 has been a time of discovery, and not just of the additional usages for scanners, iPads and their laptops , but of the personalities, the idiosyncrasies and the hidden characters that lay within their students.
With an enhanced and focussed effort to communicate with boys through cameras and computer screens, Ms Sydlowski’s heightened concentration towards her students has seen her adjust her teaching technique to suit the individual personalities of each of her students.
“It is hard to convey, but teaching music online has meant I have had to step back and think about more than just the teaching of the instrument. Each student has his own character, and I have had to adjust my delivery of teaching to suit each and every individual. Small things like the student’s delivery of language, or the way they hold themselves on the camera, has helped me identify the student and adjust my teaching to suit.
“The boys who are very quiet, I am increasing my enthusiasm with them to awaken and motivate their energy. The boy who is a perfectionist needs specific directions to focus on, and the creative boys who want to experiment and develop their understanding of the music and their instruments need a completely different method of delivery all together.”
Like Ms Sydlowski, the delivery of teaching is something that Mr Ius is altering in his digital learning space, and he is sure that he will see long-term benefits in the years ahead.
“I find that the music students are having to concentrate a lot harder throughout the lesson, and there is a lot more focus and engagement from the boys. Only one week in, and I have already had to change the way I teach the instrument. It has been really important to slow down the way I teach; there is more explanation about the chords and positioning, as I am not in a position to point at the instrument. The boys are noticeably listening more intently to my direction throughout the lesson. It is still early days, and we are looking at all of the possibilities to enhance the learning experience for the boys, and to maximise the quality of teaching. It is such a new space that we are working in, and the possibilities are endless.”
For all of the Joe Boys spread across Sydney and throughout many rural and regional areas, music teachers like Ms Sydlowski get great satisfaction in knowing that in these homes are boys continuing their learning of music, and sharing these beautiful sounds with their families.
“One of the great things that has come from the boys continuing their learning from home is that with many of the boys, I have noticed their parents/carers are at home. In the past I would hope that the boys would share their music and what they have learned at school with their parents, and now we know that is happening. It must be a wonderful experience for many of the parents to hear their son develop and improve, especially for all of those parents of boarders. I like to think that there are lots of little concerts taking place at the homes of Joeys boys each night.”