Powering the Global Education Conversation: About edCircuit

Saving―and Enhancing―Music Education With Online Learning

By D. Travis Washington

As an educator and general music teacher at P.S. 072, Dr. William Dorney, in the Bronx, NY, I work with a diverse student body in a highly under-resourced area. The school is an important hub in many ways, and it’s particularly important in bringing music, ballroom dancing, theater, and other great experiences to students. I recognize the importance of that fact and remain a staunch advocate for better music funding in New York schools.

I teach Choir and lead the Young Vocal Scholars Program, and before COVID arrived, we were excited to move forward on the culmination of learning through live performances. With school closure, all that changed, and we were forced to adapt to virtual learning. Through the initial transition, we discovered that online learning options such as Soundtrap could not only extend projects we were currently working on but expand music learning to previously unimaginable heights. 

Challenges and successes of the transition to remote learning

When Covid hit and we couldn’t continue with the traditional choir program, my school looked for remote solutions. Soundtrap was exactly what we needed. We began conducting Young Vocal Scholars choir sessions remotely through Soundtrap and filled our extra Soundtrap seats with students from the District 8 Choir who weren’t being served music at all―doing similar projects that we had been creating previously in my classes. It was incredible to suddenly recognize that there were far more students interested in music who could connect via their laptops and tablets at home.

We had synchronous sessions five days a week for any 4th or 5th graders who wanted to stop by and participate and held lessons for two hours a day. Hour one was a mini-lesson with specific work assigned and hour two was an instructional lunch period I called “Open Studio.” During the open session, all students would share the projects that they were working on virtually, sharing their screen and Soundtrap tab through Google Chrome.

Various parameters were set to help in the creative process. I found 4th and 5th graders need some extra structure to actualize the recording process fully. My partner teacher Alex Depersia and I started to post the Soundtrap tutorials in Google Classroom with music lessons based on the tutorial’s theme. We produced loops and recordings on mixing volume, automation, and mastering. Every tool we gave, we saw them applying to their music creation, including older projects. We provided a nice pop song structure in simple bar signatures 4/4, 8s, or 16s. Variation was emphasized so that students were mindful of the subtle elements of songwriting. Eventually, the students created full songs and tracks. The most advanced 5th graders were able to write their own raps to go along with the music they produced. Once the project was complete, we added music visualizers with effects, and their finished material was promoted with student privacy in mind.

Virtual learning has its advantages

Quarantine was an advantage in disguise as we were able to get much deeper into our music engagement through Soundtrap than what normal in-class time would typically allow. In the past, I saw most kids once a week, and the most advanced kids three or four times a week for 45 minutes. But now, students became self-motivated and had access to a software they loved, so they just kept creating over the summer, doing far more hours of work than they did during the regular school year. Most kids avoid logging into anything that resembles school, but these students were motivated and excited to learn.

Soundtrap revolutionized my classroom in a virtual setting. Students became more engaged than ever before. My “4-star artists,” as I refer to my highly motivated students, kept making songs. I recall one of them saying to me, “Music class was cool because we sang together, but Soundtrap is cooler because it allows us to make projects together and they sound good.” 

Putting our funding to good use

Presently, New York City is cutting funding for music education because of the economic hardship brought on by the pandemic. Some may believe it’s not possible to continue successfully in a remote environment, but that hasn’t been my experience. Online programs have advanced to the point that music is perfectly positioned to go virtual. 

As I realized that cuts in music programming were taking place, I reached out to social media to get the word out that music education can thrive, maybe even better than within the classic models of classroom teaching by going virtual. Apps and virtual collaboration may soon be the answers for schools and districts experiencing cutbacks and trying to stretch more with less.

About D. Travis Washington

Travis Washington graduated from Rowan University with Bachelor’s degrees in Music Education and Vocal Performance. Currently, he serves as the General Music Teacher & Choir Director at P.S. 72 The William Dorney School located in Throggs Neck, Bronx, NYC.

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