Distance learning as a musician is exhausting and I’m tired of pretending it's fine.
When I decided to take a gap year in August of 2019 I thought I was letting myself emotionally rest and prepare for the eventual beginning of my college experience. However, no amount of emotional healing and mental relaxation could have possibly prepared me for how difficult starting college online would be. As a student with ADD I already have a super difficult time paying full attention in class, and with the one-dimensional nature of online classes efficiently learning and retaining new material is practically impossible. At first, I was blaming myself for having a hard time, but as I began to communicate with more of my peers I realized that many of them are in the same boat. We all agreed that for some of our music classes the crazy workload was crushing us, but I still couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the problem might be. Yes, some days class would go from 8 am to 7 pm, and then you'd have H O U R S of homework and recordings to do, but I also couldn’t fathom how I could still feel like I was learning nothing.
Now that I've been forcing myself to think about it more in-depth, I realized that I mainly take issue with the way our online learning is structured. The structure for almost every single one of my classes is this: Two-hour class, one hour spent on going over the homework from the previous class (usually music workbook pages or composition assignments)/a short lecture, and then the second hour will be spent going over what the next homework assignment will be! Listen, I understand that homework is important but at this point, it feels like all of my learning is taking place outside of class and I’m not even being equipped with the information I need to help teach myself. As a person who has struggled with the traditional linear education system for the majority of my life, transferring those same teaching styles into an online format has made it exponentially more difficult for me to pay attention and retain information which furthers a cycle of being overworked without receiving any academic validation. If I spend the majority of my day in class and doing homework and my grades are still lacking isn’t that a sign that the current approach isn’t working out?
Musicians are hands-on people, and we are used to a different type of teaching environment than what is being implemented online. I think that if teachers want students to be successful at distance learning the whole style needs to be adapted. In order to properly teach jazz musicians, you need to evolve like a jazz musician and create the best fitting solution for the most students. Instead of learning theory, aural skills, and composition through workbook pages, it would be more valuable for teachers to use the plethora of engaging online resources that can be accessed with a simple google search. If we’re going to be online we should at least be using as many tools as possible right? When I couldn’t afford drum lessons and had to prepare for college auditions I turned to youtube videos for guidance. When I’m learning a new song I research and listen to as many renditions as possible so I can understand its musical purpose. At the beginning of last semester, when I quickly realized that I had to learn how to record and edit all of my own drum tracks, I turned to videos, forums, articles, and youtube comments to help me get through it. My point is if teachers started branching out to different forms of media and incorporated them into their teachings classes would be much more engaging and lucrative, and I think we would all come out feeling more musically enriched. Also, I understand that teachers are having a hard time too, but using varied resources for teaching music can take some of the pressure of providing content for a whole lecture off of them and create a more relaxed space in general.
Overall, I understand that there is no perfect solution to this issue but I do think we have an opportunity to explore things that we weren't able to before and to transform the way we view music education in general. And if we have the ability to make it more accessible for people of all learning styles shouldn’t we embrace that? The workload doesn't have to be insane to compensate for teaching online. Music education doesn’t have to lose its hands-on approach just because we're not in person. Instead of trying to force a teaching style that is getting lost in translation online teachers can take this as an opportunity to fully delve into avenues of teaching that haven’t been thoroughly explored before when it comes to music. We can be complacent with a system that overworks us while denying us academic validation or we can do what jazz musicians do best and get creative.