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  • Writer's pictureDr. Peter J. Perry

Setting Up Your On-line Music Ensemble Classroom

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

As we return to teaching in this unprecedented time, many teachers are wondering how to set up their ensemble classes online. For some, this is an additional source of anxiety in an already anxious time. Before we get into the “techy” details, I want to review some aspects to hopefully relieve some of these worries. Let us look at the context of our expected instructional goals. We have dutifully done our jobs for three of the four quarters of the year. In a normal year, fourth quarter would be highly disruptive to instruction anyways, filled with Spring Break, testing of various forms, field trips, graduations etc. We do not need to re-invent the instruction for the entire school year to fill 40+ days of instruction. Additionally, this time is stressful for our kids and their parents, a new online paradigm can add to this stress. Our online teaching needs to bring some normality to a very abnormal situation. It needs to be a vessel that brings the important adults and activities back into our students lives. Finally, while some of the ideas that will be discussed will fulfill some curricular and musical aspects of our class, online platforms and applications will never replace the important human connections we make with our students, they make together within the ensemble, and we all make together in the activity of ensemble music-making. In a nutshell, this will be a way to deliver a small amount of material, in a limited way, that is not a replacement for our normal routine.


Considering the above, there are some aspects of ensemble instruction that can be addressed online and actually compliment what we have taught and what we will teach when we return. Additionally, the online classroom can be set up during a normal year to supplement rehearsal and performance instruction to make the students’ education more robust. Think about using some of these ideas as substitute plans or as instruction or projects that run concurrently to daily ensemble rehearsals.

ONLINE PLATFORMS- Which to choose?

The online classroom will be set up on some sort of Learning Management System (LMS). These are described in detail in my book, but generally, these are a suite of applications whose sole purpose is to deliver and administer instruction. The choice of which platform you use could very much be out of your hands as many school systems will pick it for you. Some places support multiple LMS, which would then give you a choice. Popular LMS include: Canvas, Google Classroom, and Office 365. Of these, Canvas is the only true learning management system in that it is connected to BIG data like a centralized gradebook. Google Classroom is considered more of a Google management system and Office 365 is considered more of a Microsoft management system in that they only deliver and administer instruction through their own specific applications. There is no connection to a big data item like a centralized gradebook. There is a totally music centered LMS called Music First which contains exclusively music applications. My book outlines plenty of ways to use this resource in a normal teaching situation as well. All of these platforms have both pros and cons. Depending on your needs, your technological facility, any one of these platforms would be a great platform to use for teaching.


Once you have chosen a platform (or had one chosen for you), the look and feel of your online classroom will very much be guided by that platform. The ensemble activities you choose to assign here should take advantage of the online medium. Great examples include:

· Imbedding video and audio examples.

· Students sending video recordings of their performance for assessment

· Creating an online dialog using the chat functions

· Linking assignments to other sites, applications, or games

· Using digital documents like Google Forms to create self-grading quizzes at test of understanding

I will post daily regarding this subject. My next blog post will get start getting into some specific ensemble teaching strategies that will work in this situation. Most of these I will be doing myself in my teaching and will provide feedback. In the meantime, below is a list of some of some of my previous writings about resources and strategies for using technology in the ensemble classroom. Please feel free to “steal” what you need and adjust to the current situation.

2015 - NAfME Guest Blog

2016 - NAfME Guest Blog

2016 - NAfME Guest Blog

2017 - NAfME Guest Blog

2018 - NAfME Guest Blog

2020 - NAfME Guest Blog

Use Technology & Distance Education to Teach Ensemble Classes Remotely

2020 - NAfME Guest Blog

Many of these ideas and more are also found in my book Technology Tips for Ensemble Teachers available from Oxford University Press.

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions. Good luck! More to come! Be safe!

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