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Remote working: distance creates team spirit in music education

Published on 6.4.2020
Tampere University of Applied Sciences
Harmonikansoiton instrumenttipedagogiopiskelija Lauri TuomistoInstrument pedagogy student Lauri Tuomisto has everything ready for an accordion lesson. Photo: Tuomas Tuomisto
Web-based teaching has long traditions in many fields. But how to teach accordion playing remotely? And how to supervise instrument pedagogy students from distance apart? We asked this from two music students and their teacher.

When TAMK transferred to remote teaching on 18 March, second-year instrument pedagogy students and brothers Lauri Tuomisto and Tuomas Tuomisto took their instruments and left for their home in Jurva in South Bothnia. It does not matter on Skype or Zoom if the teacher is in Tampere or Jurva. Planning of teaching however calls for creativity and extra time.

“The focus of remote music lessons changed to some extent compared with contact teaching. It is for example more difficult to work on dynamics and sound and some technical matters have to be approached from a different perspective,” says Tuomas Tuomisto.

“You have to think how to explain a matter which you can show hands-on in contact teaching. The meaning of putting it into words is emphasised,” he adds.

Lauri has also noticed that he concentrates on different matters in remote teaching than in contact teaching.

“It is challenging to observe the student’s playing position and thus I pay more attention to fingering, clarity and precision. Changing the camera angles gives some chance to observe the position of hands.”

Despite the new requirements, both brothers have quickly adapted to the situation. In their home municipality it was easier to arrange favourable conditions for teaching practice and studying than in their student flat in Tampere. With the help of their acquaintance, they found a suitable facility in the centre of Jurva where they can take turns and hold their lessons in peace.

“Remote teaching has functioned surprisingly well. At first I was a little sceptical about it but it has gone well,” Lauri tells.

Tuomas teaches a 12-year-old beginner and Lauri a 20-year-old more experienced accordionist. They have taken a relaxed view of the changed teaching sessions.

“Remote teaching has brought more humour to the lessons. Web-based teaching has also been a nice change for the student,” Tuomas ponders.

Tuomas’ remote lessons last for approximately 45–60 min, and their structure is traditional and well tried. At first we talk about what has happened since our last lesson and then we warm up by playing. Most of the lesson is used for going through the student’s first pieces and their difficult parts. At the end of the lesson we learn something new. Before the pandemic, contact teaching took place in the Music Academy facilities in Tampere.

From nuances to analytical approach

The brothers are taught by Doctor of Music Mika Väyrynen. In his opinion, remote teaching is quite a good and developing work form.

“Because sound reproduction is not of the same quality in remote teaching as in normal acoustic teaching, instead of nuances the approach is slightly more scientific or analytical: observation and development of precision, computer rhythm and digital skills. Surges of emotion are maybe lower than normally but in remote teaching it is possible to effectively focus on motor skills. Playing is after all a manual skill; interpretation is directly connected to skill and virtuosity. There is not one without the other,” Väyrynen reveals.

According to Väyrynen, remote teaching of music pedagogy students enables better immersion in research.

“An example of it is an assignment I gave: search for a couple of accordion master courses and educational videos online, analyse them, list their good and not-so-good elements and consider what you could use in your teaching. At the same time, students learn about teaching methods used in different cultures. They are then discussed online. The web can be used in many different ways. In addition to the above-mentioned, it is possible to compare playing practices in different cultures, teaching in other instruments and world-famous artists’ performance and teaching. Students can study music online, even Bach’s scripts. Imagination is the only limitation.”

Distance connects

Tuomas and Lauri Tuomisto have managed well with the technology even if the network connection caused them trouble at first.

“The weak network connection was a problem at first but I managed to find a place in my home municipality where the network connection enables remote teaching. The limited camera angle and delay also impede teaching to some extent. Because of the delay, ensemble playing with the student is impossible,” Tuomas Tuomisto tells.

Tuomas thinks that an appropriate equipment is needed to create as normal teaching situation as possible. It is especially important to invest in sound quality. His teacher Mika Väyrynen is of the same opinion. He has students both at TAMK and the Sibelius Academy of Uniarts Helsinki.

“Students should have an external microphone for remote teaching in music. There is quite a lot of variation in sound quality,” Väyrynen says.

Some students have had to purchase new equipment and housing arrangements may make teaching difficult. It however seems that the exceptional conditions have led to a strong joint will to make studies continue as smoothly as possible.

According to Mika Väyrynen, cooperation with Tuomas and Lauri has been easy and uncomplicated. He thinks the exceptional situation is a refreshing change.

“When you accept the situation without useless criticism, there is no problem. Our positive attitude and energy are also conveyed to students. This supports studies in many ways and creates team spirit: let’s work together for a common goal despite the coronavirus.”

Text: Emmi Rämö
Photo: Tuomas Tuomisto