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Music flows through online home lessons during quarantine

Courtesy Photo : Olivia Charrette teaches the ukulele to a B's Muisc Shop student over Zoom.

Olivia Charrette sings a series of notes to her computer as her student on the other end tries to replicate them back. She is using call and response to try and teach her vocal student, making best of the fact she is holding lessons over the Zoom conferencing app.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has shaken every foundation of life as of late, leaving many local businesses to find alternate ways of generating income, if they are able to at all. Owner of Mount Pleasant’s B’s Music Shop, Brian Hansen, moved music lessons online as one way of generating income for his store.

Charrette, a Clinton township junior at Central Michigan University, teaches brass and string instruments at the shop, along with vocals. She was on spring break when she learned lessons were most likely going to be moved online, she said. She was a little nervous transitioning to online teaching.

“With (string) instruments, it’s very difficult to fix a child’s fingers if you can’t be there in the room showing them what to do correctly,”Carrette said.

But, she was also happy to be receiving income from this, since she lost all her other jobs.

But then came the challenge of figuring out how to teach over Zoom in her Mount Pleasant apartment to students. With her vocal lessons, Charrette is not able to do vocal practices like pitch matching because she’s not able to sing in the same room at the same time as her students.

This is why Charrette started doing the call and response lessons. Since she’s able to still make out notes and pitches, even with poor audio quality over the video call. She will sing a vocal warm-up to her student, have them sing it back and correct them after if they didn’t get the warm-up right.

Keeping students engaged with lessons is another hurdle Charrette had to jump. Many of her students are young children, so keeping their attention can be challenging. Many of them are also very chatty since they’re used to having interactions at school and she might be a new face to talk to for them. Finding enough variety to fill lessons is another thing she wanted to figure out.

One tactic she’s done for her vocal classes is to include listening lessons of cover songs. She picks three versions of one song with different vocal styles, and plays it for the student through the screen sharing feature on Zoom. She once chose three different versions of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” done by Elvis Presly, Twenty One Pilots and Ingrid Michaalson. She said students loved the exercise.

Hansen said B’s was on track to reach about 200 students at the store, but will not be reaching that number now with the pandemic. While the store did lose about 50 students from 180, it still has about 130 students still taking lessons online. New students are even signing up from outside of Isabella County, including the Detroit area. 

While they will go back to in-person lessons once it is safe to do so, Hansen said he wouldn’t be surprised if the store continued about 20 online lessons going forward, he said.

“We’re already starting to talk about building a rig here for teachers to use to call students and (teach over video call), which was not on our radar 2 months ago,” Hansen said. “It’s definitely going to be a part of the program going forward.”

With Charrette, she is down to 12 students, having taught about 20 students before the pandemic. There are things she likes about teaching online, including not having to commute. However, it could never replace teaching face to face for her.

“I love in-person lessons because there’s thirty minutes of focused time in a lesson room filled with instruments, sheet music, the teacher and the student,” Charrette said. “That’s really beneficial, so I’m very excited to get that level of focus back from my students.”