Breaking the Social Barrier in the COVID Music Class

Making Connections

By NAfME Member Brittany True

Reposted from Music in a Minuet NAfME Blog

Would you like to hear a scary story? A completely silent and emotionless high school music class. *Insert screaming noises here*

A silent classroom may seem like a blessing, but in order to create lasting memories and produce strength of emotion, we must have social interaction and find ways to promote joy. The many barriers we have put in place to keep our students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic have also resulted in social barriers and left our classrooms lifeless. I have been experimenting with different social exercises that metaphorically break the social barrier. Here are a few we have done recently.

Silly Interview Questions

What you need: Set of previously created questions.

  • Questions should be something students will want to elaborate on:
    • What is your favorite meal of the day?
    • Do you like pineapple on pizza?
    • When is it acceptable to start playing Christmas or other holiday music?

★ I recommend asking your leadership team to help you produce questions

What you’ll do:

  • Have students stand in lines.
    • All students are at least six feet apart from each other and wearing masks
    • Lines one and two face each other, lines three and four face each other, etc.
  • Ask them one question at a time and have them elaborate to their neighbor across from them.
  • After students have a chance to discuss, have them move one person to their left or right
    • We found it helpful to use two questions per rotation

★ Make sure to follow your school’s social distancing protocol.

★ This can take as much time as you desire. I recommend 5-7 minutes before playing instruments.

Director takeaway: While students are talking, I like to ask them to raise their hands in response to the prompt so I can visually see what students like or don’t like. This is just another way to get to know your students beyond band-related concepts.

Threaded Discussion

What you need:

  • Computer or virtual device 
  • Method of kids submitting responses to prompts
    • Blackboard
    • Padlet
    • Google Doc
    • Canvas

What you’ll do:

  • Send out a prompt that gives your students an opportunity to share about something they find important.
    • Some prompt examples:
      • Take a picture of something that is important to you. Share it and explain why it is important.
      • Share a picture of your favorite place and explain why it is important.
      • Have students reply to at least three peers’ responses

★ Please make sure that you specify that responses and replies must all be kept school appropriate. 

Director takeaways: I really appreciate that the students can read their peers’ responses. This activity has also allowed me to see what is important to my students and provided me opportunities to form relationships outside of the limited knowledge I learn during a fifty-minute class period.

Theme Song Caption Contest

(This is adapted from an activity created by my incredible colleague Michael Dragen at Heritage Middle School in Liberty, Missouri.)

What you need:

  • Computer and projector for director
  • Several pictures of students or staff making various facial expressions

What you’ll do:

  • Project one picture at a time.
  • Have the students take a set amount of time to create a short theme song on their instrument that would go along with the facial expression.
  • Have students share their compositions.
    • You may determine if you want the students to provide a verbal explanation to their musical creation

★ You could even ask students to incorporate a rhythm, interval, or other musical concept into their composition to enforce any concepts you are working on in class.

Director takeaway: This exercise may be daunting at first, but it holds great promise for musical concept application and getting kids to play confidently in a non-threatening scenario.

The pandemic has pushed me to reevaluate the role that social interaction plays during rehearsal. If we are able to manipulate the social interactions that occur, we can strengthen relationships with students and set the mood for the rest of class. I urge you to work outside your comfort zone, get silly, and create joy while making music.

About the author:

Brittany True

NAfME member Brittany True serves as Associate Band Director at Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri. She co-teaches Marching Band and conducts the Concert Band, Brass Choir, and several brass ensembles. She also assists at both Discovery and Liberty Middle Schools. Mrs. True holds a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from Northwest Missouri State University and a Master of Music Education from the Conservatory at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Mrs. True began her teaching career in 2014 in the Smithville School District as Assistant Band Director. 

Follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyETrue.

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November 3, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)