Audio recordings are now commonplace in performing arts education, made so by the rapid advances in digital technology. Most school music educators use digital recording technology to capture the sounds of their performance ensembles in concert. Many do so during rehearsals, using those audio recordings to provide their students with another way to improve their individual and group performance skills.
Some music educators record their small group or private lessons as well, sharing them with the students either immediately or as a review or shareable record. And once captured as a file, those recordings can be made available to others through emails or website links. Mindful of the copyright laws, such recordings are a mainstay of music education.
With the pandemic, many educators are now doing or considering live streaming those same performances. And while being live streamed, a video recording is often being made, one that can be as easily shared as the smaller audio files. Video recordings are now being used to support the efforts of students involved in other school activities as well, such as public speaking, forensics, debate and theatre. Those activities include the visual as a significant portion, if not the entire purpose, of their efforts and the advancement of technology in this area has benefited those efforts greatly.
So, is it time for music educators to move the camcorder into the rehearsal space and practice room? Certainly, the technology is available to do so. Smartphones, tablets and laptops all come with adequate or even top-line video cameras and recording capabilities providing even the smallest program with the ability to capture rehearsals – big and small.
Recording rehearsals can be as simple or as complex as the music educator’s comfort level allows. From placing a smartphone on a music stand to hanging multiple cameras from the rehearsal space ceiling, a video recording of the rehearsal and discussion can be captured and preserved.
The effort needed to change to or add video recording to ensemble rehearsals becomes evident with the first viewing. Not only can the student and conductor hear the music being made, but they can see the performers as they produce that sound. The recording can view the entire ensemble or focus on one section or another.
Seeing student technique in real-time situations in a view not possible from the podium will allow the music educator to determine what can be done to improve each student’s contribution to the whole group. Being able to see students’ bowing technique, posture, embouchure, stick handling and other aspects of their playing will allow the teacher to make corrections and adjustments sooner and more successfully. And being able to review the video with the students so they can see what is happening will help them better understand the steps needed for improvement.
One opportunity for improvement that is often overlooked is that of the teacher being able to see themselves as conductor. Is the teacher communicating what is expected of the students through proper directions? Are the teacher’s gestures precise and do they accurately display the tempo, dynamics, phrasing and essence of the piece being conducted? Setting up a video camera in the back of the rehearsal hall pointed at the podium may be intimidating at first, but it can be a great tool for correction and improvement.
The storage and distribution of video recordings further justifies the effort and cost and provides long-term educational material for students and teachers. Having a video recording of a group’s rehearsal allows students who were not in attendance to not only hear the instructions and commentary, but provides them the chance to play along and experience the same rehearsal. Over time, a collection of recordings becomes available to use as examples or instructional materials for future students and ensembles, as well as reminders to conductors and educators.
Making a video recording of even the smallest part of your teaching effort – a lesson etude, a group lesson, a section view during ensemble rehearsal – will have huge effects and benefits. Providing such a recording of an ensemble’s or student’s efforts for playback and review immediately thereafter will bring focus to what was done well, what could be done better and how to get there. And that review can happen multiple times in multiple teaching opportunities over several days, weeks and months. Seeing what is happening as well as hearing what that effort sounds like will lead to steady and prompt improvement for everyone involved in the music-making process.
Steffen Parker is in his fourth decade as a music educator, currently teaching high school band and jazz ensemble, as well as digital media and technology in northern Vermont. Serving as the festival director of the New England Music Festival and the Vermont All State Music Festival, Parker is also the associate editor of the NFHS Music Journal and the performing arts representative on the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.