Music professor converts flute classes to online format

After a flute student submitted a video of himself playing his assignment, Dr. Jennifer Amox recorded her response and sent it back to him on YouTube.

Second in a series

Most professors and instructors faced an immediate challenge to adapt their lesson plans to an online format when Henderson State University shifted to remote instruction March 13.

Instrumental music lessons have presented a unique challenge for at least one professor.

Dr. Jennifer Amox, assistant professor of music, teaches flute through three “radically different” types of classes.

Her applied flute lessons, for example, are usually face-to-face studio classes in which all students perform for each other and offer feedback.

With the move to online-only classes, Amox gave these students two options: Submit two short recordings each week by email and she will provide feedback; or book an appointment for a real-time lesson using live, online applications like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or Google Hangouts.

Amox said most of the students chose to submit their recordings.

“The videos have been fabulous. They are really taking it seriously,” Amox said. “They lament that they miss face-to-face lessons, but they appreciate the level of detail that we can observe in the videos.”

Amox admitted that she misses the in-person interaction with her students.

"It’s challenging to not see them on a daily basis,” she said. “Even though I teach them only one lesson and one studio class per week, they often stop by my office to chat or ask questions.

“We have a very close, family-like community in the flute studio, and it’s difficult to be this far apart from one another.”

Amox said she was already planning a fully-online music theory class this summer before the COVID-19 virus “was on the radar.”

“I was a little skeptical about how well the class would translate to that environment, but this situation thrust me into working out the kinks, and I am really happy with the result,” she said. “My video content isn’t polished, but my students enjoy it when my cat photobombs the screen, or my bulldog snores so loud that I have to talk really loud.”

Amox also directs the university’s flute choir of 10-12 students, which typically requires about 100 minutes of rehearsal each week.

“We are going to attempt to create a virtual flute choir,” she said. “I will record all of the low flute parts onto a click track and then sync them with a video of me conducting using an application called ScreenFlow. That video will be emailed to each student who will record themselves along with it as they listen using headphones.

“The video/audio editing will likely take several weeks to finish, so I doubt I will be able to produce a final product until the end of the summer.”

While she and her students are coping with the challenges of online learning, Amox said the current technology presents a major obstacle for online instrumental education.

“We cannot have weekly rehearsals due to the latency (delay) involved with all of the streaming applications,” she said. “Our current streaming technology is simply not capable of producing an ensemble experience. In music, a slight delay can result in an awful listening experience.”

While some of her students have expressed expected frustrations, Amox shared some of the comments she has received.

“You have been one of the most dedicated teachers in regards to helping us and our well-being. Thank you for your caring spirit and all you do,” said one student.

Another said, “Thank you for everything you have done to ease the stress of the crisis for your students.”