August Teacher Series – Episode 3 with Joslin Romphf Dennis.
The idea behind the teacher series is to showcase teachers who have already expanded online, what they’re doing, why they chose to make those decisions and all that fun stuff. This episode is with Joslin Romphf Dennis, a voice teacher who is in the process of launching her first online group program.
Joslin started teaching online, much like most of the online music teachers, in March of 2020, because of the global pandemic. She lives in British Columbia, Canada ( probably only 10 minutes from my brother and 25 minutes from my childhood home!)
Already looking at what we did in March 2020 she thinks “wow, we really did a thing, we made that happen and did it without a lot of the new stuff that’s come out now and the amazing tools and resources that are available.” The online landscape has evolved so much since then, with niche software options (we get into what Joslin uses later) and adaptability and creativity.
Joslin really enjoys teaching online even though it was not something she ever thought about doing before it was thrust upon her. She is a classically trained teacher and (with a bit of music theater thrown in) where online was not considered optimal and most people, if they had a choice, wouldn’t take it.
She is not ready to go back in person yet and is planning on staying online for the long term. To do this,she is keeping up with the tech as much as possible. There are a couple of new apps that she’s using in addition to Zoom. And she’s hoping to eventually move away from Zoom entirely. Not because it’s a bad product, but because it wasn’t built for what she’s using it for — that’s really a key for me, I want to make sure we are using the best right tools for the tasks at hand!
The pandemic forced an educational revolution in the music education space. I think across the board but particularly with the preconceived notions of what makes a music lesson good 🙂 We have been able to prove without a shadow of a doubt that music can be taught and received and improved upon without being required to be in the same physical space.
According to Joslin, the online space is magical ~ it’s something that everybody (well, a large majority of people) has access to some kind of device that will allow them to interact online. She teaches people all over the world — in Hong Kong, Montreal, California, Victoria, and all over the Vancouver area.
With her upcoming group program, she already has three students from different parts of BC and she knows she wouldn’t be able to serve those kids if she wasn’t online. Distance and travel time are completely eliminated online, the only thing we need to account for is timezone and internet speed.
You can have high quality voice instruction in the format of your choice, either 1-1 or in a group setting without leaving the comfort of your own home. And Joslin cannot stress enough how much more enjoyable her life is because she can teach without leaving the comfort of her home.
The tech behind her business
Joslin started her online teaching, like I mentioned above, on Zoom. Most people adapted to it quickly, there was a bit of hand holding at the beginning, but everybody jumped on it fairly easily. She uses Acuity Scheduling software for booking sessions which integrates with Zoom and sends reminders with those links — super easy for the students.
For her students, she asks that they are on a laptop to gain access to the full feature set of Zoom and also have an external microphone to get the best quality sound, which enhances the lesson. High quality internet connection is a huge bonus as it reduces lag time and helps with creating a good classroom environment.
Joslin has recently started using the Musicology App. It’s an app available on iOS and through the Chrome browser. When she started using it she was absolutely blown away – this app was created for online music lessons and the experience is vastly superior to Zoom in terms of audio coming from both sides at the same time. With Zoom, it’s “call and repeat” but with Musicology Joslin was able to “play a melody line for one of my students for a songs and she was able to sing along with it and we could both hear each other and she could match the timing and she could match the rhythm!”
I think of performance musicians, Zoom is like a stage with a loudspeaker whereas Musicology and Muzie (and I’m sure there are other make-for-music-lessons apps) are like the proper microphones and amps and regulators and all the extras being built right in.
Just because you started on Zoom and your students are used to it, doesn’t mean you have to stay on Zoom. It’s really just a matter of updating the link that you have in the acuity calendar and they click to the new platform. Your students will adapt when you share the new tool and all the benefits that come from it — how does this tool benefit their lesson? They’ll come around 🙂
Another benefit of these apps is that they are made to make your job easier, they might have a metronome, a whiteboard, games, all with the desire and ability to collaborate and interact!
We don’t have to go back to the way that it was, if it wasn’t serving you. You can pivot and be totally online for your music teaching biz. Kids around the world are going back into the classroom, so they are getting that human connection from their classroom, so they don’t need to get it from all of their extracurriculars as well. It’s one of those things that when classroom education was being done remotely and they weren’t getting that connection, it was hard to convince people hat the kids could still get a benefit from a music lesson online, but now that the kids are back in school and the parents are realizing they can avoid by having their extracurriculars back at home, they can have dinner going and not have to worry about the timer going off in order to get out of the house to go and pick up their kid from lesson.
Joslin has noticed that when we embrace slowing down that processing what is being taught can be really beneficial to the learning process. I think that one of the misconceptions about online is that you can pack as much as you possibly can into 60 minutes or 30 minutes or 45 minutes because you’re there. In an in person classroom you’re not teaching the full 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, you are chit chatting with the kids, you’re letting them stretch, you are having them experience the work right? When we come online we need to bring those same pauses and those same experiential aspects into the online space.
The structure of lessons
Joslin is a talker, she is a storytelling teacher. That’s how she is best able to convey information and truly connect with her students. So, the first five minutes is always going to be questions like:
- How are you doing?
- How is your week? W
- What did you do this week?
- What was fun?
- What’s your dog up to?
The transition from one activity to another has been lost somewhat in the online space. The time it would take on the drive from one place to another, gives you a chance to let go of the old thing that you were working on and focus on the new thing that you’re going to do. It’s essential for students to have that reset before diving into a new thing. We need to give our brains a chance to reset.
Then comes stretching and some warming up which leads into conversation around practice and what they want to achieve from the current lesson. It might be a “pick from this list” or it might be a freeform or open conversation. It depends on the individual student or if it’s a group lesson.
Lessons are fairly fluid in Joslin’s studio. She also includes listening labs. Sometimes they are listening to a particular song, or an artist or jumping on YouTube. Joslin’s goto video is Leontyne Price’s farewell performance of Aida at the Met where she sings Oh Patria Mia. It’s from 1985 and not a great recording but it opens up conversation. Curated listening can be more valuable than just saying to a student, go listen to something on Youtube. It become a conversation and opens up the true heart and soul of the student, which makes the new material they are learning that much easier to absorb.
Joslin is a program with her students based on the Full Voice Curriculum by Nikki Loney. It’s completely new to her that she’s planning out her classes rather than just see where the lesson goes! It’s a weekly class over 11 weeks and 3 terms. They are going to work through the entire introductory workbook over the course of the year, wrapping up in the middle of June 2022.
Nikki Loney has many amazing resources, including songs, vocal studies and activities. Joslin is planning on laying out all the resources and creating her own custom structure for the classes. The price of the program includes the workbook, coloring sheets and activity sheets… she’s also made sure to be paid for her prep time!
Joslin also has two other classes, one for teens and young adults, the other is for adults. These are more social and give the opportunity to connect and sing from the living room. Something like an at home karaoke bar. These are a masterclass or workshop format where students present and get feedback, work a bit and interact with one another.
A bit about the benefits of Joslin’s big group program and how she conveys it to the parents.
It starts by focusing on how kids benefit from being around other kids who are doing the same thing as they are. They get a benefit from both the group activity itself, individual attention and time away from individual focus. Some kids are shy and don’t want to sing by themselves, so the group format lets them gain confidence and comfort. There is also a cost benefit and some kids are not able to maximize their time in a private lesson, because they might just not have the attention span for it, so the value of group is multifold.
In Joslin’s program students are going to use their body and voice. Body is for both percussion and movement. And she emphasizes the fun!
The barriers to online music lessons are probably between your own ears. The barriers to launching your group program are things that you think someone else is going to think! So, I say stop thinking and just get started. The world is big enough for everybody’s offer.
Connect with Joslin:
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jrdvoicestudio
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JRDVoiceStudio
Connect with Jaime: