Creating musical futures for students in remote areas

4 minute read

A woman sits at a piano in a music studio, talking into a microphone. A student is displayed on a projection screen.

A specialist teacher at the University’s Parkville campus provided online tuition to a music student at Ballarat Clarendon College.

A partnership with Ballarat Clarendon College found that online tuition can be a useful addition to face-to-face instrumental music teaching, despite some technical challenges.

Key points

  • A partnership with Ballarat Clarendon College identified educational and technological requirements for online music tuition for advanced students.
  • Students in rural and remote areas may have less access to specialist music tuition, limiting their career prospects.
  • Online music tuition using standard videoconferencing software can be a valuable addition to face-to-face teaching.

The outcome

Educational and technological requirements for effective online music tuition for students who intend to pursue a career in music have been identified through a partnership with Ballarat Clarendon College in regional Australia.

Researchers from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) found that the greatest obstacle to online music tuition for advanced students was the delay in transmitting sound from one site to another, known as ‘latency’. They did not identify a solution to this problem. However, their research showed that online music tuition can a valuable supplement to face-to-face teaching.

The need

In Australia, students in rural and remote communities have less access to specialist music tuition than students in cities, which limits their musical careers. Music teachers in these areas also have fewer opportunities for continuing professional development.

Online music tuition is a potential solution. Online learning is widely used in education. It has become essential as schools and universities close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, its suitability for advanced music education had not been fully investigated.

The research

Music teachers typically work closely with advanced students who are learning to sing or play an instrument. They need to track students’ posture, breathing and performance in real time. They also expect to sing or play with their students.

A research team led by Professor Gary McPherson from the MCM at the University of Melbourne investigated technological and educational factors that could help music teachers supplement face-to-face tuition for advanced students. As part of this research, specialist teachers at the University’s Parkville campus provided online music tuition to students at Ballarat Clarendon College, a secondary school 100 kilometres away.

The researchers found that the network offering the best speed and reliability between the University and Ballarat was Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet). This high-speed internet network is available to organisations involved in research and education. The National Broadband Network (NBN) connection provided by commercial internet service providers was slower and less reliable.

The research team tested both bespoke and off-the-shelf hardware systems for transmitting synchronised audio and video feeds – like those used in sportscasting. However, none was affordable and suitable for online music tuition. When connected with microphones and amplifiers, the hardware introduced a latency of 500–1000 milliseconds between the two sites. This is much higher than the threshold of human perception, which is around 60 milliseconds.

As an alternative, the team trialled two videoconferencing systems. These were VSee, which is widely used in telemedicine, and Zoom. VSee’s video and audio quality did not allow teachers to see or hear students well enough. Zoom’s quality was much better, and its latency was lower. However, students and teachers still reported some sound delays.

Zoom software could be modified to extend the frequency range from its original setting (which is optimised for speech) to one better suited to singing voices and musical instruments. Teachers could also use the Zoom screen-sharing option to share the music score and make annotations that the student could see in real time.

The inability to play together was one of the main differences between in-person and online teaching. The specialist music teachers also noted that it was more difficult to adjust students’ mouth (embouchure) or finger positions remotely than it was in person.

The partnership history

Ballarat Clarendon College accepted an invitation in 2014 to take part in the research project.

One instrumental and one supervising teacher from the secondary school worked with the research team, three specialist music teachers who taught at the University’s Parkville campus, and University technical staff. Three Year 11 music students received music tuition in voice, oboe or drums for about one year in 2014 and 2015.

Partner

Ballarat Clarendon College

Funding support

University of Melbourne Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (now closed)

Publications

Stevens RS, McPherson GE, Moore GA (2019) Overcoming the ‘tyranny of distance’ in instrumental music tuition in Australia: The iMCM project. Journal of Music, Technology & Education 12(1): 25–47. doi: 10.1386/jmte.12.1.25_1

McPherson GE, Welch GW (eds) (2018) Creativities, technologies, and media in music learning and teaching: An Oxford handbook of music education. Volume 5. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780190674564

Image: Ballarat Clarendon College/Robin Stevens

People

Professor Gary McPherson
Associate Professor Robin Stevens
Associate Professor Graham Moore

Related items

Transforming music performance

Researchers believe a new study will refute the idea that hours of practice is alone responsible for musicians attaining an elite level of expertise.

Two people walking in a hallway with brightly lit digital screen

Work with Us

Work with us to find better ways of doing things. Form commercial partnership, licensing intellectual property or starting a project together.