The 23rd of March marks one year since the first national lockdown was declared here in the UK as a result of the world-wide Covid-19 pandemic. In the past, we only taught classes in person thereby catering exclusively to people with access to London. We had very short notice and zero experience of delivering our courses online, but our amazing administrators and tutors managed to move almost all of our courses online and embraced remote learning.
Today, City Lit co-ordinator for singing courses, Siobhan Blake looks back on the last year and highlights the previously unimaginable but ultimately very rewarding experience of learning and teaching singing through online classes.
Can you really learn singing online?
Written by Siobhan Blake
From music classrooms to online learning
It’s been nearly a year since we moved our singing courses online and what a year it’s been!
Honestly, if you had asked me about learning singing online before then, my answer would have been, "I think it works better as a face-to-face activity." I’m glad to say that my previous views have been completely changed.
While engaging with online teaching as the only possible solution in the circumstances, I’ve been blown away by what the tutors and the students at City Lit have achieved.
The experience is certainly different, but there are actually many benefits from learning in this way. I hope that by highlighting them below, I can give you a clear idea of how online Singing classes can be fun, educational, and provide a boost for your mental, emotional and physical health.
Seeing your singing up-close is transformational
One of the most obvious aspects of doing an online singing class is that you can see yourself as you are singing.
This has proved to be useful in so many ways. You get immediate visual feedback about what you are doing with your mouth to make a certain vowel sound, or where you are raising your eyebrows to help reach a high note. This helps you to change habits and better match your expression to the meaning of the song.
Of course, everyone else in the class has to do it too, so at least you are not on your own.
There is also another positive here: you can look at your classmates directly while singing so you don’t have to look at yourself if you don’t want to. One student remarked to me that it’s helped her overcome her reticence to do 'mirror work' when singing and she won’t be pulling the curtains over the mirrors in the classroom when we return to face-to-face teaching.
Good sound quality online and hearing yourself as others hear you
Sound feedback is another thing: the ability to use ‘Original Sound’ on Zoom means that we can still get a really good idea of the quality of sound and give accurate feedback about tone and pitching, despite the fact that we can’t all sing at the same time or hear each other singing together.
At City Lit, we do solo work and use break-out rooms for small group work. To add to the sound feedback experience, some tutors working with more advanced students have been using recordings as well. This has had the added benefit that students are spending more time listening to themselves and at the same time, everyone else hears them, helping to cut through the trap of the singer's hearing feedback loop.
Performing online enhances the learning experience
For the first time, we are producing playlists of students’ work on Soundcloud so they can share their progress with friends, family, and the wider City Lit community if they wish.
We’ve also had several live online concerts at the end of term, with singers performing with their pre-recorded accompaniments. Some of the performances have attracted over fifty guests!
The students have found it exhilarating to be able to perform live. A lot of students have gained other skills along the way too, becoming their own sound engineers, lighting and set designers, and costumiers as they have thrown themselves into the world of performing online.
Working with an accompanist
Our professional accompanists have been working incredibly hard, supporting the tutors and students with tailor-made, specially-recorded backing tracks. Sometimes, working live alongside the tutor in a breakout room, other times working remotely, making recordings in the right key, at the right tempo, with variations designed for individual students, especially at the higher levels.
In other classes, where students are learning to sing with an accompaniment for the first time, accompanists are producing melody guides, simple accompaniments, as well as full versions. In many cases, it’s helping singers to become more autonomous with their rhythmic abilities as they have to stay in time with the backing tracks. Several tutors and students remarked how much it has benefitted their sense of rhythm.
Sharing resources and staying connected with classmates
We use Google Classroom to support the live online session and many students have found themselves engaging with this sort of technology for the first time.
For me, this has been one of the most amazing aspects of the whole journey: being able to keep alive the community spirit of group classes. One of the main functions of the classroom is to share resources—sheet music, handouts, recordings, feedback, etc.—but it’s the ability for students to connect with each other outside the classroom that I feel is particularly special.
For example, the ‘stream’ offers a chat-style function where students can ask questions, support each other with song choices and technical achievements, as well as sharing recordings or links to different versions of songs they have found, and thus ensues a debate of the finer nuances of one interpretation versus another.
Improving access to singing training
Finally, I’m thrilled that online classes have improved access and means that we can reach a wider audience. This includes past City Lit students who had moved too far away from London to be able to attend regular classes in person, and people who can’t physically access the building for a variety of other reasons.
Overall, the feedback from tutors and students is really positive. I feel so enthused by this and my own experience as a teacher that I’m sure that we will continue to provide online Singing courses regularly at City Lit.
If you want to know more details about online learning read this information pack.
About the Author
Siobhan Blake has been teaching at City Lit since 2006. She is currently Co-ordinator for Classical Music (Practical). She has a Classics degree from King’s College London and a Diploma in Opera Studies from Birkbeck University London and has trained with Sybil Michelow, Justin Lavender and Linda Hutchison.
Her teaching expertise extends from singing technique (including Accent Method) through to music theatre and advanced performance. A classically trained soprano, she has performed extensively during her career including several years performing on stage in operatic roles, as well appearing as a soloist in many oratorios and recitals, most recently of Spanish song exploring the relationship between Joaquin Rodrigo and his contemporaries.