It seems that many teachers are slowly transitioning back to in-person lessons, which is wonderful news!
For me, however, and probably many others, this still looks a long way off.
In my normal lessons, there is some length of time within the lesson where students are on headphones, practicing, and I am running around giving feedback. moving them onto extension tasks where necessary, etc. I carefully organise the time, and have them on headphones for as long/short as is needed for them to complete the task, but also to fit in a performance and plenary at the end of the lesson.
In other words, I rarely find myself panicking at the end of the lesson because we have run out of things to do! I can make the practice session slightly longer or shorter, depending on what is needed to make sure the timing is perfect.
However these online lessons have a completely different structure. I am sending pieces home in advance of the lessons, and students are coming to the lesson, able to play them! Often the most challenging version as well (I give out differentiated versions). So there is less need to practice! I find creative ways of listening to them (without everyone having to listen to everyone, which we would do in normal classes, but somehow feels awkward in the online set-up), and I give my feedback, with an extension task where appropriate. We have also been including a listening task which illustrates something about a musical element that we have been focusing on, and doing lots of note-reading activities.
That lack of being able to be flexible with a certain part of the structure of my lesson (i.e. the practice part) means that I can occasionally find that I have gotten through everything I had planned, and there is still 5 minutes (or so) left!
Do you ever find yourself in this situation? Well here are some ideas that you can revert to, should you need to. (Some of these activities are in my plans, rather than being last-minute additions, but they work as both!).
Ask your students to run and find a clean pair of socks (anything that involves a treasure hunt like this always goes down well!), put them over both hands, and try to play their pieces! It will be virtually impossible (and they would have to abandon the correct fingering), but will certainly be a lot of fun!
Ensemble performances don't work over zoom, but it is sometimes good to get students feeling like they are playing with others by muting everyone except yourself, and you can all play together!
OR you could get someone else to be the leader! Only they are unmuted (yes even the teacher needs to be on mute) and everyone follows the new leader. This is a great way to hear everyone and give feedback, without others sitting around, waiting their turn (as mentioned earlier - awkward!!!). Plus, if the piece is long, we will break it up into phrases (a good opportunity to discuss structure) and have each student lead a different one. Again, that way you are not having 4 (or 6 or 8) individual playings of the piece, which would take up most of the lesson in your more advanced classes, right? So this could either be done during the lesson within your plan, or as something that you do at the end. It is a great exercise for students to listen to others and follow their tempo. And if there is a hesitation, the students have to try to follow it!
Most children have post-it notes in their house right? Or at least some paper that they can cut into strips, and blu tack? I love to use these to do some consolidation games, such as labelling all the different Cs and then using annotation on the screen (with a grand stave on it) and get them to draw the different notes on the screen. There are a multitude of ways you can use the post-it notes and then on-screen annotation. Just remember to warn them not to let bits of paper slip down between the keys!
I have spoken about this elsewhere, but it is a great format to use to get students playing their pieces over again, but this time in a relay, one bar/measure each. This is great for getting them to listen to each other and not always play their piece from the beginning (as many students like to!). You can also get each student to choose who comes after them, so that there is some interaction (just write down the order in case you forget - I have eight students in my classes and my short-term memory is shot to pieces at the moment!).
Ok this one isn't new and it's not mine. I saw many posts on social media of other studios getting their students to play their piece with a loo roll on their head, and, one week, when I had a few minutes left, I suddenly burst out, right everyone, go and get a toilet roll! Well they were puzzled to say the least, but they loved it! The lesson ended on a real high!
Play a sequence of notes (from 2 to 8) and ask each student to play the same sequence back to you. This is great for their aural perception and something that can easily be done online (and is just a quick task!). You can decide how much information you want to give them, starting note, stepwise movement, hand position etc. In fact, even better, you can change your approach for each individual within your group.
Choose an order of students (or ask students to choose who comes after them) and clap a rhythm to pass to the first student. That student then claps your rhythm, and then a new rhythm for the student that follows them, who claps the rhythm, and then claps/plays a new rhythm for the next person. This is a great way to get students interacting, whilst developing those all-important aural skills. Sometimes the sound is clearer if you get them to play their rhythm on one note on the piano, rather than clapping.
Are your students playing a piece that others will have recorded, such as a Bach minuet? One of my classes is playing an arrangement of a Chinese folk song, Beautiful Jasmine, and so we listened to a beautiful arrangement and performance by Lang Lang on Spotify. Listening to different performances of pieces that students are learning is such a valuable task, and one that we should be encouraging parents to support further at home.
I have made sure that each student comes to my lessons with some manuscript paper. This is so that they can use it during the lesson, but also so that we can bring it out at the end of the lesson if there is time, and do some dictation, or get them writing notes in any format that you choose!
You could ask students to do a quick improvisation, giving some prompts to help. If you have four students for example, you could give them each one of the four seasons! You can either go into depth on tips to approach their improvisations, or literally just get them to go without any prep!