Editor's note: In the November/December 2014 issue, Clavier Companion launched a series of articles addressing the future of piano teaching. The following article is part of that series, which will continue in future issues.
At the recent National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, I opened my session by asking if anyone used YouTube. Everyone raised a hand, and most people shared that they watched select performances, fitness, and cooking shows. While nobody admitted it openly, most of us were guilty of watching cats in every imaginable situation, including playing the piano. Interestingly, there were only a few teachers who were actively using YouTube in their teaching. Through a range of experiences, I have also discovered that students, all avid users of YouTube, generally do not equate YouTube with their music study, despite the fact that it is where they find much of the music they consume. They tend to use YouTube for social media, popular culture, hobbies, and the ubiquitous "viral" videos.
It is often difficult for teachers to appreciate the educational value of YouTube, as it was only created in 2005. It now boasts more than 1.3 billion users who collectively watch nearly 5 billion videos each day. Every minute, another 300 hours of video are uploaded to the site.1 The incomprehensible volume of content on YouTube is its strength and its challenge. How do we use YouTube successfully? How do we curate content? How do we harness such a vast amount of information in an effective way to create meaningful learning?
YouTube is a powerful medium. It transcends location, offers access to anyone on the Internet, can be utilized any time, and can be adjusted to match the pace of individual learning. It is both an important reference resource and an outlet for the video that today's students use regularly to document their lives and share their experiences.
YouTube can be an important part of a "flipped classroom," which is defined as: an instructional strategy and a type of blended learning that reverses the traditional educational arrangement by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home and engage in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of the instructor.2
There are two general ways to think of YouTube: information out and information in. Information out is the opportunity to broadcast or communicate content, and information in is the ability to receive information and content. By framing these two main functions of YouTube, we can explore a wide range of pedagogical strategies for our students and for ourselves.
A broadcasting channel
YouTube offers every student a broadcasting channel that provides infinite possibilities for sharing content, connecting ideas and people, and building a library of documented experiences. YouTube allows students to share their practice directly with their teachers and also with their peers. Midweek YouTube check-ins can help students understand goals, share updates, explore a challenge or question, and share their ongoing work with their teachers. Students can share with each other by posting videos for feedback from their friends and families, empowering them to be an active participant in a much larger community
YouTube gives us the ability to scale and share our own content in a way that was never available before. With a YouTube channel, teachers can create a range of videos that all students can access. Many teachers post demonstrations of repertoire or technical elements. With one posting, a teacher can provide various students with a reference model that they can visit at any time or place. Students can control the video, allowing them to move at the learning pace that works best for them. Teachers can also share student content on their channels. Posting a "performance of the week" or "most improved performance" can be a dynamic way to communicate student success and foster an encouraging culture in your studio.
In addition to creating original content, teachers can curate videos to inspire their students. by Jennifer Snow [INFORMATION OUT] Clavier Companion 28 March/April 2016 Consider engaging students to source content, as it can be as valuable a process as the content itself. By subscribing to the YouTube channels of universities, performance and educational organizations, institutions, and other teachers that you trust, you establish a content pipeline for your own channel. An excellent example of what can be done on YouTube, The University of Iowa Pedagogy Project (https://www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed) is an extremely valuable library containing performances of student repertoire.
Categories of content
In an effort to organize relevant YouTube content, I group YouTube videos into three main categories:
The following ideas include some representative YouTube videos that I have discovered to inspire students, expand their understanding through different paths, connect with each other and the broader world, and engage their creativity.
These recordings provide a wealth of artistic inspiration. Watching and listening to iconic pianists such as Wilhelm Kempff, Vladimir Horowitz, and Sviatoslav Richter can provide a model for artistry, exposure to rich traditions, and a glimpse into another era. Having students compare and contrast these recordings inspires them to explore a wider range of personal expression, styles, and artistry.
YouTube provides visual information that goes beyond traditional sound recordings. It can be highly instructional to observe how artists approach their instruments. Videos facilitate an awareness of technical approaches and the option to pause and have a deeper look at how something is being executed.
Composers play their works
Archived recordings by composers can be very enlightening. Search for Gershwin playing Gershwin or Rachmaninoff playing Rachmaninoff. These recordings are gold mines for performance practice and help bring iconic composers alive for students.
YouTube offers great insights from composers in interviews and performances. This can be extremely useful in understanding the motivation and expectations of the composer. Most composers of all levels of repertoire have their own YouTube channel and social media where they share demonstrations, new repertoire, and ideas for learning and polishing a piece.
YouTube has a wealth of archived masterclasses and lessons with the world's most renowned teachers. This invaluable content provides opportunities for teachers and students to explore how different artist teachers approach repertoire and concepts. It also helps document and preserve the artistry of master teachers and their connection to our rich traditions.
Every day, the range of educational videos on YouTube is expanding. You can learn about the elements of music, the history of your instrument, concepts in theory, cultural influences, and almost anything you can imagine. These videos can be curated to provide a full study on theoretical concepts, performance practice, and music history. Consider creating your own curriculum by choosing the "best of the best" from all the existing resources that are available.
YouTube allows students to connect with each other, exchange ideas, and share feedback. These collaborative learning opportunities are some of the most valuable experiences for students. Being connected to their peers helps them feel like they are a part of something greater, which fosters a sense of identity and community. The opportunity to share your work and celebrate accomplishments is essential for students' ongoing commitment and success.
Uploading student performances to YouTube can be a great learning experience. Students can share with their teachers and friends but also hear from other students. Capturing a performance on video and sharing it online can help motivate students to practice.
Students can review and study what their peers are doing on YouTube. Look for interesting performances and interpretations. Consider having your students share ideas and feedback online and in group lessons, creating communities around their learning.
Online lessons and demonstrations
Many independent artists and teachers are posting videos that address specific issues in learning a concept or even an instrument. Have your students share what they discover. Survey this general range of material to determine what is most meaningful and relevant. Creating a series of educational videos yourself is an excellent way to share your pedagogical ideas with a much larger pool of students.
Assessment and evaluation
Many organizations, schools, and competitions are using video as an evaluation tool. YouTube can be used as a progress assessment tool in your studio or as an evaluation component. This can help advanced students refine their artistic interpretations while also serving as a means for younger students to get positive feedback and recognition for their achievements.
Students can explore their creative side by producing videos, developing visual montages for their repertoire, exploring new ideas on arranging, making interdisciplinary connections, or expanding their awareness of styles, colors, and sonorities. YouTube gives them the portal to explore what inspires them and to share what they have created.
YouTube offers great opportunities for students to share their own compositions. They can also make animated videos or visuals that reflect and project the mood or narrative of the music they are creating.
Have your students search for arrangements of the pieces they are mastering. Listen to versions by string quartets, bands, other instruments, and vocalists. These versions can open up the musical imagination to timbres, colors, phrasing, and textures, and this process can inspire students to write their own arrangements.
Dance and movement
We are always looking for ways to deepen musical understanding for our students. Watching videos of dances from different eras and countries, such as minuets and gigues, mazurkas, foxtrots, salsas, and tangos, provide students with a context for the musical intention of a piece. These videos are highly informative and also give a greater appreciation of what influenced the composer and how the music relates to rhythm, gesture, and movement.
You can search YouTube for music combined with any other subject and get endless possibilities. Music and science, music and sports, music and art, and even music and food—all of these combinations can provide a wealth of ideas and connectivity to the larger world. A holistic approach to music learning expands understanding and cultivates intellectual curiosity.