There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a world of different emotions and difficulties to our percussion community. Teachers and students all miss working in the environments where they are most familiar. Students are saying their motivation is lower than usual, and studying online from home feels more stressful than attending classes in person. Some teachers have described it as “COVID-brain,” a sort of groggy, foggy mindset from being online. The future of learning is changing, and with it comes a new kind of stress for which students need to prepare themselves.
That being said, collaboration between our percussion community is at an all-time high as we find new ways to take advantage of the circumstances upon us. The PAS University Student Committee has put together a list of tips geared towards helping each online music student push through and persevere over these new challenges.
Goal setting is an extremely important trait to have in times of online work, as well as in the day-to-day life as a productive musician. Below are a few tips to consider while setting goals for practice and projects.
Write out goals. Whether in a journal/notebook, or on a mobile app. Writing out goals heightens accountability for what needs to be accomplished. Organize goals into three levels: long-term goals (recitals, big projects, etc.), weekly goals (completion of etudes, large chunks of pieces learned, etc.), and daily goals (smaller phrases worked out, small detailed work on different sections, etc.). It is important for goals to be realistic and planned around what needs to be done on a small scale vs. a large scale. For example, a practice goal for learning a new piece should be around a small section of music instead of attempting to complete a large chunk of music in one day.
Write down what needs to be accomplished the next day. Find a specific time at the end of the day to see what has been finished and what needs completion the next day. Be open to adjusting your schedule as certain tasks take longer or shorter amounts of time, or as your priorities change. If the task is more time consuming than one day, take note of that and plan the next day’s goals around what has been learned.
Check out organization apps like “Microsoft To Do,” where different tasks can be tracked and added to different lists (e.g., a list for school, job, personal, etc.). Features of this particular app include visual check-off and tasks moved to a “completed” pile.
Scheduling helps students understand what can realistically be achieved in a set amount of time and keep track of goals/progress through practice sessions. Especially when studying from home, a detailed schedule will help students maintain a sense of routine from a normal school year. Finding the appropriate scheduling format that fits your needs is well worth your time to configure.
The first part of scheduling is finding an outlet to jot down a schedule. Some examples include free PDF schedules that you can print from the internet, a physical annual calendar from any store, a virtual calendar on your computer or device such as Excel, Google, or Apple calendar, or scheduling apps for your device such as MyStudyLife, iStudiez, MyHomework, Habit – Daily Tracker, and Studious.
Consider the following to be included in schedules:
- School and classes should be a priority to include in any student schedule because it is a visual representation of availability, develops a routine, prevents students from missing important events, and can also work as an agenda for each course (e.g., test dates/homework assignments).
- Rehearsals and concerts
- Practice and stretching
- Meals and snack breaks
- Rest, free time, and sleep. Sleep is essential in life and productivity. Rest and free time help students relax and regenerate energy exhausted from the day.
Practicing good mental health is the first step to success and keeping your mind in check. Taking care of yourself is of the utmost importance during an online schooling experience. Online schooling, particularly if it was not originally planned, can be daunting and discouraging. Even something as simple as a change of environment can take a toll on mental health. While it can be easy to get disappointed with the task of online school and feeling that sense of isolation, there are ways to combat these feelings.
Zoom Fatigue is a term that has popped up in articles by journals like Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2020/04/how-to-combat-zoom-fatigue). When attending zoom calls, as opposed to in-person learning/instruction, the brain has to work a bit harder to make up for the delay/latency in social reactions. Exhaustion is very common after a few hours of zoom. In order to combat this, build in breaks to stand up, keep virtual and physical workspace organized, and virtual stimuli limited as much as possible.
Stay organized through the use of goals, routines, and schedules. Set goals with a healthy reward in mind. A good reward can be reassuring, refreshing, and uplifting, as well as motivation to keep going.
Create a group chat with peers. Making a group chat with students in a common environment can keep you talking with likeminded people. This will battle any sense of isolation.
Find apps to help the mind take a break from daily worries. For example, Morning!—A 5-Minute Journal features a daily log of gratefulness, daily affirmation, and reflection of the day’s emotions.
Take up a relaxing hobby. Choose something that is separated from music and is productive and fulfilling. Getting away from it all is equally as important as working hard. Some examples could include cooking, drawing, puzzles, running, yoga, reading, etc.
It is vitally important to reduce the feeling of isolation while isolating! Set up a hang with the studio or a group of friends. Even with “nothing to do,” schedules are hard to line up, so start by finding an activity that works best for your group.
Zoom is popular, and many schools give upgraded accounts to allow lengthy calls. Houseparty is also easy to use and includes games and features for conversation and entertainment. Facetime works as well and even has group-call ability now, although the other apps allow for a larger number of people. Netflix Party allows a group of people to sync a movie/show to watch together.
Consider organizing a musical project. With some scheduled free time, many musicians are learning new tech skills and producing videos either by themselves or editing multiple people’s videos together (check out the “Acapella Maker” app).
Find an outdoor space to safely socialize. A great way to not feel stuck or unproductive is to get outside and talk with friends. Be sure to follow safety protocols like wearing a mask and keeping a safe (6 ft.) distance. Going for a walk or just enjoying the weather with a friend can really be rejuvenating.
Play a game online or over video chat. Many online games are free or relatively inexpensive and are easy to play with others, even across the country or world. This could be done through an online gaming via console, trivia apps, online board games (e.g., Catan Online), or a game streamed online via “Twitch,” where even friends that just want to hang out and talk can watch the action live.
An old-school alternative could be forming a book club. Find a book that’s been on your list but never quite made it to the top (e.g., Don Greene books, “Inner Game” books, etc.) and link up with some friends. Or organize a musical “book club.” Find some friends and find some albums to listen to and discuss. This can be a nice way to find new music to listen to and an easy way to connect with friends in ways that we may normally just have mentioned in person. For older works, pull up a free score on IMSLP to score study and discuss. With no ensembles to play in, this is a good way to keep the mind in the realm of ensemble playing.
When working from home, many students face distractions that can often lead to frustratingly unproductive work periods. By acknowledging these distractions before sitting down to work, students can overcome procrastination and boost personal productivity.
Start by managing expectations realistically. No one can run a marathon without any training, so the mind will most likely not be ready for a long work session without any breaks. Attempting to throw the mind into high-demand situations causes many people to fall into distractions anywhere around them, simply because their brains need a break from the original task.
Check out apps and programs that help monitor distractions, including Forest, Zero Willpower, Self Control, Strict Workflow, Tomato Timer, and Trello. Most smart phones or MacBooks also come with a “screen time monitor” built into the settings. The feature shows which apps or programs are used the most, as well as how much time is spent on the device each day. Take note and adjust as needed, even if that means deleting an app from a particular device.
Keep browser tabs under control. Having social media tabs open while there is work to be done will almost always result in lost time. Make sure all items and browsers in sight are ones related to the task at hand.
Avoid multitasking too much. Trying to conquer a task with a distraction like a television show playing in the background will result in a longer overall process. Keep the surrounding area as neutral and calm as possible.
Make sure zoom settings are set up for success by following these tips for music teachers and students (desktop/laptop only).
- Under “Settings > Audio,” uncheck "Automatically Adjust Microphone Volume”
- “Speaker” should read “Same as System."
- Under “Settings > Audio > Advanced,” be sure to “Enable Original Sound” for your microphone.
- Also disable "Suppress Persistent Background Noise" and disable "Suppress Intermittent Background Noise." Set "Echo Cancellation" to auto.
While some products have quality built-in mics, it is most often best to use an external microphone for the best audio quality. Use the "Join with Computer Audio" feature and use the arrow next to the mute button to select your speaker or microphone after the meeting has started, or adjust other audio settings after the fact.
Use the “Recording” tab under “Settings” to record online lessons. There, you can also select options for storage location and other parameters. Use the “Statistics” tab in “Settings” to monitor Zoom's impact on your computer's hardware and your local network.
Make sure to always keep Zoom and other commonly used productivity apps up-to-date to avoid possible security issues. Prevent eye strain and headaches from heightened hours of computer time by looking away from the screen every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds and having the screen 20–30 inches from the user and the eyes level with the top of the monitor. Adjust texts to larger fonts, rather than straining the eyes at small words, and adjust the monitor’s brightness to match the surrounding brightness. Adjust the color of your screen to be warmer/yellow in dark rooms, and colder/blue in brighter rooms. Most devices can monitor this without a third-party app, but “f.lux” is a great app to schedule the screen color depending on the time of day.
There are numerous apps and software options designed for students and productivity, but they can be hard to discover. Take a look at the ones below to consider adding to day-to-day life.
OBS Studio: Primarily for live streaming, but can also be extremely useful for screen recording, audio/video recording, and a variety of other useful workflow enhancements.
MindNode: For iOS and macOS, used for notetaking, material organization, and even lesson planning.
Audacity: This is a free digital audio workstation (DAW). It entails basic audio editing of a recording or a more detailed place to record audio. An alternative with a few more features at a relatively inexpensive price point is Reaper. This is a complete DAW comparable to Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and Pro Tools, but can be evaluated for free.
Tully: Tully is for the songwriter who wants to organize all attachments that go along with the songwriting process in one place. A new song can have the lyrics, recordings, editable documents, reference songs, etc. This is designed for young artists to learn about the music industry and grow their career.
Grammarly: This is designed to work through Google Chrome (possible through other browsers) as a spelling, grammar, and phrasing check. Grammarly recognizes errors that are often missed by the programs already in place for review.
The PAS University Student Committee is a collection of 12 percussion students at the graduate and undergraduate level from around the United States. The USC works together on a variety of projects designed to support percussion students through sharing musical and collegiate experiences. All studio-enrolled percussionists are welcome to join our Facebook group, PAS University Student Networking. If you are interested in learning more or joining the committee, visit pas.org/universitystudents.