Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Ten Ideas for Online Teaching

CCM Bannder no dates

Covid-19 is here and voice teachers have no choice but to adapt and move online for a while. A simple look at social media shows that teachers who are not used to this are freaking out a bit. Have no fear – teaching online is easy and you will discover new things about yourself as a teacher and your students. It is a good skill for everyone to develop, with our economy so reliant on global trade this will hardly be the only time we are going to face disruptions like this. So my hope is that we will all work together to share ideas that help us all make the best out of this situation. So to start, I want to share 10 easy things you can do in an online lesson. Many of these are simple, but if this is your first time teaching online, simple is the best way to start.

  1. Develop a hand signal system. You will definitely have internet snags where the delay will be longer than normal. When they are still singing but you are getting blips in the signal, hold your hand up to stop. Let the system settle, then begin again. You may want to point up to let them know you are moving the exercise up a half step, point at them to tell them to repeat the exercise on the same pitch, or point down so they know you are descending.
  2. Work on sustained hisses to coordinate the respiratory system. You can do this without a pitch and using the stopwatch on your smartphone. Have the student begin by resisting the collapse and then have them slowly engage the abdominal muscles as needed to keep the air stream going as long as possible.
  3. Add pitch to the exercise above. Have the students sustain pitches on different vowels and talk with them about how vowel space can impact the flow of air through the vocal tract. Sustain pitches at different dynamic levels to see what changes and try sustaining in different registers on the same pitch.
  4. If you teach acoustic singing, you can work on transitioning between vowels on the same pitch. Work on shifting from /i/ to /a/ with the least movement necessary in order to maintain consistency of resonance while still achieving the desired vowel quality.
  5. You can work messa di voce exercises. I have students begin in a breathy/heady quality, grow into a full chest-dominant mix, and then have them transition back to a breathy/heady quality. Then do the reverse. When the student gets stuck, work on releasing any constrictions that are blocking the vocal folds from transitioning. Check for tongue retraction, jaw-closing tension, and respiratory management.
  6. Play more complex patterns once, then only play starting pitches, sit back, and listen. You may be surprised by what you discover when you are not playing along. Remember – our brains can only focus on around four things at any given moment, playing the piano is one of those things. So when you take it away, your brain has more room for processing other input. You may also find pitch issues you didn’t realize were there until you take the piano away.
  7. Play with open and closed versions of every vowel. For example, sing a 1-2-3-2-1 with an open vowel and then immediately followed by a closed vowel. By alternating back and forth, the student’s brain will make stronger connections to the variations necessary for each choice.
  8. For more advanced students, turn the table and have them teach you. It will force them to think about everything in a new light and it will illuminate holes in their understanding of the concepts you are teaching them.
  9. To teach rep, have them purchase an accompaniment track. You could also find a YouTube link you like and send them the link. Then have them connect a second device into an external speaker. You will have to adjust the levels. Use hand signals – point up for more accompaniment volume, down for less, or a thumbs up for just right. You can also have them move the accompaniment speaker to different parts of the room to find a better balance.
  10. Have them sing the song all the way through first and make notes. You will need either a paper copy or PDF of the song they are working on. Then go back and work through your notes one-by-one. You will need to play the pitches on your end first, then have them sing a cappella. If you have time before the lesson, write down the time where each section of the song starts in the accompaniment track. That way you can tell your student to go to __(minutes:seconds)___ and work in smaller sections. Then when you have worked each small section a cappella or with the accompaniment track, go back to the top of the song and sing it through again.

Tomorrow I will give you some offline homework assignments to enhance your work. If you have ideas, please share them below.

Keep your heads ups! We’re voice teachers, aka Miracle Workers, we can work a miracle in this situation. The miracle – letting our students feel like something in their lives is stable and beautiful when the world seems to be pulling apart at the seams. The 30-60 minutes of release you can give your students each week may be the greatest gift they receive during this scary time.


10 comments on “Ten Ideas for Online Teaching

  1. Elena Blyskal
    March 12, 2020

    Thank you so much, Matt! Great ideas here – I especially like the hand signal tip.


  2. Lisa
    March 12, 2020

    Thank you for this. I have suddenly been thrust into this and I’m a techno dinosaur! Your article helped focus my swimming brain, and clarified things concisely. Printing it out now for use as I try to figure out this new world.


  3. Brian Lee
    March 12, 2020

    As a long-time online teacher, this is all solid. Thanks for posting, Matt!


  4. Jamie Van Eyck
    March 12, 2020

    This is really useful, Matt! Thanks much!


  5. Ami Bouterse
    March 13, 2020

    Great tips! Another objective that I’ve found can be achieved online is working on their physicality of song delivery, like gestures and movement. I see things differently when observing online and for this I find it quite useful.


  6. Kristin Cifelli
    March 13, 2020

    AWESOME list. Thank you so much!


  7. Jessica West
    March 13, 2020

    Dear Dr. Edwards:

    Thank you so much for this post! I have sent it to just about every Church Choir Director/Voice Teacher I know!

    Thank you,



  8. Cathy Harris
    March 23, 2020

    Some good ideas here, thank you. I was up late last night planning lessons for my classes and will be focusing on a capella. Now to go to school and record it all on a program I have never used.


  9. Elisabeth Howard
    April 18, 2020

    Good job, Matt! This is pretty much what I have been doing even before this virus. I love that you work with the (i) vowel into (a) with as little change (especially the tongue position) as possible.
    Concerning rep, I use singers on YouTube for reference. I find that working a few phrases at a time and shaping them is great for absorbing techniques and styling. My two cents ❤️🎶
    Thank you for your wonderful work Matt!
    Stay safe,


  10. Annelie Korsfeldt
    May 18, 2020

    Many, many thanks, Matt! These ideas made my day! /Annelie


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This entry was posted on March 12, 2020 by in Misc. Thoughts, Online Teaching.

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