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Online music classes: helping families keep the beat in 2020

Mother and daughter, Clare and Lella, have been attending family music classes for four years

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Melbourne family Clare-Louise Brumley and her seven year old daughter Lella have been attending Rhythm Tree music classes for four years. They currently do two weekly online classes via zoom. 

The benefits of online classes run deep. 

Since starting online classes in April and absorbing daily offerings from The Rhythm Tree on Facebook, Clare-Louise has noticed how music has become more spontaneous and alive in their every day.

“Lella’s head is full to the brim with different songs and rhythms. More so than when we were doing face to face classes, I think partly because we’ve had more daily exposure. There has been so much singing!”

“We often make up our own words. That reciprocal singing is so uplifting! Especially as we’re getting older, bringing in songs like Frère Jacques, playing with part singing and toning – we sit at breakfast and drum on the table – the mirror neuron stuff involved is brilliant, it’s so good for the soul!”

Lella imagines everybody would like to go back to in person classes. However she really enjoys the online classes too. She appreciates the way the teachers connect personally with everyone at the start and end of online classes.

“I like waiting until there are not many people left, so I can have one-on-one time with the teacher.”

If a child wants to say something during class – there’s an invitation to write in the chatbox or speak – families are offered that level of engagement every class. 

Rhythm Tree director Gillian Lee says online classes have become a vital source of connection for many families during these socially distanced times. 

“From a teaching perspective, when you see children’s faces lighting up, when you see them dancing and singing at home, it is something else. It’s a privilege to be able to help families stay connected with music during these challenging times.”

Pre-pandemic, Rhythm Tree families attended face-to-face classes with one teacher. Now families can connect with all of the Rhythm Tree teachers, who post mini-classes, songs, stories and musical play activities in The Family Tree House on Facebook every week. 

Clare-Louise and Lella love all the different offerings in the Family Tree House. Clare values how engaging and genuine the teachers are. 

“You see how they strive to connect with every child. I know it’s part of the program – everyone gets welcomed by name with the Hello Song and everyone is said goodbye to – but the teachers put in way beyond what would be considered reasonable. It is an exceptional online program.”

In addition to playing with Rhythm Tree songs outside of class, Clare-Louise says teachers in the Family Tree House have inspired them to listen to lots of diverse music too.

“The teachers post so much great stuff! We’ve been listening to all sorts… Don Williams, The Beatles, we’re also learning French words thanks to a cheeky French-speaking kookaburra, we’ve learnt a Japanese version of ‘rock, paper, scissors’, a fun Italian rap song and we are learning the ukulele, all thanks to Rhythm Tree!”

“We’ve had a lot of exposure to online and homeschooling activities lately – and what you have put together really stands out. It is an amazing offering.” 

“We’ve had the opportunity to use music for pretty much everything, you know, music and maths, music and language and communication, music appreciation, and learning an instrument – it’s all there!”

Gillian says Rhythm Tree online classes succeed because they are interactive. It’s a time for family members to come together – often parents are more involved than children! 

“We don’t actually want babies to be looking at the screen too much, we don’t want toddlers to be looking at the screen during class. We want them to be connecting with their families and people at home, so I guess it’s not regular ‘screen time’.”

Clare-Louise agrees. “It’s certainly not about popping your kid in front of the screen for half an hour! You join in. Yes it’s a taste of screen time, but then it ripples out into every other aspect of the day.”

Gillian says while children do absorb some things passively during online classes, their receptor systems are working and deeper learning is often expressed after class. 

“In the Mixed Age Family Classes (0-6 years) children don’t need to sit and do what the teacher is doing, it’s more about the adult at home interacting with the child. It is a bit like a musical buffet. Children can dip in and out and take what they need.”

Gillian draws an analogy between musical development and learning to read. She says if a parent wants their child to be an enthusiastic reader, they offer stories and they sit and model reading.

“So if a child doesn’t actively participate in class, they are still absorbing everything. If you look at a child’s brain while someone is singing or playing music – the whole brain fires up, it is incredible.”

“Children benefit hugely from just being around you as you sing and join in. Regular exposure to group music classes enables children to discover, at their own pace, that they can make music in this marvellous, collaborative way.”

Seven-year-old Lella is living proof of this. After four years of Rhythm Tree classes she says she still loves any class that is available. 

“I love everything about music! I feel very connected with you (Gillian).” 

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