Virtual rooms such as Zoom and Skype can go a long way towards keeping your group feeling socially connected and engaged in group music.
The key limitation is that only one person can speak, sing or play at a time. When a person speaks it drowns out all the others, as if everyone had a megaphone attached to themselves. Socially, this can interrupt the flow of conversation and requires some inclusive “chairing” by the leader (or designated volunteers) to ensure people are getting a chance to feel heard.
For the leader, it can be disconcerting to not be able to hear what people are doing and only see faces staring at you from your screen. Getting people to use body language for feedback (thumbs up/down) and the chat function can help keep a sense of conversation alive for you. To help maintain energy, frame the session as you inviting members into your place, where you are grounded and belong, rather than as you broadcasting out into the vast nothingness of the online universe.
For participants, muting can be both freeing and constraining. Quieter or more introverted participants may enjoy the direct access they have to the leader, e.g. singing or playing against high-quality, pre-recorded tracks to learn to hold their part. However, they may feel exposed if asked to play, sing, or speak in front of all the faces, so it is important to give people plenty of warning and prep time before they become “the unmuted one”. On the other hand, more extroverted participants may miss the ability to learn and think out loud and receive real-time feedback. Hence, they may feel they are not receiving the same attention they would from a face-to-face session. Allowing people time to speak and reflect about “how did that exercise work for you?”, as well as using thumbs up/down, and the chat, can help extroverted members feel more connected, as can scheduling unstructured chat time at the beginning or end of the session.
Popular “virtual rooms” for meeting up
Zoom: the most popular program for music groups, Zoom works on all modern devices (desktop computer, laptop, tablet, phone). Free features include: chat - for private and general written comments; breakout rooms - where sections can learn parts; share your screen or tracks directly from your computer; different views so you can enlarge the leaders screen or see all participants; recording of sessions. The sound quality is very good, provided you turn off Zoom's inbuilt filters. See the Hosting and Running Zoom Sessions page on this resource to learn more about these features and how to get the best sound;
Skype: Skype is better suited to small group teaching rather than large choirs or ensembles. It works on many different devices and is easy to use, however leaders report the sound can be choppy and not as pure as Zoom.
Facetime: Leaders report that Group Facetime generally has better sound quality than Skype, however it is only available for Apple IoS devices (not PC or Android). Like Skype, it is better for small groups (e.g. one-on-one) rather than large ensembles or choirs.
Google Meet and Microsoft Teams: These platforms are each connected to a broader suite of software: G-Suite for Google Meet, and Microsoft Office 365 for Microsoft Teams. They may be useful if you are in an organisation where participants already have a Google or Office account, as they integrate well with their respective email, calendar and file-sharing software.
If you’re still not sure which to choose, read this comparison of the main freely available synchronous program (Zoom, Skype, Facetime) by Dr Simon Powis at “The Online Music Teacher”: https://theonlinemusicteacher.com/teaching-music-online-with-zoom/
Going live on social media
Social media streaming platforms such as Facebook Live, Youtube Live and Instagram Live are less interactive, but do allow you to reach a broader audience with higher quality production. It is best to think of these platforms as a “virtual stage” with an audience. The leader performs their session to screen while the group engages at home in a “live chat” (typing comments and responding to each other).
These platforms suit performers and are good for reaching a new audience as a music leader. If you pre-record your session, you can join the chat with your group members without interrupting your performance. If you perform live it is good to talk to participants at home by responding verbally to their written comments, as the participant experience can feel too much like watching TV if there is no interaction. To learn more about how to achieve higher quality sound and audio for streaming see Audio and Video: Home Studio on a Budget on this resource, as well as an example of a studio set up for Facebook Live.
Go to: Index Page; Leading Community Music Online; Choosing the Right Programs for Online Leading; Hosting and Running Zoom Sessions; Project-based Apps for Making, Performing and Learning; Storing and Sharing Files; Audio and Video: Home Studio on a Budget