Virtual Learning Guide

 We are pleased to offer this Virtual Learning Guide for 2020-2021 to aid families in gaining the most from the virtual arts classroom. We understand that the virtual learning environment can sometimes be challenging to maneuver, and as such, this guide will offer suggestions for setting up your student’s lesson space and outline arts-based platforms to keep instructional time engaging and positive. It will also provide strategies for dealing with Zoom fatigue and how to create a beneficial communication loop between PMA and home. 

Our instructors are focusing on creating a virtual classroom that is positive, supportive, and interactive. If you have any questions regarding how to use your technology or would like to discuss ways to assist your student within the virtual classroom, please feel free to contact us at We’re happy to connect you with one of our technology specialist

What’s in this Guide?

  1. How to Use Technology in the Virtual Lesson

  2. PMA Learning Platforms – Online tools 

  3. In-Lesson/Class Suggestions – Keeping the virtual classroom engaging and productive

  4. Communication – The Instructor/Student/Parent Triangle

How to Use Technology

There are many pieces of technology that can help you get the most out of your remote music lessons. Here is a Video and a few written tips for getting the most out of your equipment:

  • External Webcams
  • USB Microphones
  • XLR Microphones & Audio Interfaces
  1. External Webcams
    • During an online music lesson, it’s important for both teachers and students to see each other’s faces as well as their musical instruments. This allows students and teachers to connect on a personal level while also watching each other’s technique for learning purposes. 

      One tool that can help with this is the external webcam. External webcams are cameras that plug into your computer’s USB port. They allow you to change camera angles without moving your entire computer.

      There are many different webcams you can buy. Here are a few options at different price points:

      Lowest Price Webcam Mid Priced Webcam High End Webcam

  2. USB Microphones
    • Much like the external webcam, a USB Microphone is simply a microphone that plugs into a USB port. USB Microphones drastically improve the sound quality transmitted through zoom. Also, like the webcam, they allow you to move the microphone position without moving the computer. If looking to improve sound quality with the simplest solution, make sure to purchase a USB microphone as other types of microphones require additional equipment to connect to a computer. Here’s a Popular Model that’s available at many department and office supply stores.
  3. XLR Microphones and Interfaces
    • If you play an instrument that uses a quarter-inch cable like an electric guitar or electric piano, an interface may be worthwhile. Interfaces allow multiple audio devices to attach to a computer including microphones, headphones and quarter inch cables. They also provide individual channel audio control similar to a mixing board. 


      Here is a bundle by the brand Focusrite with all accessories besides a mic stand:

      2 XLR inputs

      1 XLR + 1 Quarter Inch input

Additional Tips:

Even without new technology, or utilizing technology already found in some homes, there are still many other simple tips that can greatly improve the quality of a music lesson:

  1. Double Check the Camera Angle:
    • Make sure that the webcam in use is able to capture both the student’s face and instrumental technique. This allows students and teachers to have the most positive and effective lesson experience.
  2. Make Sure the Light Source is Behind the Camera:
    • Placing bright lights in front of the camera will create an overexposure effect and make it difficult for students and teachers to see each other.

PMA Learning Platforms

At PMA, there are a few platforms that we will be utilizing for virtual learning. 

Zoom – a web communication cloud platform, which allows students and teachers to connect via online video streaming in order to still play, learn, and explore music together. All instructors will be using this platform for virtual private lessons and group programs, as it provides the most options for collaboration. Zoom is free to students and teachers to use. There are also many different ways to optimize Zoom for music lessons. Here’s a Video that demonstrates how to adjust the Zoom settings for maximum music lesson quality.

SoundtrapSoundtrap is an online Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). If you have used Garageband or a similar program, you will already be familiar with a lot of it. The difference is that Soundtrap is totally cloud based, which means that we can collaborate on the same project virtually. For instance, a teacher can record one half of a duet into a session, share the session with a student, and the student can then record their half of the duet right into the same session. A teacher could also use the program to model a musical passage so that the student has a frame of reference for their weekly practice. Here’s a Video to get you started!

Noteflight – Noteflight is an online music notation software. Students can compose music, record live audio into scores, and get automatic performance assessment, making it the ideal platform for teaching composition and theory as well as for performance assessment and feedback. Any score can instantly become an assignment with a unique copy automatically created for each student, which also works seamlessly with Google Classroom and other learning management systems. Noteflight can be linked with Soundtrap, making it ideal for collaboration. – a music theory service that can be accessed via Apple devices ($3.99) or through a desktop computer (free). 

Teoria – a music theory service that can be accessed via a desktop or laptop computer. There is a free and paid subscription.  

Flipgrid – a Microsoft-based video sharing platform that we plan to use for enrichment weeks and special projects. It allows instructors and students to collaborate through video sharing and emphasizes social learning. Cost is free to students.

In Lesson/Class Suggestions

Hand Signals for Online Learning

As the Fall 2020 instruction begins, we know that technology can make communication easier as we engage with socially-distant learning. But, it can make it more difficult too! Audio and visuals lag, WiFi goes out, or students are unable to ask questions to check their comprehension like they would in-person. 

To help students engage in their online learning and to cut back on some of these difficulties, PMA faculty and staff will be using these hand signals to communicate with students during lessons and group classes. We ask that you review these with your younger students to keep the virtual classroom engaging and productive.

“I can’t hear you!”

Shape your hand like the letter “C” and cup it your ear, as if to make the sound louder.

“I have a question.”

Raise your hand like you would in an in-person classroom. If the teacher does not see you at first, give a gentle wave.


If you are having issues with your technology or are really confused, ask your teacher to stop so the problem can be solved.

Make sure to ask questions if you are confused!

“I agree/I understand!”

If you get the material or it’s a “yes” to a question, give a thumbs up!

“I don’t get it/No.”

Still confused, or the answer is no?

Give a thumbs down.

Combating Zoom Fatigue

In such uncertain times, we are all doing our best to adjust to working and learning online. Being in front of a camera, especially for extended periods of time, can be difficult for adults, let alone younger learners. Here are some general suggestions for a more efficient online experience:

  • Movement is important for breaking up the monotony that can come with staring at a screen, keeping students engaged, and forcing blood flow to the brain. As such, we will be incorporating movement during lesson times. Movements such as the ones listed below are simple activities that can make a huge difference:
      • Stretching
      • Jogging in place
      • Jumping jacks
      • Squats
      • Wall push-ups
  • The area for online learning should be a focused workspace with minimal distractions. Other screens, noise interference, and foot traffic should be avoided if at all possible. Instructors will also do their best to reduce distractions from their end. 
  • Practice time management! Setting aside time not only for lesson instruction, but regularly scheduled practice time, creates consistency in place of other activities (like attending school). 

The Instructor-Student-Parent Triangle

Student success is a priority at Prairie Music & Arts. To create the strongest classroom environment for PMA students, we encourage parents to be actively involved in the process. As such, communication is vital and will be delivered from instructor to parents on a regular basis. 

Parents are welcome to contact instructors for questions or concerns regarding private lessons or group programs. Each instructor has a PMA specific email address (instructor’s first initial followed by last name that can be used for communication. Conversations that are sensitive or lengthy should be communicated by email or by scheduling a phone or Zoom meeting with the instructor. It is always encouraged that parents speak directly to instructors for lesson/class specific questions or concerns, as this will allow instructors to address the issue most effectively.

Young children benefit from having parents as partners in the virtual classroom, and instructors will communicate if an adult is needed for weekly or occasional assistance. Parents/caregivers of elementary students should be available at the end of each virtual classroom so that the instructor can provide goals and suggestions for the week. MS/HS parents/caregivers should be available at the end of virtual classrooms on a bi-weekly basis. 

Instructors will send an after lesson/class summary and practice guide by email at the close of each session. Students should access this guide on a daily basis to gain the most benefit from instruction. Introduction and followup videos will be provided for group programs. 

If you have any questions or concerns about online learning, feel free to reach us at We are happy to assist, as well as receive feedback on what we can do to improve the online learning experience. 

Prairie Music & Arts is a 501(c)(3) organization. We admit students of any age, race, color, gender, disability, national or ethnic origin, and economic status to all rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. We do not discriminate on the basis of any of the aforementioned categories in administration of its educational policies, scholarship programs, and other school-administered programs.