A pan of freshly baked cookies.

Keeping the Band Together - At a Distance

Keeping the Band Together - At a Distance

Like all their peers at Georgia Tech, School of Music faculty turned to online instruction as social distancing became critical to public health. Their approach to teaching classes online has also made supporting Tech’s student musicians possible through the same platform.

The bond between ensemble leaders and their students has always been unique at Tech, because our faculty teach students from every School and major on campus. For many students, joining an ensemble is more than just academic credit acquisition, notes Professor Benjamin “BJ” Diden.

“Our students tend to be very social people," he says, "so it’s a challenge for them to not be with their 30, 40, or 50 other friends playing music. That’s always a great source of stress relief for them."

Band Students Bond over Cookies, Music at a Distance

Students on a video conference call bonding over cookie baking.
Photo: Benjamin Diden
Students are learning to adapt to online instruction in a variety of ways.

Diden teaches musicianship courses and leads ensembles like the Symphonic Band. But students also know him as a talented baker. Several years ago, Diden began delivering his signature Snickerdoodle cookies to the members of his ensembles before each of their concerts. It became a tradition.

Two years ago, he started another cookie tradition - he holds live baking demonstrations for the students of Tau Beta Sigma, a band service organization, once a year. This year’s session was supposed to happen right after Spring Break, but Georgia Tech’s campus closed and shifted to online -only learning around the same time.

So, instead, Diden used videoconferencing to hold an online cooking demonstration for interested students.

“I thought this was a way for all of us to learn about this new [online class] system and still have the activity take place," he says. "It was something that was fun but it also gave students an opportunity to see how this program was going to work, since they were going to use it in probably all their classes."

More than 20 students signed in to watch, and many even followed along in their kitchens at home. “You could see a few people following along as someone was in the background making dinner,” he said.

The virtual event gave students the chance to reconnect with their classmates in a more relaxed, informal setting. “You could just see the excitement between the students when one of their friends would pop up on the screen. It was such a positive thing and took away from their stress a little bit,” Diden says.

While Diden's bands won’t be able to play together for the rest of this semester, he plans to hold video meetings during their normal rehearsal times. It is important to him and his band to check in on each other and see how everyone is doing during isolation.

He also created a playlist of recorded concerts and performances for his students to watch, even if they don’t have their instrument with them to practice.

Rock and Pop Ensembles Learn to Record Tracks Online

A student at a studio working on a recording track.
Photo: Georgia Tech School of Music
Recording tracks is a fundamental part of rock and pop music.

Visiting Assistant Professor and Rock & Pop ensemble director Nat Condit-Schultz is also using online instruction to create new opportunities for his students. “Rock music is about performance, but recording is also a big part of the genre,” he says.

So, since his students can’t come into the recording studio, they will collaborate remotely using online recording software. Bandmates can immediately see what others in the group recorded and add their own layers to the song via the software. Condit-Schultz said the technology helps him give feedback in a much more detailed way. “I can listen specifically to the guitar player’s track, for example.”

Each of the seven bands in his class are working together, finding ways to support and help each other to complete recordings. Many of the songs being recorded are original compositions made by the students themselves. “Hopefully, we’ll end up with a couple of original recordings of Georgia Tech rock bands, and share it with everyone,” Condit-Schultz says.

While remote recording may force changes to some parts of songs – not every student has a drum kit available at home, for example – Condit-Schultz says the important part is that the students are still involved and participating. He wants to keep them thinking about music without adding to the stress of distance learning.

The goal for Diden, Condit-Schultz, and other School of Music faculty is keeping their bands and music communities together. Right now, at least, technology is the key.

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