by Linda Boyd

For pupils and teachers wrestling with this era of home-learning, it’s hard to see many positives.

Parents trying to oversee online lessons and balance their own working commitments are probably less optimistic still.

While this period of exile for learners continues is challenging for all, there are elements of it we may want to keep for when the good times return.

At our school when lockdown first came into force in the spring of last year, we stared bleakly into the future and thought we would have to close the operation down until COVID-19 had disappeared.

But the months that followed have opened our eyes to the benefits of remote music lessons, with some of our pupils even suggesting they will want to keep learning by Zoom when face-to-face tuition is permitted again.

For a start, we’ve been able to open our virtual doors to people from far further afield.

Based in the south of Edinburgh, most of our pupils and teachers tended to live in the city, or at least within reasonable commuting distance.

Now we have children and adults in places like Fife and the Scottish Borders who are telling us they would never have been able to access music lessons were it not for the enforced digital revolution.

With all of our teachers becoming more adept at running a music lesson online, this could really bring opportunities for young people in parts of Scotland where finding someone local to teach them, say, the saxophone just wasn’t a realistic prospect before.

It will also help local choirs build their ranks, especially if a proportion of their rehearsals could take place from behind a computer screen, meaning participants from literally anywhere in the world could take part.

I have some personal experience in this area of remote recording too.

Just prior to the pandemic spreading I, along with two other female artists, started a band with the intention of embarking on a year of recording, practicing and promoting ourselves.

That was always going to be trickly with two of us based in Edinburgh and the other in Latvia. The coronavirus crisis, we thought, would make it impossible.

But through the use of the latest technology, SALT has been able to do all of those things, and even have our first single out and for sale in Latvia.

If three singers strewn across Europe can make that happen, opportunities must exist across Scotland too.

The barriers faced by young people from disadvantaged areas in relation to music tuition have been well documented.

The reasons are wide-ranging and deep-rooted, and of course often come down to the cost of instruments and the fact many local authorities are now charging for school music lessons when they used to be free.

But surely progress on improving the accessibility and quality of online music teaching could be a catalyst for bridging this divide.

You can never replace face-to-face lessons outright, of course, because there are just too many factors that get picked up in the flesh.

The same goes for bands and choirs who’ve tried to rehearse entirely online – there are some benefits but the chemistry and bonding are impossible to replace.

There are some pupils, however, who actually do better with online learning.

They are more comfortable in their home, treading new ground in music lessons but from a familiar environment. There is less pressure, and that can really allow young people to thrive.

We’ve noticed a real increase since lockdown in adults wanting to learn too.

Around 71 per cent of new bookings are from over 18s who, perhaps due to home working or being on furlough, just have a bit more time on their hands.

They would never have had the time to travel in and out of town to formal music lessons before, so busy were they with office life or the school run.

But now, and of course in the absence of so many other social activities, they’ve taken to learning a music instrument over Zoom.

Sometimes these are people who just want to try something new, in other cases they are revisiting musical instruments of their childhood.

The last year has been one of great adaptation. Even in our locality of Morningside we can see businesses who are changing every week to comply with regulations while continuing to provide a service.

Some of these changes will last, some won’t.

Our hope is that these breakthroughs when it comes to teaching online can help those who simply weren’t able to access the resource of musical tuition before.

The benefits for wider education and society in general would be enormous; it’s been repeatedly shown that a child who learns a musical instrument is more likely to excel in other areas too.

We can’t wait to get back to in-person teaching – but we will do so while holding dear the virtual practices that have proved so invaluable over this past year.

Adopting the best of both worlds could make for an exciting future for all.

Linda Boyd is director of Morningside School of Music