Breaking musical barriers: using online learning to bring musicians together


This session will show how digital technologies have enabled the teaching of creative practice at a distance and led to the creation of an online community of musicians. The teaching processes have resulted in new creative work of value and influenced the personal practice of many musicians around the UK and Europe. This in turn has led to a re-examination of how digital technologies can better support the teaching of campus-based students in a conservatoire context.


Musicians typically interact within small communities based on genre, age and locality. While they may be very interested in exploring new musical partnerships, it is often difficult to break out of the cycle of habit, and there are significant cost and time implications involved in doing so. Virtual spaces can remove barriers and enable musicians to create new and fruitful collaborations as evidenced by the experience of this course. In particular, the online environment created by this course has led to the examination of assumptions that otherwise would have remained unchallenged.


This presentation demonstrates the lessons learned from the experiences of the first cohort of a new blended-learning course. This course has been created by two institutions who have shared their respective areas of expertise, and uses self-reflective learning as a means to allow musicians to develop their understanding of their personal culture and practice of music-making. In the last year, online interactions between students, managed by tutors on the virtual learning environment, were developed into practical workshops and ensemble sessions at the residential element that took place near the end of the course. The first cohort involved 30 musicians varying in age from 18 to 70 and working in a wide range of genres (including folk, classical, punk, jazz, metal and military brass band). The design of the virtual learning environment and the curated activities allowed the students to observe each other’s differences of approach, leading to a heightened awareness of their own practice and culture in return. At the residential school, these musicians met, physically, for the first time, and were able to synthesize their learning experiences into new and original musical interpretations. This presentation will show how learning technologies have enabled musicians who would never normally meet (due to barriers of distance and culture) to come together and create new music born of their own agency.