Guide to Online Music and Youth Work Using Zoom

Guide to Online Music & Youth Work Using Zoom

1st June 2020

Recently we have started delivering a variety of online youth-clubs, music and creative workshops and training sessions over Zoom – an online video-conferencing platform. The busiest session has been our weekly music youth club with around 40 children. Even with this number, the personal interaction has been good, people have enjoyed being together and feedback has been very positive. We have been able to maintain our normal child-protection procedures online and feel that this is a safe and very worthwhile approach for our work during this time.

The following is a summary of our experiments so far, and some additional notes that might be useful for others using this kind of platform for creative workshops and youth work.

We are aware that questions have been raised about the security of Zoom. A good summary article about these concerns is here. The security precautions we are taking to manage these concerns are laid out in the processes described below. Clearly each organisation needs to make their own decisions on this based on their current child protection policies. The scope of this document does not include the much broader discussion of a comparison between Zoom and other similar services that are available. 

There is a very good summary of the security considerations here on the SCVO website.

For general education about the Zoom platform the best place to visit is the Zoom website tutorials page.There are both short and in depth articles on every aspect of the platform.

We have organised this guide as follows:

  1. Summary of Key Zoom features we have been using
  2. Summary of Key Child protection & Group Management features we use.
  3. Online Music Activities that we have trialled. 
  4. Our online setup for these activities & how we have managed them.
  5. Zoom Settings that we have been using for youth work
  6. Zoom Settings for getting the best quality audio when playing music.

1. Key Zoom features to help group facilitation:

  • Breakout rooms: You can split people into smaller groups in ‘breakout rooms’ and bring everyone back together, or move people between breakout rooms.
  • Mute All: You can mute everyone at the same time if it gets too noisy – hugely helpful for giving instructions or focusing attention on one person at a time. Also very useful for when people are playing music together along to a backing track.
  • Unmuting all: you can ask people to unmute and give rounds of applause and help build some atmosphere.
  • Share: The Share function allows you to share your desktop or specific programmes so everyone can see them at the same time – e.g. a video, sheet music, pictures, word document, whiteboard for group art/ diagrams etc. (We only allow facilitators to use this setting) 
  • Share Computer Music/Audio Only:  This share’s music/audio from your computer so everyone can hear it clearly through their own speakers.
  • Chat: The Chat function allows people to write messages to everyone in the group while others are talking.
  • Spotlight: You can “spotlight” people, which means their video takes up the whole screen and becomes the focus for everyone. This can be useful when someone is performing or talking for example.
  • Gallery / Speaker View: People can toggle between Speaker View and Gallery View. For group activities or playing music together, we usually encourage people to keep it on Gallery View as you can see everybody all on the same screen and it feels like everyone’s together. Speaker View means whoever is speaking takes up the full screen – this can be useful if someone is demonstrating something that people need to see better, or if you want there to be more focus on someone speaking (you can also use the “Spotlight” function for this).

2. Key Child protection & Group Management features:

  • Waiting room feature allows you to check who people are before admitting them to the meeting.
  • Private message feature is turned off for participants.
  • Annotation is turned off for participants.
  • The online facilitators/tutors (called ‘host’ and ‘co-hosts’ in zoom) are able to mute participants – e.g. in case people use inappropriate language or misbehave too much.
  • The online facilitators/tutors can turn off people’s video – e.g. in case participants have anything inappropriate visible in the background of their video or misbehave too much.
  • The online facilitators/tutors can remove people from the session if necessary.
  • Participants do not need to share any sensitive information with the group or the host when they join a meeting, only their name.
  • The platform is accessible from almost any digital device including directly through web browsers or landline phone.
  • Our normal child protection code of conduct remains in place and fit for purpose. In particular all our staff & team members have PVG (Protection of Vulnerable Groups) certificates & disclosures.

3. Online Music Activities we have trialled using Zoom

It is impossible to play music together simultaneously in a standard sense over zoom.  This is because there is a delay over the internet and you cannot play in time. Recently the orchestra have been experimenting with atemporal improvisations which have been a lot of fun, but are a very different form to real world music! You may have seen videos that seem to show people playing together on Zoom, but they have actually recorded separate individual audio files and mixed them after the performance.

However, there are many great ways of sharing music together on Zoom. You can play solos to each other, and it’s possible for people to play along with one person or play along to a backing track. We have even found that some participants are feeling more comfortable and confident to perform to others over Zoom than in real life.

Generally speaking, the workshop leader needs to be un-muted and everyone else needs to be muted.

Call and response activities work very well.

Playing along to a leader while muted can be very satisfying – e.g. one person plays the guitar unmuted, and everyone else plays along while muted.  (everyone else needs to be muted or you will hear everyone playing out of time!)

Playing along to a backing track while muted can be very satisfying too. 

To do this you need to Share Computer Audio Only so everyone can hear the same track clearly. Again everyone needs to be muted while singing or playing along.

Dancing works really well. This can be along to a solo performance or if a host/ co-host shares their computer audio of a song. It can help if someone leads the dancing and tells everyone what moves to do.

Using headphones when playing or singing along online greatly improves the experience.

Offering solo performance slots has worked very well for our groups – a bit like an open mic. i.e. someone plays a solo and everyone else listens and claps and gives some feedback.

The Chat function has been very positive too, especially during solos – people in the group have been writing positive messages of encouragement to each other while they are playing. 

Breaking up a song into a series of solo verses and sections can work very well – so people play or sing a verse/section each. The host can manage the muting/ unmuting of people so that this can feel reasonably smooth.

For music lessons it is very effective to use screen sharing to work through resources together. We have used Muse Score, YouTube lessons and the Whiteboard function to good effect. 

We are working on setting up a system to enable us to safely deliver musical instruments from our instrument library to participants who don’t have an instrument at home. We’re hoping to start piloting this over the coming weeks.

We have been working on making videos of people playing music together on zoom, but this requires some workarounds. People can play along to one person or backing track while muted and record the video on zoom. However, this has required people to record their audio separately, and then use post-production to sync up the separate audio files and edit this with the video. There is an example of a video and recording project we made online across all our youth groups here. Click here too for a guide on making these kind of videos by Mike Kearney Music.

Checking in with participants.

One of the main aims of these online sessions is to keep checking in with people and making sure they are doing ok during this time, as well as playing music and having fun together.

We phone round our participants every week to check in and let them know about these online youth clubs, and also have a check in on Zoom during the sessions.

We have found that groups of 4-5 participants with 2 adults has been an ideal ratio for checking in with each other. We generally do this using the breakout space function and then return together for any large group activities.

As well as the expected problems of boredom and loneliness we have also encountered some surprisingly positive things. Some of our most vulnerable participants are finding digital home schooling more effective than school now that they are away from bullies/ distractions/ social anxiety. Also some participants have felt more free to express themselves and their choices that we would usually expect.

4. General Setup for Zoom sessions.

Account choice – The options and settings of different accounts are changing very quickly at the moment. This is correct as of the date of this document.

  • We use pro account.
  •  All of our work has exclusively used ‘Zoom meetings’ as this is the most appropriate for our work. We haven’t used ‘Zoom Webinars’ or ‘Zoom Rooms’.

Setting up Sessions

  • When scheduling a meeting you can set it to be recurring without specific dates. This means that you can continue to use the same link every time you run that meeting.
  • People can phone in to meetings (audio only) from a landline or non-smart mobile  by calling the appropriate phone number and entering meeting ID. We have found this to be much more successful than expected for young people who don’t have access to digital resources.

In Sessions/ Meetings

  • At the beginning of meetings we suggest that people use ‘Gallery View’. This means you can see as many people as will fit on the page. Swipe left on mobile devices or click top right of screen on laptop/ desktops.
  • If you click on options on your own video you can choose to hide the video of yourself (hide self view).
  • For smaller groups we find it more natural to leave people un-muted, but large meetings it it’s useful for the host to use the ‘mute all’ feature when needed.

Meeting Roles

  • Host – Usually the lead tutor, though possibly a tech support person in a large meeting.
  • Co-Host – All tutors need to be given co-host privileges by the host so that they can share screen, mute/ unmute people and move between breakout rooms. The host clicks on the 3 dots next to their name in the participant pane to do this.

How we use spaces in a meeting:     

  • We do our best to ensure that 2 x adults with PVG (Protection of Vulnerable Groups) checks are in all spaces with young people.
  • Waiting Room – as people arrive, they see a page that tells them they are in the Tinderbox waiting room. This is customisable in the settings. The host and co-hosts can see their name appear in the participants pane and can choose to admit them or not. If we don’t recognise the name, we can send a message to the waiting room to ask them to text or call us to let us know who they are before admitting them. Almost all of the time we recognise the names.
  • Main Space – Where everyone arrives from the waiting room. This is where large group stuff happens. 
  • Breakout Rooms – Additional spaces the host can set up to send people to during the session.    
  • For larger sessions we set up the main space as a reception area where we can check in with people before sending them to gather in a breakout room before the session starts properly. Checks may include participants
    • have completed a registration/ consent form
    • are dressed appropriately
    • have an appropriate background (virtual or physical)
    • understand the usual group agreement is in place
    • have alerted any adults in the room with them that other children can hear them and may see them if they are in shot.
  • The chat function does not work between breakout rooms or between breakout rooms and the main space. The only communication possible is that the host can write banners that all breakout rooms can see and hosts/ co-hosts can join different breakout rooms to check in. We have set up a team WhatsApp group for each workshop as a workaround for this.

5. Zoom Meeting Settings

These are the Zoom settings we use for our online Youth Work projects.

They are listed in the same order as the settings section in your Zoom account.

We have only listed the ones we think are most significant.

These settings are changing very regularly at the moment as Zoom update their system due to the massive increase in usage and scrutiny. These settings are correct as of the date at the top of this page.

  • Join before host – off
  • Enable Personal Meeting ID (PMI) – off: We don’t use Personal Meeting IDs.
  • Only authenticated users can join meetings – off: We use the waiting room function to establish identity of people joining meetings. Otherwise would require all users to have a zoom account.
  • Require a password for all meetings – On.
  • Chat – On: Enables whole group chat but not private chat. This setting can be changed during a meeting. It is worth being aware that the chat cannot be edited during a meeting.
  • Private Chat – Off: Only Hosts and Co-Hosts can be contact and be contacted privately. This setting can be changed during a meeting.
  • Co-Host – On
  • Screen Sharing – Host Only: Only Hosts and Co-Hosts can share screen. This setting can be changed during a meeting.
  • Annotation – Off. We would turn this on if useful for a workshop, but off as default
  • Whiteboard – Off. Same as Annotation.
  • Allow Participants to Rename themselves – On. This setting can be changed during a meeting.
  • Breakout Room – On (tick allow host to assign participants to breakout rooms when scheduling)
  • Virtual Background – On. This setting can be changed during a meeting.
  • Allow users to select original sound in settings – On. An important setting to allow the full range of audio frequencies when playing instruments.
  • Waiting Room – On (all participants). We also add a welcome note that includes our group agreement for conduct.
  • Show “join from your browser” link – On

Zoom Settings for best quality audio when playing music

The following settings hugely improve the quality of the audio. People need to change these settings on the zoom app on their computer.

Note: Zoom has recently released an update with a feature called “High Fidelity Music Mode” which covers some of the below settings and changes the layout of the Audio Settings window. You can download this update here, and read a bit more about it here.

Go to Audio Settings from the zoom app:

  • Uncheck the box for “Automatically adjust microphone volume”
  • If you have installed the latest update, you should also set the “Suppress Background Noise” setting to Low. If you haven’t got this update, click straight to the Advanced settings as below.

Then click “Advanced” within the Audio Settings window and set up the settings as follows:

  • Check the box for ‘Show in-meeting option to “Enable original sound” from microphone’ (once this is enabled, you can toggle this on and off on the main zoom screen)
  • If you have installed the latest update, you should check “Disable Echo Cancellation” and “High Fidelity Music Mode”.
  • If you haven’t installed the latest update you should choose the following settings on this page:
    • Suppress Persistent Background Noise – Disable
    • Suppress Intermittent Background Noise – Disable
    • Echo Cancellation – Auto

Once these settings are set, return to the main zoom meeting screen and make sure that Original Sound is turned ON. You will find the button to toggle it on and off in the top left of your screen.

Note: If you are on a computer you can do this during a meeting. If you are on a phone or iPad/tablet you cannot do it in the meeting and have to log out to sort out the settings and then log back in again.

Other settings to be aware of

We leave the following settings on to allow some creativity and self-expression. Note that these could be used inappropriately, and if it feels a problem for your sessions you can disable them in the settings, like most other features:

  • Allow participants to rename themselves
  • Virtual background – participants can upload their own photos to use.

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