Many teams have been running online sessions during the year to keep in touch with their members. Here are some ideas from them to help you make this happen for your team if you are looking to get started, or to shake things up a little. This is by no means an exhaustive how-to guide – you will need to find an approach that works for you and your team.
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Running Online Practices, Meetups & Music Sessions
Some teams are running online sessions at their usual practice day and time, either just for a chat, to do quizzes, or even run a dance practice. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with everyone during these isolating times when we can’t get together and helps maintain a routine. Obviously, it’s not the same as meeting up in person, but for many it is better than not meeting up at all.
To hear and see everyone, you need some form of Video Conferencing Software. There are many products you could use, including Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Jitsi. For music sessions see the section below on using Jamkazam.
You may, however, find that some people have had quite enough of online meetings during their working day, so they don’t want to do it in the evening as well!
Tips for using video conferencing software
Here are some tips for getting going. Each product regularly issues updates, so keep playing with it, and remember that your version of the software and level of expertise may not be the same as that of the rest of the team, especially if you are using it professionally! The features are also different on different devices.
All video conferencing software suffers from similar limitations in terms of the video (picture) lagging behind the audio (sound). This means that if you are trying to dance at the same time as someone else, you will probably hear the music before you see them move, which makes copying them quite difficult!
- Learn how to Mute & Unmute (turn your microphone off/on).
- Learn how to switch between the different Views so you can choose the one that suits you.
- Learn how to use the Chat function to type messages – to the group and to individuals separately.
- Your video appears to you as a mirror image because this is how you are used to seeing yourself. Everyone else’s video will appear to you as if you are looking at them.
- Everyone’s connection speed will be different, so expect a lag between audio and video and also between the videos from different sources.
- A wired network connection is generally better than a wireless one.
- Have a go … you won’t break anything. Don’t worry if you do something silly, we’ve all done it!
Online social meetups
You might want to just have a social with everyone, and here are some ideas that teams have tried:
- To make sure you hear from everyone, have a ‘theme’ (e.g. what was my most embarrassing morris moment) and go round the room
- Have a quiz – you could rotate the quiz leader, or a few people could lead one round each
- Bring an object e.g. my silliest hat
- Scavenger hunt – you have 1 minute to find …
If you are practising dances, here are some tips from teams.
- It’s much easier if only 1 musician is unmuted at a time.
- Everyone else needs to be muted, otherwise when they hear your music it may be interrupted with someone else’s background noise, then your music will speed up to catch up! You will also get feedback where someone else’s microphone is picking up and replaying the music back at you!
- It is helpful if the music is in the same room as a dancer or the practice leader / caller. Not all teams are lucky enough for this to be possible.
- You’ll need a reasonable space to dance in view of your computer. (Think about your ceiling height and lighting before you start dancing!)
- Try to have light shining on you from the side of the computer – daylight / room light, so you can be seen.
- Remember to warm up just as you should before a ‘normal’ practice.
- Try to keep dancing if the music is interrupted, it may speed up to catch up later.
- If you want to keep track of your position, mark out key positions on the walls or floor. You might find it reassuring to designate the computer as Up!
- Try not to watch yourself on screen when dancing (although it can be good to see what your own arm movements look like).
- Try not to watch other team members while you are trying to dance – video lagging means you are unlikely to be dancing together and it can be tricky to work out from a thumbnail what is going on.
- Help your team members with the techy things first to make practices run more smoothly and to build their confidence.
- If everyone apart from the practice leader is muted, agree some hand signals for the team to speed up communication with you, such as “I am happy with this” (thumbs up with both hands, moving about) and “Please repeat that” (both hands on head). A tip from Kerry Fletcher, EFDSS Folk Educators Group.
- It is helpful if the practice leader has a good contrast between their clothes and their background; a plain background is best.
- You might need to stand with your back to the camera, or side-on, or have the camera pointed at your feet, to demonstrate certain movements.
- Sometimes you could dance along to a pre-recorded video of your team dancing out (the hosts uses ‘Share Screen’) – this can be useful for knowing where you should be in complicated figures, or if your musicians are unable to join the session.
- Be sympathetic to the situation of the dancers and musicians – understand the limitations imposed by their technology, available practice space and their context outside of practice.
- It can be helpful to ask dancers to imagine they are all dancing at number 1, for example. This will allow you to spot inconsistencies more easily. It also forces people out of their comfort zone so should help people feel that they are making some progress even though not dancing with others,
- Don’t be afraid to repeat dances (or parts of dances) during the evening – more than one musician might want to lead the tune and it is good practice to repeat from other positions, consolidate learning or focus the camera on a different part of the body (arms then feet, for example).
- Make sure you are clear in advance about recording practices, should you choose to do so. What is the purpose? Is everyone happy to be recorded? What will happen to the recordings?
- As a practice leader, you will be used to not dancing every dance so that you can watch what’s going on, but feel free to share this around – someone else is bound to appreciate the break!
- Keep it varied – online fatigue definitely sets in when every week begins to feel the same with no progression.
- It can be helpful to let people know in advance what you’re planning so that they can ‘revise’ dances and tunes.
- It can be helpful to separate the dancing and social parts of the practice to allow more focus on the dancing – think about how your usual practices would normally run and try to replicate that structure in some way.
Tips for Using Zoom
Zoom has become very popular for running online practices and meetups. One person has to be the ‘host’ and everyone can else can join in without having to set up their own account. Zoom lets you can sign up for a free account (i.e. no cost), which gives you 40 minutes of video conferencing time in one go (if there’s only 2 zoom sessions connected, there is no time limit). Importantly:
- The musicians and practice leaders or callers all need to use ‘original sound’.
- The host can also ‘Mute All’ then Unmute the musician, or ‘Spotlight’ a particular person to show on everyone’s screens.
- Participants can ‘Share Screen’ to share all or part of their desktop screen, for example to show a photo, video or document to everyone.
- The host can allocate any of the participants to be a co-host to help share things like muting/unmuting and recording.
EFDSS has produced an excellent Guide to using Zoom for Education Activities (PPT).
Running Music Sessions
We have had good reports of using Jamkazam software for playing music together in real-time without the Zoom-like delays, so you hear everyone and play truly together. Typically 4 to 5 computers can take part in audio-only sessions, but you can have multiple musicians per computer (e.g. musical households, people in support bubbles etc).
If you are unfamiliar with JamKazam, each participant needs a wired internet connection, a laptop (Apple or Mac), an Audio Interface (typically £90), microphone and headphones (together about £50) and from 1 Jan 2021 a monthly subscription to Jamkazam of $0 to $20 (depending on usage). The JamKazam software is constantly evolving and will not be intuitive to new users and/or non computer-literate musicians.
The Morris Federation is in touch with a group (both experienced musicians and IT professionals) who have been using this constantly throughout the Covid-19 period, and can put interested parties in touch with them for advice/guidance on establishing a new group of players. Please contact us if you have a serious interest and would appreciate some guidance/advice/recommendations, and we will put you in touch.
Jamulus is another software for music sessions about which we have had good reports.