Learning tunes of symphony online

Snigdha Raju is studying management in Singapore. Every Tuesday morning, she logs into Skype at 9 am sharp. There is already a green dot next to her violin teacher’s profile. She makes the call, greets him with a traditional namaste and settles down with her violin. It is still early morning for her teacher who lives in Mumbai, and Snigdha is his first student for the day. The next 45 minutes is spent in deep learning and teaching — immersive, exclusive and focused — not unlike the famed guru-shishya tradition of yore.

Harking back to the gurukul convention is the most overused trope ever when it comes to teaching traditional arts. And nearly all the musicians and music academies who have gone online make it a point to mention the parallel. But this time, they ought to be forgiven; for it does appear that they are quite justified in doing so.

“Learning online is intimate, structured and customised for individual needs and talent. Distractions are few and the teacher is able to give individual attention to each student — a rarity in crowded physical classes,” says renowned musician and composer Shankar Mahadevan, whose music academy started seven years ago is a pioneer of sorts in transporting traditional teaching online.

Started along with Sridhar Ranganathan, a technological entrepreneur and a schoolmate of Shankar’s, the Shankar Mahadevan Academy (SMA) today has its presence in more than 70 countries and provides online music teaching to over 3,000 students from all over the world. The academy offers various styles — Hindustani, Carnatic, devotional, and even Bollywood — and the teaching is structured and progression transparent. “We treat music like Math or Science — the ease of access, the predictability, and the organised syllabi appeal to both the kids and their parents,” says Smita Chakravorty, who heads marketing and admissions at the academy.

SMA is certainly a pioneer but it’s not the only one. IndianRaga, started by entrepreneur Sriram Emani, is another academy that offers several online platforms to learn both contemporary and traditional music and dance. Others like the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SAPA) offer a combination of physical and online training. Today, nearly every experienced music teacher is offering online classes and many times preferring it over physical ones.

Vidwan Tirumala Srinivas, a well-known and respected musician, composer and teacher in Bengaluru, says he has been conducting online classes for nearly eight years now. Initially restricted to a few students, today his online coaching take up most of his morning hours. “I teach students from countries as varied as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Germany and America. The classes are scheduled beforehand, taking into account the various time zones,” he explains.

Vidwan Srinivas has been teaching classical music and mridangam from as far back as 1980 and he knows a thing or two about teacher-student interactions. “In a physical class, there are indeed a lot of distractions: inter-student rivalries, competitions (not always unhealthy and yet…) There is also the pressure to appear in a certain manner. Online, the focus is only on the music and its learning, making it an altogether more rewarding experience,” he feels.

Since the classes are virtual, mentors have the option of offering different formats of teaching. While individual teachers like Tirumala Srinivas follow the time-tested instructor-led format, larger academies offer several options such as self-study courses, singing practice with pre-recorded teachings, expert feedback sessions and study guides. “The intention is to spread the joy of music — convey its tradition in a more modern and fun way,” says Mahadevan.

Perhaps that’s why in most online music academies, a set curriculum plays an important role along with the opportunity to explore various genres. Chakravorty tells us about how they provide students with an online music book while the teachers are given a ‘teach kit’ — both exist to enable customised teaching (and learning). They also have ‘Sur Sadhana’, an app to practice their notes and listen to the compositions they learn in the class. “Online teaching expands the experience of learning — music concepts can be better explained, there is access to highly-skilled teachers, and technologies such as video conferencing and practice animations make learning more wholesome,” says Sridhar Ranganathan, CEO and co-founder of SMA.

With internet penetration growing and the quality of connections improving greatly, all you need is a decent headset, a webcam and a device to get introduced to a whole world of enrichment. As Smita puts it, our internet is getting better and our roads are getting worse. The choice, therefore, is clear.

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