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CSO teacher profile: Benn Sutcliffe

Benn Sutcliffe, CSO Saxophonist / Clarinettist (Image: Murray Foote)

CSO Saxophonist / Clarinettist Benn Sutcliffe is one of many music teachers who switched to online lessons in recent months. While the experience has been tiring, it’s given Benn new skills and workflows that he’ll continue to utilise into the future.

Benn teaches students of all ages and levels, from eight years old to eighty, raw beginners and professional players. Weeks before social distancing was introduced in Canberra, he had been mentally preparing for the transition.

The majority of students managed the move to online learning well, which he attributes in part to a flexible approach to platforms. Students were encouraged to choose the most comfortable, convenient platform, such as Skype, Zoom or WhatsApp.

Benn found a more “demonstrative” approach to be most effective online, embracing the discipline of efficient communication.

“Opportunities in a face to face lesson where you might talk about things in a theoretical or a conceptual way – that doesn’t exist in an online forum, you can’t keep the student engaged in that way. All those micro-cues and conversational elements are gone.

“In some ways, it’s more of an aural approach rather than reinforcing the student’s theoretical understanding of a concept.”

Small, practical elements make a big difference – ensuring both student and teacher have the same resources in front of them, using headphones and plugging directly into the internet router to mitigate bandwidth issues.

While there’s no substitute for face to face teaching, Benn looks forward to the long-term benefits of integrating elements from his online approach, from paperless lessons and distributing notes online to producing high quality demo and duet recordings for students.

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