We’ve all been there. You have a carefully planned lesson. Things are going great. Your students were on time to the Zoom; they have their cameras on so you can see them smiling and nodding. They have good questions. You’re killing this lesson. And then you play your musical example. Crickets. “I don’t hear anything. Does anyone else?” And just like that, it all falls apart, and you lose ten minutes to troubleshooting. Nobody wants that.
One of the most challenging things about teaching music on a Zoom1 conference is playing recordings for everyone. Audio over Zoom is going to be compressed and likely out of sync, that is if you can get audio from where it lives into Zoom to begin with. Showing YouTube videos is worse, because you’re getting another layer of compression with the video, and it’s just a mess if anyone (including the presenter) starts talking over the video.
The solution to these and other problems that I’ve really had fun with is called Watch2gether, a freemium2 service allows YouTube video playback to be synchronized across many different users.
It’s astonishingly simple and reliable. As a free user, I can create a “room”, where I can add YouTube videos to a playlist. I can give a link to that playlist to my students, and then when I press play on a video, it starts playing for everyone else, directly from YouTube. Need to start at 24:13? Need to scrub back a few seconds to catch that cadence again? All of my students’ video players will hop back too. Same with jumping to the next or previous video in the playlist. Rooms also include a text chat feature, but I’ve used it pretty minimally, since I usually have a Zoom conference running alongside it.
I used Watch2gether with my graduate seminar last spring when they presented their research at the end of the term. Since we were remote, I asked them all to record their presentations and upload them to YouTube. Then for the Q&A, we all watched the presentations using Watch2gether and then moved to a Q&A. This meant that our discussions weren’t at the mercy of any presenter’s connection speed, and nobody had to struggle with getting their musical examples to work. (Also, it was lower pressure for the presenters, since they could just re-record or edit as needed.) It’s possible to save a room or a playlist to re-use throughout a course as well.
One thing to look out for is that by default, anyone in the class can take control of the playlist. It could be a fun class project to send them out to YouTube and find examples of things to add to a playlist, but you may not want them putting the latest Cardi B tune in your playlist of Renaissance polyphony. So take note of the playlist settings (which can be changed at any time) if you decide to give it a go with your students.
I have only tried Watch2gether with YouTube, but the company also advertises that it works with other platforms, including Vimeo, Dailymotion, and Soundcloud. Watch2gether is free to use for any of the above features, and for a reasonable $3.49/mo. you can remove ads from the site for any room that you create, which I think is pretty reasonable. It’s not a perfect service—I would love to include Spotify or uploaded audio/video in a room—but it’s very handy and reliable. Super useful for music and performing arts classes who will be going remote.