Many people wonder if online lessons are a real thing. Twenty years ago we probably would not have tried it but since Youtube has become a multi billion dollar platform music teachers have had to adapt to the idea. We don’t want to be outwitted by the teenager playing some pop song with a light up keyboard. (only kidding, I’m sure Johnny is doing a great job.) We can visit thousands of music videos, tutorials and classes with just a click of a button. It’s amazing! I love using you tube myself and for my students. It’s a powerful resource.
However, you do miss that personal connection. The biggest difference between a youtube tutorial of how to play “A River Flows in You” or whatever song you’re wanting to look up and learn overnight……… is the FEEDBACK. If you want some expert advice from someone who has been trained and painstakingly gone through the same process of learning an instrument, you’re going to need a private teacher. They’re going to know how to help you. That youtube tutorial with the colored keys will only take you so far. Although they are pretty cool!
So how do we “get with the times” but also keep the connection and expertise that we so desperately need? Let me just say that a good teacher is still going to be a good teacher whether it’s through online video or sitting next to the students in their studio. I heard someone quote, “Music gives people hope. Piano teachers give people music.” Don’t give up on that teacher, please! They are the hope for your child to have a love for music and be trained properly. But what if an in-person lesson is not an option?
If you’re considering online lessons please know they CAN work and they can work very well! It’s not ideal but an awesome choice if you can’t find a teacher in the area. Or you’re going on a long vacation and don’t want to miss a ton of lessons. Or maybe Susie has the sniffles and doesn’t want to infect anyone but is perfectly fine with having her lesson that day. OR if you’re an innocent victim of a worldwide epidemic and can’t leave your house. (it’s coming guys….) Whatever the reason, it’s great to fallback on that rather than falling BEHIND. (obviously check if your teacher offers online lessons before assuming.)
Here are some things you need to do before starting online lessons:
1. Set up your space.
- The teacher needs to see the keyboard and the students to watch for form, technique, hand position, fingering etc. The teacher will most likely hear the mistakes in notes so no need to get an birdseye view, just a side shot is fine.
- Use a program and device that has the best video quality.
- For apple users, FaceTime is usually the best quality. For non apple, Skype is the easiest to work with (and it’s free!).
- Be sure the books or sheet music are all out on the music stand. Everything needs to be out of their piano bag and easily reachable.
- Be sure the device is charged and has been updated with all software updates!
- Be aware of the space the student is in for the lesson. If there are a lot of distractions, chances are the lesson will not go well. Younger siblings, tv blaring in the background=the teacher trying to bring the students attention back to them.
A little tip: don’t use a swivel chair for a substitute piano bench. This causes the student to not only be distracted during their normal practice but also during the lesson! Use a piano bench to ensure the correct height and posture for the learning student.
2. Be aware of measure numbers and sections of music.
Because the teacher cannot just point at a section of music and say “let’s work this part” but rather “look at measure 5-10 for me”. Students have to know how to count measure numbers. This is typically explained to them early on but we do not always use that language until they are a little older. They will quickly start to look for the boxes above the first measure of each line and then count towards the right to figure out where the teacher is talking about. This is all apart of music literation! They will learn how to “speak” music. For younger students, a parent may need to be present to help them find their spot but they usually catch on quick. We can even make it a game and say “see how fast you can find measure number 12!”.
3. Be prepared to LISTEN well.
Because of the lack of personal contact through online lessons, students have to be willing to listen well rather than learning via demonstration. Even when the teacher demonstrates online, they MUST listen more than WATCH because obviously they are looking through a screen to see what they are doing which is harder to follow than in person. BUT I have found this amazingly develops their ear rather than relying on sight to show them how to fix something or add something to their music. While the student should listen well, they should also ask more questions if they are struggling to understand something being communicated to them verbally. This applies as well in a regular lesson but facial readings are not quite as easy on camera than they are in person, so if the student is confused, don’t be afraid to speak up!
4. Always have a pencil, a highlighter and a piece of paper ready.
–The pencil is for marking things on the music. Sometimes I will ask students to write in the timing of their notes or circle something. Normally I would do this for them but since I am not there, they have to do it themselves. Which like many other things, is a great way to learn! When they do it themselves, it usually sinks in more.
–I love using highlighters for student pieces because it makes certain things (dynamics, articulation, etc) POP out of the page! It “lights up” on the page more than a pencil would. By the way, you CAN use a pen to mark up music if you’re okay with that but I’d recommend to use an erasable pen rather than marking up a page and not being able to erase it. A highlighter in my opinion is the exception because they are excellent learning tools when trying to help younger students understand different signs and markings within the score.
–A piece of paper is just handy to have for making additional notes. Students can keep this tucked away somewhere in their music binder. They will receive an assignment sheet from me (in the case that I am the teacher) but this piece of paper has come in handy for me many times!
5. Be ready for slow signals or possible freezes in a video.
–Technical difficulties are the one downside to online lessons just simply by using a wifi signal. These difficulties will happen, we just gotta work through them. If it is a weak signal and the videos stops, just let the teacher know and keep listening the best you can until the signal is restored. If the call drops, wait for the teacher to call you back. Most of these problems are the network not the device. Try to get close to your wifi router if your signal is weak and make sure other family members are not on wifi slowing the signal down. We can work through these problems when they occur. We just have to be patient!
I hope this helps clarify some of the preparation needed for online lessons. There are actually many benefits to online lessons. I already mentioned how it develops a students ear as they’re listening to their teacher play or explain something. IThey are required to apply what they’ve heard, not shown. t also exercises their problem solving skills by letting them have a little bit more independence with their learning. I have seen a students light bulb “turn on” more often during online lessons because they are required to apply what they are being taught with just one mode of learning which forces them to focus a little more than they would at a normal lesson. At an in-person lesson, they can definitely begin to rely on rote memory or copying rather than thinking about the instructions of the teacher. Online lessons help them internalize their understanding and help them realize they have the knowledge they just need to apply it. Which in turn gives them more confidence as a musician!
I wouldn’t say this is the BEST way of learning music but for some, it is easier for their schedules and they are able to still take music lessons if they do not have a music teacher in their local area. I think it is a great substitute when needing to teach virtually. Sure, an in-person lesson is ideal but this is beneficial too! We have definitely come a long way.
NOTE: I wrote this blog post last week in light of the corona virus outbreak expecting to need it sometime in the future with the way things have been going. This change, online lessons, will be implemented in the studio this coming week. I did not anticipate this change so soon as I am sure all of us have been a little taken back by all the changes the last few weeks. I want to stress the importance of keeping up a routine with your children (my students) especially in music. Everything has changed in their little world and one of the most amazing outlets in a child’s life is the ability to learn music and enjoy being able to express themselves on their instrument. I don’t want to see this taken away from them too. I want to still be able to provide this creative/educational outlet for them during these times. Everything is unknown, but at least the structure of practice, learning, achieving and growing as a musician will still be there.
I appreciate each of you! And know that I am praying for you all and wish you health and safety!