Piano lessons via Skype
Skype lessons can be invaluable if one lives at a distance from their teacher. Since 2009, Skype has enabled me to continue studying with my teachers in New York, Edna Golandsky and John Bloomfield. Through Skype, I can also present my students for feedback on my teaching. Skype also allows me to teach interstate, regional and international students, whether they be in Kingaroy, Mexico, or Singapore.
Although I find Skype to be a helpful tool, there are undeniable limitations, including restricted vision and imperfect sound quality, although the sound improves with every update. Another drawback is not being able to guide the student through touch, an essential component in learning the Taubman Approach, particularly in the early stages. Nevertheless, Skype can be invaluable. In this article, I will share what I find helpful in navigating Skype lessons, including the necessary equipment and suggestions for lesson preparation.
Equipment and Setup
First, access to high speed internet is essential. Without this, the screen can frequently pixelate or freeze. Second, two cameras are ideal, to facilitate multiple perspectives. In my setup, I have my laptop computer with an inbuilt camera placed on a chair at the side of the piano. Additionally, I have a webcam positioned overhead, attached to a microphone stand with a boom arm (a clip, blu-tac or rubber bands work well). I use a Logitech 720p Webcam Pro 9000, which retails online for between US$50-80 (both pictured below). Please have the camera in front of you, rather than behind, otherwise the teacher will only see the back of your head instead of your hands.
When this is in place, the overhead and side views during the Skype lesson can be alternated quickly. To do so on a Mac computer, click Skype / Preferences / Audio-Video / camera input. If the majority of the lesson is spent using the overhead view, I move the laptop to the right of the piano’s music stand, which is more comfortable than turning my torso to see the computer screen. If you are trialling Skype lessons and cannot invest in the above equipment, please borrow a webcam from a friend and find some way of fixing it above you to provide an overhead view (for example, attaching it to a music stand or light).
Suggestions to prepare for lessons:
– Familiarise yourself with Skype and your equipment before your lesson. Make sure the cameras are positioned optimally, practice changing between screens. Please have a trial call with a friend to reduce spending valuable lesson time on troubleshooting technical difficulties. Please ensure that your keyboard is not shown upside down during the Skype call – this is a common problem.
– Both teacher and student need to allow extra time in their schedules to set up for the Skype lesson, and to return the studio to normal.
– Check the time difference, if applicable, to ensure you are punctual. Entering the lesson time in one’s electronic calendar with the teacher’s time zone is a foolproof way of calculating the local time (and any changes due to daylight saving etc).
– Let your teacher know of the repertoire you wish to study at the lesson with sufficient notice. If she does not have the score in her library, scan and email the selected pages prior to the lesson. Writing in the measure numbers and any particular fingering you are using can also make the lesson more efficient.
– Lesson time is better spent targeting questions on specific issues, rather than playing pages at a time, or performing a piece all the way through. The student may choose to record themselves performing a piece and uploading the video to YouTube (as a private link) for the teacher to see.
– Use a video or third-party program to record the lesson for your own personal study. Some students recommend Pamela for Skype; Call Recorder is my preferred application.
– PayPal is a convenient method for international students to transfer funds, and cheaper than bank transfers. Allow extra for the fees the teacher incurs.
Although one-on-one lessons are more effective, Skype lessons can still be highly productive and rewarding. Hopefully the suggestions discussed will encourage students at a distance to pursue Skype lessons as an option, interspersed with in-person lessons where possible. Contact me if you’d like to book a Skype consultation! firstname.lastname@example.org