Online Piano lessons
Online 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 recommend for successfully navigating Skype lessons, including the necessary equipment and preparation. Please take the time to read and follow these instructions beforehand to avoid wasted time for both of us during the lesson.
NB The recommendations below are largely for interstate / international students who regularly have long-term online lessons. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I’m encouraging everyone to be flexible – you can use EpocCam to have your mobile phone act as a second camera, attach it to a lamp with rubber bands or blu-tac. We all need to be flexible and find a practical solution that will work for everyone, whether it be Zoom, Skype or Facetime.
Ideal 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. For you to be able to have the best Skype experience, 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). The Sound King is one possibility to consider. 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 on the keys.
When this is in place, the overhead and side views during the 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).
I extend the mic boom so that the camera is about an octave higher than middle C, so that the view is straight down over the hands, rather than on the side with some fingers obscured. Notice that the leg of the mic boom is flush against the piano, with the stand aligned against the low keys, rather than against the edge of the piano.
Please organise your set up so I can see this view of your hands from the overhead camera
Please attend to these points prior to your online lesson:
– Familiarise yourself with Skype / Zoom and your equipment before your lesson. Make sure both cameras are positioned optimally, and practice changing between screens. Please have a trial call with a friend to reduce spending valuable lesson time on troubleshooting technical difficulties. Ensure that your keyboard is not shown upside down during the Skype call, as this is a common problem.
– Both teacher and student need to allow a little extra time in their schedules to set up for the online lesson to begin punctually, to allow for any online glitches, particularly when the internet capacity is currently overloaded, and to return the studio to normal after the lesson.
– Check the time difference, if applicable, to ensure you are on time. Entering the lesson time in an electronic calendar such as iCal with the teacher’s time zone is a foolproof way of calculating the local time (and keeping up to date with any changes due to daylight saving etc).
– Make sure you have the latest version of Skype. If one party has a different version there can be incompatibility issues with cameras freezing and crashing. On occasion, this may require a complete IOS update, so take care of this ahead of time.
– 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. Take care to send the pages to the email address, not as a text message to the mobile phone. Writing in the measure numbers and any particular fingering you are using can also make the lesson more efficient, so that we are literally on “the same page”.
– Lesson time can be 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 if this is a useful stage of the performance preparation.
– You may find a video or third-party program useful to record the lesson for your own personal study (ie not for public upload). Some students recommend Pamela for Skype; Call Recorder is my preferred application. It is also possible to record a lesson within Skype. To do this, go to the bottom right corner, and click More Options. You may prefer just to record small snippets and demonstrations to practice with later, or the whole lesson.
– If possible, please do not make the Skype call from your mobile phone. I will not have a good enough view of your fingers, hand and forearm to do my best work, and you will struggle to see my hands and follow the instructions from such a small screen. To make best use of the lesson, you need at least a laptop for a decent side view, and an overhead camera as detailed above.
-PayPal is a convenient method for international students to transfer funds, and cheaper than bank transfers. Allow extra for the fees so that the teacher receives the full specified fee.
Although one-on-one lessons are more effective, online lessons can still be highly productive and rewarding. Hopefully the suggestions discussed will encourage students at a distance to pursue online lessons as an option, interspersed with in-person lessons where possible. Contact me if you’d like to book an online consultation! firstname.lastname@example.org