Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Google Hangout. We are pretty much all familiar with these platforms whether we're working, studying or learning from home during the pandemic.
With many learning activities having shifted online from last year, it is common to ask ourselves what makes an online music lesson an enjoyable and enriching experience?
So we asked some of our faculty members their top tips to make online lessons a great experience.
Susanna Barasch, Voice
For me, the most important thing is what the student has on their end. With the delay online, it’s not possible for me to accompany the student. Ideally the student will have their accompanist there in the room with them or, less ideally a karaoke track. YouTube has tons of free karaokes. I also have students play their warmups on their piano. This is really great because I get to see what they’re doing (or not doing) in the practice room and where some more music theory practice is needed.
It’s also useful if the student has a large monitor to stand back a ways from the microphone, or even has an external mic that’s a bit better quality.
It’s good to be able to see the singers entire body, not just the face. But though technology helps, the most important thing is the teacher and student.
One of the best masterclasses we had over Zoom this year was with Capucine Chiaudani. She was quarantined in a very rural part of Italy, and the internet was very poor. The only way to keep her connected was for the entire class to turn their video off, including Capucine and the signers. With absolutely no video, only audio, Capucine taught the most wonderful masterclass. Not a single thing was lost on her. She corrected breath issues, vowel and consonant issues, interpretation, and the students improved in the short 20 mins each they spent with her.
If you want to learn, zoom won’t stop you.
Allison Cook, Double Bassist
There have been a few things that have helped me bridge the internet divide as we transitioned to online lessons.
The first was attaching a small, secondary webcam to a microphone stand behind my piano that offers a first person view of the keyboard. Being able to demonstrate the chords, patterns, and fingerings saves a lot of time and keeps their eyes on the screen and focused.
The second tool that helps me out in new ways each day is a dry erase board with a music staff and magnets for note heads. Being able to move the note head around and draw ledger lines in the moment has made it much easier to communicate concepts and patterns.
Lastly, utilizing the zoom recording feature has been an easy way for students to hear themselves perform and has facilitated deeper conversations about musicality. Overall I’ve noticed more confidence in many students because, even though the separation isn’t ideal, it is giving them a sense of self sufficiency and empowerment in their relationship with their instrument.
Radina Dosseva, Piano
Make sure that you and your student each have a good WiFi connection - either wireless router, or eternet cable for a more solid connection. If even one of you has a poor WiFi connection, it makes online lessons more difficult. If internet speed is the problem, you can also try turning off your microphone and/or video if you're not actively demonstrating something.
You don't need any fancy setup or technology to teach online. Just make sure that the students can see your hands from multiple angles, when you're demonstrating. This means you might have to move your camera from time to time, or use your phone camera in addition to a laptop for a different angle.
You and your student can also use headphones for better audio, if necessary.
Make sure that you and your students have the same copy of the music score to work from. The same edition is preferable, but not necessary for more advanced students. If the piece has been arranged, make sure you each have a copy of the same arrangement. There are many Classical music scores in the public domain on IMSLP that you and your students can access for free, if you're unable to purchase your own copy.
Emma Johnson, Cello
One tip I would give is to use the technology to your advantage.
It has been really useful to be able to do a video screen share when I want to show a student a specific performer or piece.
Technology allows you to access almost anything that you want in that exact moment.
My next tip is to use the lesson time not only for teaching your specific instrument, but also spending 5 or 10 minutes on a bit of music history or theory. It is very easy to screen share something like a small PowerPoint presentation that you put together or charts of note names and other learning materials.
Lastly, since camera angle or lighting can sometimes prove to be difficult, sending students videos of yourself playing the piece they are working on can make a difference. This not only ensures better quality of sound, but you can adjust the camera angles to focus on the parts of your instrument or playing that you think they need to see.
Thomas Pandolfi, Piano
Find the language! As a pianist, what do I mean by this? Cicero once said, “You have to tell someone in three different ways how to do something.” I believe he would have changed that to “300 ways” if he had the pleasure of an online experience!
Communicating effectively in a way that reinforces clarity for a student can at times be challenging enough in person; how much more so through the computer screen!
I can’t tell a student to “pedal this way”, but I can say, “I’m going to turn my camera at an angle, walk over to the light switch, and tell me what happens when the light switch goes all the way off, all the way on? Ok, and now what’s different if I use the dimmer?
Ah, suddenly there is a visual concept of pedal effects (half pedal, quarter pedal, etc) —the shades in between. Of course with a very sophisticated set up, one could have a camera on the feet, on the hands, above the keyboard, from both sides — but even if the teacher has that, the student may not; so while more challenging, in some ways the search for the language has helped to crystallize concepts in a whole new, and perhaps even more creative way.
Keep up the standards!
Technology while fabulous, isn’t perfect. It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming it for any shortcomings.
The legendary Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) who studied with one of the last pupils of Franz Liszt, and who was one of the greatest pianists of the 20th Century, told a story once about how he played a concert in his youth on a rather inferior instrument; his teacher was present in the audience. After the concert, the young Arrau complained how he couldn’t achieve some of the results he had intended because of the “inferior piano.” His teacher took him aside and said, “Young man, anyone with talent can play well on a fantastic instrument, but a true virtuoso and artist can take something worthless and transform it into gold!”
Even on Zoom, with all of its imperfections, continue to strive for that genuine whisper of a pianissimo, that crisp staccato, that liquid legato, and that full, plush orchestral sonority which is never harsh nor brash.
Continue to reach for the heights, and how much more refined and polished your craft will be when we one day all return to the teaching studio and the concert hall.
Keep the energy, excitement and flow!
Just because we’re not physically in the same room together, we must never lose the enthusiasm. It’s always about musicianship, and that means learning to reason. As musicians, we must always be in discovery mode — searching, probing for meaning.
One of my teachers used to frequently quote something from The Talmud: “If you want to understand the invisible, study carefully the visible.”
The invisible things are the infinite varieties of emotions and feelings elicited by musical sounds; the visible things are the symbols and special words used in writing music. If we are to convey a composer’s intentions, we must study carefully what he has written down. This remains constant and of paramount importance whether we’re online or live in person.
To discover more about our faculty please visit www.m4arts.org/faculty