Teaching and Learning the Piano from a Distance

Increased bandwidth, computer speed and technology have combined to make learning online a reality. Students from all over the world connect with great teachers from across the planet in real time. For instance, over the past three years, I have been able to supplement physically being in the US and taking lessons with great practitioners (such as John Bloomfield in New York City) with Skype lessons for the remaining 11 months when I'm not there. I also teach students in Colombia, the UK, Canada and across Australia.

Setup

Here are the details of my setup: * I have two cameras. I use the inbuilt camera on my laptop which sits to the side of my piano giving the student a "piano teacher's view" of the side of my hand and arm

* I have the other camera directed to view my hands from above. I attach this camera to a microphone stand. You can buy a purpose built clip for this, but I use masking tape to hold it in place.

Skype allows you to switch between the cameras, so I keep the preferences tab open.

I use a MacBook which does much better at processing the video compared to my PC which isn't quite as powerful.

A student of mine recently connected his phone to a microphone stand to provide the overhead view and we used FaceTime to connect. This was an even better quality picture than the Skype one. To be honest, Skype was good enough, but the Facetime to my iPad gave me even more clarity.

Here is a screen grab of a lesson I had with a student recently. You can see that I can see a side view of his piano (on the right) and on the left is a view of the overhead camera in my studio. I also have my iPad connected via FaceTime for this particular lesson.

The other advantage of using a Mac is that you can purchase the inexpensive recording software called "Call Recorder". I record both sides of the Skype lesson in a split screen so I can focus in on either side as I want. You can also experiment with the recording settings and the files aren't that big.

I then dropbox the file to my students or upload on a private YouTube channel so that they can review the lesson.

Tips

Skype is not good for playing long excerpts of your pieces. If you want to do this, I have found the best way is to record it and send it via email (or put up on a private YouTube channel) in advance.

Advantages

One further advantage I have noticed with Skype is that my students seem to come better prepared for their Skype lesson than their in-person lesson. They have often made recordings for me to view before the lesson, have emailed their scores with their fingerings and markings on it. They come with a list of problems that they want fixing and there is very little time wasted.

Before the Lesson

It is a good idea to restart your computer and check that Skype doesn't decide it wants to do an update just as the lesson is starting. Test the video and audio and send your videos/scores in advance to the teacher.

Long-Term

Obviously there is no substitute for an in person lesson, but the technology of Skype (and now Zoom) are becoming increasingly advanced. Hopefully the suggestions above encourage you to realise that distance is no impediment to pursuing Skype lessons as an option, interspersed with in-person lessons where possible.

What do you think about Skype lessons? Share your thoughts below.

Previous post: Using video in teaching and learning (part 1, introduction)

Next post: Using video in teaching and learning: Equipment (part 1)

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