The quality of sound in online lessons is often a source of frustration to music teachers. There are several factors involved in audio quality, some of which you can control and others you cannot.
The speed of your internet (and that of your student) is an extremely important factor and there are limits to how much you can do about this. If you live in an area where the internet speed is poor, these things may help:
If this is not possible, you may need to purchase a Wi-Fi booster. Sometimes it is possible to use an ethernet cable plugged into the booster.
Other important considerations:
Close all programs/apps on your computer that you don’t need during the lesson, and especially ones that are constantly updating via the internet, such as:
Pause any uploads/backup to OneDrive, DropBox, etc
Where possible, ask other members of the household to refrain from watching online movies, playing online games, or engaging in video conferencing. (This is much more difficult at the moment, while other family members are also working or doing their schooling from home.)
The sound quality that your students will hear will also be improved by using an external microphone, rather than your device’s internal microphone. This could be a USB microphone or an XLR microphone plugged into an audio interface. Voice teachers are likely to have much better results with an external microphone. If you are planning to continue online teaching, it would be helpful to recommend that your students also purchase an external microphone.
Common audio problems in video chat platforms
Zoom and other video chat platforms have their basic settings arranged to optimise
conversation. Their developers didn’t envisage these platforms being used for instrumental and vocal lessons! Sustained sounds are interpreted as unwanted background noise and are therefore suppressed. You’ll notice this in low sustained pieces, where long notes sound clipped. In Zoom and in Skype (and possibly other video chat platforms), you can get a worthwhile improvement in the sound just by making sure that ‘Automatically adjust microphone’ is not checked in your audio/microphone settings.
If your student complains that they can't hear you, no matter how high they turn up their volume, it may be that your microphone setting is too low. You can adjust it via the blue slider in the middle of the audio settings screen. If your student complains that your piano sounds too loud and is harsh to listen to, you may have the microphone volume too high. Try recording a test meeting to get an idea of how the student hears your sound.
Information about the various audio settings in Zoom has been widely disseminated in Facebook teaching groups, but I still regularly meet teachers who have not come across this information, so I believe it is worth sharing in detail here.
1. Original Sound
Zoom appears to be the only video chat platform that has the ability to bypass audio compression and use the unaltered sound directly from your microphone. In Zoom this is called ‘Original Sound.’
In your account settings
You may need to enable the use of Original Sound initially via your web based account settings. Log in to your account at zoom.us, select ‘Settings’ from the menu at left, and then scroll down until you find ‘Allow users to select original sound in their client settings’ (it’s a long way down, as you’ll see in the image below:
In your app settings
In your desktop app settings (or once you are in a meeting), go to your Audio Settings, and select ‘Advanced’ at the bottom of the page. At the top of the next page, check the box to ‘Show in-meeting option to “Enable original sound” from microphone.’
2. Other Audio Settings
While you have the Advanced Audio Options open, you’ll also need to disable both ‘Suppress persistent background noise’ and ‘Suppress intermittent background noise.’ (This will have the disadvantage that unwanted background noises will also be heard, along with the sustained notes on your instrument.)
Leave ‘Echo cancellation’ set to Auto, to help reduce any possibility of feedback between your speakers and microphone.
Your Students' Settings
The settings you have just altered in your own account only apply to the sound that your students will hear from you. All of these settings need to be applied by your students as well, so that you hear the best possible sound from them. It is worth taking a few minutes in a lesson to talk your student through the steps above. Once the settings are in place, you don’t need to go back to them (unless you change them for some other reason).
You may find that using external speakers or earphones (preferably wired in to your computer, rather than Bluetooth, in order to avoid further latency) could help as well.
Using a Mobile Device
If you or your students are using a tablet, iPad or smartphone, the only control you will be able to have over the microphone settings is the option to enable original sound.
Have you found other ways to improve the audio quality in your lessons? Please do let us know in the comments below.
Webinar and Interactive Workshop
The developers at Zoom have been very responsive to user demand and have added many enhancements and new features over the past couple of months. If you’d like to learn more about how to use these advanced features to take your online teaching to the next level, I’ll be running a webinar and Interactive workshop on Sunday 24th May. You can find out more about it in this blog post: Zoom – Beyond the Basics.