Updated: May 26
The miracles of modern day technologies have given the music teaching world an incredible avenue in which to engage in pedagogy online, and also for individual teachers to reach a much larger international student body.
This method of teaching has its pros and cons like any other. We will discuss these, in addition to optimal set-up suggestions which I have derived from my own experience, in the paragraphs to follow.
Many students in the period leading up to the pandemic have been preparing for examinations, contests and recital appearances within large venues: whether they be a church sanctuary, small recital hall or even thousand seatset ups. Each of these larger acoustics requires a different mindset, sound, and flexibility on behalf of the student to adjust to the piano, the rooms acoustics, and the size of the audience.
However, with things moving to online formats, there are many opportunities now for students to compete in various online music competitions, and to undertake their piano examinations online as well. This requires a much different mindset and projection focus when playing to the microphone, as opposed to the larger hall.
The following is what I have learned through my own experience teaching online to students throughout the country and internationally. The products that I recommend are linked at the bottom of this post.
It is absolutely imperative that your home Internet service has a high megabits per second download speed. Internet speed can range anywhere from 1-1000 mbps. It is recommended that no less than 200 mbps be the minimum download speed.
This page here gives an excellent explanation as to how to navigate your WiFi’s download/upload speed.
Ethernet Cable vs. WiFi
Again, provided that the bandwidth on your WiFi is of a certain mbps speed, as long as there are no other strenuous demands on the WiFi network in your house (ie. several other people on other computers simultaneous to your lesson/exam), then Wi-Fi hook ups should suffice. The best way to get an uninterrupted signal is ethernet cable hook-up. If using an ethernet cable, you will want to use a Cat 6 or higher model.
From both the perspective of the teacher and the student, it is preferable to have a large screen laptop/desktop with a large monitor. I personally use an iMac and have a MacBook Pro for back-up. The speaker set-ups on iPhones are generally reliable and will suffice insofar as the sound, but it is ideal if you have an adapter to hook up a monitor to the iPhone to enlarge the teacher's image.
For online lessons I have found Mac to Mac tends to work best. Note that MacBook Air laptops tend to be the least consistent of the Apple products as far as speaker consistency. The same is true with an iPad over four years of age.
PC to Mac works as well, however it is important that the software updates on all devices are up-to-date well in advance of the piano lesson, as this can inhibit signal.
A quality microphone is highly desirable, particularly for those of you preparing for online competitions/examinations. If both the student and the teacher have an excellent microphone set up, then the results are upwards of 95+ percent the same as being in a studio together. I highly recommend Blue Yeti microphones, which I have been using during the entirety of my online teaching.
It is important from both the teachers and the students perspective that the entire profile, from the top of the head, hands, and pedals is clearly visible. This means that the camera should be several feet removed from the piano, and preferably at an angle which is sloped down to the key, so that the hands of the student can be clearly seen.
There are several quality platforms out there. I have personally found the best results tend to come from Skype and FaceTime, however Zoom also has reliable real time feedback, and has the added advantage of classroom set-ups.
What makes music lessons so special is the intense one-to-one format, and I have found that the general intensity of the lessons in which I teach has not diminished at all during the online sessions. I think there’s tremendous viability and practicality to these online lessons, and it will be very exciting to see how it moves forward in these coming months.