I’m writing this blog during my social distancing due to the Corona Virus (AKA COVID-19). Luckily everyone I know is healthy, and we’re all staying productive and positive. My business has switched over to strictly online lessons and I thought I’d put together a blog about the advantages/disadvantages of online lessons, as well as ways to streamline the digital lesson process.
ADVANTAGES OF ONLINE LESSONS
- RECORD IT – Use OBS software to record your screen/audio during the lesson https://obsproject.com/
- SAVE MONEY – Online lessons wave the $5 transportation fee that is included in my house-to-house lessons pricing
- CUSTOMIZABLE – Adjust the position and volume of your phone or laptop
- TWO PIANOS – My position for these videos is in front of my piano, so demonstrating things visually works out very well
- NO GERMS – I feel this point is more relevant now than ever before, being self-isolated and all. Germs can’t get passed on if we’re not in the same room.
- DIGITAL NOTES – Creating notes through google docs makes sharing notes easy, and helps save on using paper. Here’s a link to Google Docs: https://docs.google.com/
- MORE LESSON SLOTS – The more students I teach online, the more students I can fit into my schedule. Subtracting travel time opens up 1-2 lessons slots per day
DISADVANTAGES OF ONLINE LESSONS
*See solutions in the following section ‘Streaming the Lesson Process’
- INTERNET CONNECTIVITY ISSUES – Sometimes video or audio can cut out, glitch, or freeze during the lesson.
- ODD CAMERA ANGLES – If the setup for the lessons is limited, sometimes the angle of the camera facing the piano can be compromised
- ATTENTION SPANS – Sometimes younger students have a harder time focusing or sitting still when there is no adult in the room.
- LATENCY – The video is delayed by about 1/2 a second
- NO ONE-ON-ONE PRESENCE – Sometimes it’s just nice having a human being, in the same room as you, teaching you. Alas, digital lessons do not offer this.
- POOR VIDEO QUALITY – Some phones/laptops that are too full or are an older model can have poor video quality.
- SETUP REQUIRED – Generally once the first lesson is set up the process runs well, but the trial-and-error during the setup can be daunting.
- TRANSLATION OF MATERIAL – Since I don’t have all of the beginner books available (there are a lot!) some work is required to get the correct material sent my way.
STREAMLINING THE LESSON PROCESS
A smooth lesson is really just a lesson with as few of the above listed disadvantages as possible. So let’s discuss how to eliminate these issues as much as possible.
- INTERNET CONNECTIVITY ISSUES – I recommend having the lesson in a room that’s close to your WIFI router just to assure we’re both doing all we can to get good connectivity. On my end, I’m teaching 1 foot away from my WIFI router and also have an attachment for my laptop to plug directly into the router if needed. If the lessons still has a bit of glitchiness, often a restart of the chat helps. I’m happy to add on extra lesson time if/when tech issues arise.
- ODD CAMERA ANGLES – This goes along with number 7, but it just takes some experimentation. If you have a tripod, I recommend getting an ULANZI mount, so you can mount your phone to your tripod. Here’s a link to the device. https://www.amazon.ca/Ulanzi-ll065-Tripod-Smartphone-Adapter/dp/B06WGLD92N
If you don’t have a tripod, see if you can angle a phone down from a higher shelf, or put some books on a chair to raise up a laptop. It helps if I’m looking down on the keys. The ideal position is as though I’m standing beside and behind the student as they play. Here’s a picture of an example setup, and the resulting framing.
- ATTENTION SPANS – Simply having an adult in the room often remedies any attention problems. Even if the parent is sitting and reading, the presence of an adult figure helps keep the younger students focused.
- LATENCY (TIME DELAY) – This, unfortunately, has been the hardest issue to work around. Even with fast internet and great devices, latency tends to be present while using a free application like Google Hangouts, Facetime, or Skype. This means it’s harder for me to count along with students, so often a demonstration on my end is used to help sort out counting/rhythm issues.
- NO ONE-ON-ONE PRESENCE – Although there really isn’t any absolute way around this, using headphones with a microphones can help immerse the student more into the lesson experience. Also, more engagement with the camera also helps with the teacher/student relation.
- POOR VIDEO QUALITY – Make sure your camera or laptop isn’t full to the brim. This will slow down other apps, and can even affect the quality of your camera. If the quality of your phone or laptop is poor because the device is old or faulty, then an upgraded device is the only real solution to that problem.
- SETUP REQUIRED – Depending on the layout around the piano, this process can generally be a “set it and forget it” experience. For me, my mount and laptop stand are always ready for me to set up the devices quickly. So, although it took some experimenting for me to get it to this point, the setup is now done. I recommend trying to set up your digital lessons in a similar fashion. Now, to clarify a bit of a contradiction, you can’t really have a “set it and forget it” setup if you’re using a tripod, and yet I’ve recommended that you use a tripod if you have one. Well, tripods do set up quite quickly and the quality of the framing will be well worth it. Just try to manage how intricate your setup is, as you don’t want it to stress you out.
- TRANSLATION OF MATERIAL – This doesn’t have to be a repeated task. My recommendation is to send over a clear picture of the following, including page numbers where applicable: updated note, and song material. For beginner books, please feel free to send the current song followed be the rest of the songs in the book.
*For more advanced students, and students studying for a RCM grade, please also send: studies and technical summary. Sight reading material and theory material can be sent in blocks. Please discuss this with me for guidance.
So, that’s it! You don’t need to hit every one of these solutions to have a great online lesson. However, I thought it would be worth offering an approach towards making the online lesson experience easier for everyone. I hope you enjoyed it and if you think I missed any key points, or have any follow-up questions, please feel free to drop a comment in the section below!