If conversations on Facebook groups are any indication, there are a lot of people sorting out this new experience of teaching online. I am definitely one of them!
In the past couple of weeks I have transitioned my music studio from in-person to online lessons without losing a single student. How did I do it? Sit tight, because in this new series I’ll share all my secrets with you! Throughout this article you’ll find helpful hyperlinks to the products I am using to teach online.
Let’s go back a bit. During the week of March 9, it was becoming clear that COVID-19 was going to create some real challenges in our lives. At that point, I had been sanitizing the piano keys between students, and I had been supervising how thoroughly my students were washing their hands before their lesson began. I was keeping a distance from them in the studio, and I refrained from demonstration on the same instrument.
When the governor in my state ordered Philadelphia area schools to close on March 13, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be long before our area had the same restriction. I got online and started researching.
Now, I had taught online lessons in the past, but at a very basic level. If a student was feeling a bit unwell and wanted to stay home, or if the roads were snowy and a parent didn’t feel comfortable coming out, it was a convenient option.
In those cases, I would access my student’s music in my iPad Pro via ForScore, and call them using FaceTime on my phone. After each lesson, I would send detailed notes to the student via email. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked in a pinch. And, if you’re just getting started, it’s a good place to begin.
UPPING MY GAME
I knew that this just wasn’t going to cut it, though, if I had to teach the entire studio online and over any stretch of time. I had to up my game, and right away!
In the previous year, I had checked out Tonara, a practice app which helps students and teachers share media, and which provides the student and teacher with a platform for lesson assignment. When I first looked at it, I thought it was something I didn’t really need.
With a fresh perspective, I went back to get another look at the app, and started my 30-day free trial. I am so glad that I did, because on March 16, my entire state went into lockdown. I had to teach my students the very next day!
Thanks to Lou Ann Pope and other support staff at Tonara, I was given copious amounts of assistance getting set up. I spent all of the weekend leading up to the shutdown loading up the app with student info and repertoire, while helping my students get connected (a more thorough review of the Tonara app is coming soon).
For that first week, my entire studio had their lessons online. My intrepid students didn’t miss a beat!
My online set up that week wasn’t much different from when I used it as an occasional tool. I did add a couple of things, however.
Instead of using the iPad or phone to connect, I started using my laptop. I wasn’t thrilled, though, that the only option I had was to put the computer on my Manhasset music stand. While it’s quite sturdy for music, it was a bit wobbly with the weight of the laptop, and it made me nervous. So, I ordered this online and waited anxiously for its arrival.
Also, thanks to my gear-head, voice over husband, I was able to add an external microphone that he had laying around (this one is another good option, and so is this one). I already had a bluetooth speaker set up, so that improved the iffy sound quality that I was getting via the computer.
I had two webcams, so I used one in front of me for a flute and face-to-face view, and I tucked the other under a book on the shelf next to me to provide a view of my hands on the piano. I noticed that my body was rebelling, because I was twisting between the the front-facing view and the computer upon which I was making my students’ notes.
So, then I tried putting the laptop on the piano. That took away the twisting issue, but created shoulder issues, because I was having to type too high. Aargh!
Between the first and second week of lessons, I was able to add a clamp for the side view webcam that was temporarily placed under a book. This made it more stable, less likely to fall, and easier to adjust when necessary. I also ordered a third webcam, because I knew my piano students would appreciate the overhead view.
The laptop stand and side shelf that I had ordered earlier arrived. I placed it to the side of the piano bench, and then used my bluetooth keyboard and mouse on my lap. I also placed a monitor on the piano, so that I could maintain a forward view.
However, my iPad was up there as well, and I found my shoulders tensing while marking up music.
I was also dissatisfied with the tone coming from the piano, since the lid was completely closed.
Another development in this week was that Tonara added the ability to connect to Zoom via their app. A real game changer!
All my students have to do is click on a video camera icon and they’re in! I was glad to move away from FaceTime, which is great for catching up with family and friends, but not so wonderful when high quality sound is needed. With Zoom, my students and I can create a realistic tonal environment, which makes for a much more positive lesson experience on both ends.
In week three, I opened up the piano for better tone and used the music desk for the iPad and webcam. I pulled the music desk as close as possible so I could mark the music without creating shoulder tension. Unfortunately, I had just transferred the problem, because now I was straining to see the monitor over the webcam, which was mounted on the top of the music desk. Double aargh!
In week four, I was able to add a microphone stand, a webcam adaptor and the overhead cam that I had previously ordered. As of that point, it has been such a pleasure to provide my piano students with full views, so that I can not only demonstrate proper posture and technique from the side, but also provide them with a clear view of the keys. The overhead view has also been unexpectedly helpful with my flute students!
Through those first few weeks, I was very grateful for the generous assistance I -and many others- received from Carly Walton. She’s been teaching online exclusively for a number of years, and her expertise was extremely helpful.
So, this set up should take care of it, right? Perhaps, if this were to be a temporary fix to a temporary situation.
During our isolation, I’ve been learning that online lessons can be -and are- just as effective as in-person lessons. While I will jump for joy when I can see my students in the studio again, I’m also grateful that I am now able to reach students who might not be able to receive lessons in a traditional setting. Plus, with my new set-up I am able to teach students wherever they are, on different continents even, and in different time zones.
Next time I’ll tell you about the installation of innovative key sensor technology in my Steinway Grand, and how my students are benefitting from it.
Disclosure: In this blog I may discuss/review products that I believe are relevant to my readers. As a service to them, I often provide links to those products or publications. Instead of having a tip jar, I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. In other words, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.