Using via Skype, FaceTime, and Other Online Video Tools
Private music teachers have been providing lessons online since the early days of the World Wide Web, and increasingly, many teachers incorporate lessons facilitated by Skype and other tools into their general offerings.
In a remote music lesson, both teacher and student use a Web camera-equipped computer connected to the Internet, so that each can see and hear what the other is doing. By offering remote lessons, students have access to a much wider selection of teachers, and teachers can expand their studios beyond their geographical area. Touring musicians can participate in teaching and learning. Travel time is eliminated, as are issues related to a teacher maintaining a dedicated teaching space. Participants with disabilities can be accommodated in ways that are not possible in person.
Some students appreciate the privacy and relative anonymity that comes with a remote experience and report that the time is better spent because it is relatively free from distractions.
Teaching that takes place in real time, with both teacher and student simultaneously engaged, such as live video chat, is referred to as “synchronous.” According to an easy essay writer, teaching that can take place where only one party is active is called “asynchronous.” So, a real-time chat is an asynchronous experience. A student watching a prepared video filmed in advance or emailing an assignment to a teacher is asynchronous.
A variety of software options are in common use to facilitate synchronous communication. Skype and FaceTime are free programs that are popular among the teachers surveyed. Commercial products give additional capabilities, such as screen or document sharing, automatic archive generation (i.e., you can view a video of the meeting after it is over), white-boarding, the ability for a user to participate by telephone, and support for groups.
All of these support live video and audio chat, and also text chat—which can be important for those uncomfortable speaking, or as a means of offering questions or commentary without interrupting the speaker’s train of thought. Real-time screen sharing allows software demonstrations of tools such as notation software or digital audio workstations, thus making distance learning a particularly effective way to teach and learn music technology.
Internet music instruction also frequently makes use of other software: recording tools for submitting performances or background tracks, notation tools for submitting notation, and video editing software for providing demonstrations. Screen video recording software is used to capture video when the software itself doesn’t include that functionality.
Many teachers use built-in cameras on their laptops or iPads. Alternatively, a dedicated webcam can be useful for demonstrating specific angles—useful for showing fingerings or other techniques. While many use the built-in microphone, using a dedicated headset will reduce echoes. Higher end, a microphone and studio headphones greatly improve the sound quality, though the wires can hamper movement.
While most of the action takes place in real time, some teachers prepare graphics or even more polished videos in advance of the lesson. These might be revealed during the lesson, distributed before the lesson, or as a follow-up. More formal education programs, such as the online courses provided by Berklee College of Music’s Continuing Education division, incorporate video chat as a weekly aspect of every class, but there are also many other dimensions of the experience: online text, videos, audio examples, graphics, animations/GUI interactions, discussion forums, assignment review mechanisms, weekly reading, and other teaching tools.
Email communications before or after the lesson are useful to discuss the upcoming content, submit and review assignments (often videos or audio), and answer questions.
Increasingly, regular campus courses are also incorporating online components, and further hybridization is likely to continue.
The most common frustration people have with this process relates to connection quality. Fast and reliable Internet connections are important for successful real-time video.
Similarly, latency issues—delays between what is sounded and what is heard through the computer—can be frustrating or confusing. These are often due to computers or audio interfaces being underpowered, but they can also relate to Internet connection speed or quality.
Currently, it is awkward for a teacher to accompany a student performer in real time (such as playing the piano and having the student sing), compared to in a live lesson. This can be overcome to some extent with pre-prepared audio tracks, but some teachers like the capability to be more extemporaneous, such as a voice teacher helping a student explore issues of range, which might not be evident until the student is singing.
Remote learning works best for adults who are generally comfortable with technology. Particularly very young children benefit more from in-person interaction.
Pricing for online lessons tends to be the same as for in-person lessons.
Tips for a Successful Online Music Lesson
- At the outset, confirm that audio and video are working—that everyone can be heard. Whenever a new dimension of chat is introduced, such as file sharing, confirm that the technology is working before presenting content.
- Record the lesson. This might require separate software to record the chat.
- Warm up and tune any instruments in advance of the lessons.
- Make sure you will not be interrupted during the session. A “Do Not Disturb” sign on a door can be a help.
- Prepare and distribute any necessary background audio files in advance of the lesson.
- Treat it the same as you do any lesson, with a prepared purpose and curriculum.
- If possible, also meet live. Live interaction is a warmer, more personal experience. Occasional live meetings give a richer overall experience.
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