Virtual music lessons have been gaining traction for years thanks to platforms such as Skype, Zoom, etc. COVID-19 hit the fast-forward button for developing the necessary tech savvy for virtual instruction. My experience teaching virtually has led me to think of more creative solutions. I will start by review several of the popular platforms.
- Skype seems to work reasonably well for private instruction. The audio and video quality is acceptable for the most part.
- Since the majority of people have a Google account, using Google Hangouts seemed like a logical way to transition smoothly into all-online lessons. But I didn’t have the best luck with call quality using this platform, which led me to use Zoom for all non-Apple users.
- Zoom has fairly good call quality, but the audio often compresses and depending on your connection speed can even cause fluctuations in timing. I asked a student to turn on a digital metronome and heard audible skipping on my end of the call.
- FaceTime is the only platform that has given me hardly any trouble with online lessons, but it is proprietary software that is only compatible with Apple devices.
The audio quality for some of my students with low connection speeds has been so poor, that it has become difficult to accurately assess their playing in order to offer helpful and insightful feedback. So here is what I have implemented:
- I have my students record their assignments well in advance of their scheduled lesson time.
- I advise them to send me a video that they believe is good enough to post on a blog or social media. They can delete and re-record their work until each student is confident that they have the best recording they are capable of producing. This idea of using social media as a type of virtual practice journal holds students accountable to practice and critical listening and reflection of their own work and engage in metacognition–one’s own reflection of his or her learning process.
- I then provide written feedback to the students which I upload to a DropBox or Google Drive folder for the student. We begin the scheduled lesson by discussing the feedback. My feedback will often involve troubleshooting specific sections or techniques within the music, and therefore a brief demonstration will typically suffice. If the connection is so spotty that even this is problematic, then there are options to record quick videos and upload them to the shared folder.
Yes, all of this is a little more time consuming, but lessons that used to be an hour are now 45-50 minutes. And because of the added preparation time of reviewing video content, I still charge the same amount for lessons. People used to think that the only way to watch a television program was to tune in on that specific day/time, but technology has changed the way we view programs and we can now watch them after their initial air date with streaming services. And now technology is changing how and when we communicate with our students. Let’s continue to be forward-thinking since technology only moves forward.