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The Basics of Online Teaching: Getting Started with Your Virtual Music Studio

Have you been holding out on switching to online teaching? With COVID here for a while, many of us are faced with the prospect of teaching music lessons behind a computer screen for the foreseeable future. If you haven’t dived into online teaching yet, it’s not too late to set up your virtual studio!

The following are just a few basic ideas to get you started. Then, be on the lookout here for upcoming demos and tips to take your online teaching to the next level!

1. Choose a video platform

Among the many options for video conferencing are Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Facetime (for Apple users), Rock Out Loud Live and even apps like WhatsApp. Each home situation is unique, so you may have to use different platforms depending on the student’s device and wifi capability. My current go-to is Zoom because it allows for easy scheduling, screen sharing, and recording. Zoom will link to my digital calendar, allowing me to quickly invite students and keep everything up to date in one place.

Zoom Platform

The screen-share option lets me display music from a tablet or iPad, notating fingering, expression marks, and other notes in real time for the student. I also work through online theory and ear-training activities by screen sharing and clicking “share computer audio.”

Zoom Screen Share

Zoom records with a click of a button, and the video can be downloaded to my computer or the cloud, allowing me to share past lessons with students easily. The waiting list feature is particularly handy for handling back-to-back lessons. When using Zoom, I always change the setting to original audio and disable background noise filters for better sound.

Zoom Audio Settings

No matter what platform you choose, try it out beforehand. Test it with a friend to make sure everything works on both ends.

2. Guide students and parents for an optimal setup

When it’s time to set up the student’s camera, ask him or her to angle the device so that it shows both hands and all the keys if possible. The device may need to sit on a stool or table a few feet back from the piano. If possible, the device should be close to the wifi source or even connected with an ethernet cable for best internet connection.

If this is the first online lesson with a student, plan to spend a few minutes getting situated, perhaps with the parent assisting. Remember to be encouraging and flexible during the setup as technology issues can sometimes be frustrating.

3. Find equipment and create your virtual studio

With a bit of planning and extra equipment, you can create multiple camera angles so students clearly see your face and playing demonstrations, as well as a bird's eye view of the keys or even a side view of the pedals. I use my laptop for the main video, but I have a Logitech webcam that I hang from a boom mic stand, and I often add a tablet to the mix well. I keep a tripod mount adaptor handy for my phone and use an external USB microphone for better sound. If you use two or more devices, make sure you only join audio with one device. If you don't have a mic stand or other equipment, get creative with what you have on hand! You’ll be surprised what you can do with a makeshift setup.

Here are a few items I have found useful:

Logitech Webcam

Find it here on Amazon.

Logitech Webcam

Boom Mic Stand

Find it here on Amazon.

Boom Mic Stand