TEACHING PIANO ONLINE – GETTING STARTED PART 1

 

As Coronavirus, Covid-19 continues to take hold across the world more and more piano teachers are considering the possibility of teaching piano online. It’s clearly not without its challenges but, if you approach it in the right way and with a positive, curious attitude you might find that it brings some unexpected, fresh ideas into your teaching. 

teaching piano online

In Part 1 we’ll look at the equipment and how to get yourself setup. Part 2 will consider the delivery and structure of online lessons and dealing with parents.

You can also watch us discuss many of these points in our recent webinar: Your Essential Guide to Giving Online Piano Lessons CLICK HERE.

If you are already a member of The Community remember to check out our Facebook group where there are many wonderful ideas and suggestions being made. If you’re not yet a member but are looking for support and resources that you can use when teaching piano online. CLICK HERE.

#1 THE BASICS

To deliver piano lessons online you need to have at least one of the following:

  • A laptop or desktop computer with a camera and microphone. If a desktop computer it will need to be close to the piano.
  • Mobile phone
  • Tablet

As long as these are fairly recent models they should all have cameras and microphones built in as standard.

Here’s some additional equipment you might want to add if you want to get better quality sound and picture:

  • Headphones – strongly recommended to prevent an echo
  • Webcam – gives more camera flexibility and higher definition. We use a Logitech webcam
  • Microphone – this can prevent the piano from sounding too tinny. Sally uses a Blue Yeti

#2 SOFTWARE

To get a 2-way conversation going online there are various options available. Which one you choose is up to you although we have indicated our preference below. You can download apps to use all this software on your phones or tablets. You will need to choose or remember your passwords so do leave time for this!

Skype
This is free-to-use and easy to install. Lessons can be recorded (by parents) if required and screens can be shared. The picture and sound quality can be variable.

Facetime
Similar to Skype and with the recording option once again. Both parties need to be using an Apple device and the screen size is not ideal in our view.

What’s App
Provides a secure and encrypted environment for users.

zoom
Our preferred option is zoom which offers free plans with unlimited 1-1 time. Group meetings/webinars can last up to 40 minutes on the free plan. Recurring times and links for lessons are easily set up. The quality and stability of both sound and vision is generally better than Skype.

#3 MAXIMISING YOUR INTERNET SIGNAL

The strength of your internet signal is dependent on where you live. In the short term this is unlikely to change however there are some simple steps you can take to make the most of what you have.

Wifi boosters
It is possible to boost your wifi signal in your house with the help of wifi boosters. Click HERE to read a review about them.

Tethering and Dongles
If your piano is not located in your house but somewhere without wifi signal and you want to use a laptop it’s worth exploring tethering and dongles. Using your data allowance on your phone or tablet you can tether your computer to them. Here’s a link to one example of how to do this: CLICK HERE

In a similar way you can buy a dongle (which is like a USB stick) gives you the ability to connect to the internet. Please note that to tether or use a dongle requires a 3/4G signal. Click HERE to find out more.

Negotiating internet access at home!
You will get a stronger and more stable signal for an online lesson if there is no-one else uploading or downloading at the same time. This isn’t always easy to achieve however and some degree of negotiation will probably be necessary. The demands of your internet could well become quite heavy if the schools are closed and everyone is working from home.

Syncing and closing tabs
If you use Dropbox or similar remember to pause any syncing that might be going on as it can really effect the quality of signal. To be on the safe side only have open what needs to be open and close all tabs on your browsers.

#4 POSITIONING THE EQUIPMENT

To find the right position for the camera and other equipment can take some time and you might need to experiment a bit. A laptop and mobile devices need to be at a good height and this can be done quite ad hoc through the use of tables, books, files etc.

Having stands and tripods definitely make this easier though especially with over the keyboard shots.

  • Gorilla pod – this is just one option for giving phones or cameras flexibility of positioning CLICK HERE
  • Tripods – camera tripods are widely available and the basic ones are reasonably priced CLICK HERE
  • Boom stands – again these are widely available. CLICK HERE

#5 LIGHTING CONSIDERATIONS

The basic rule is to have the light source behind your camera when possible. Sunlight can be problematic sadly as it can flood too much light into a picture. Sometimes it is better to have the curtains shut and a light on!

STAYING CONNECTED – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

We are fortunate in that teaching online is quite a viable alternative, at least in the short term. It’s a time of curiosity for us all as we explore new ways of working.

Please don’t feel overwhelmed and alone in your endeavours. Remember you can Google any queries and, for Community members, you can always ask – someone will have a suggestion!

Give yourself time to get all this worked out; maybe you could set up a call with a fellow piano teacher and experiment together?

Part 2, which will be published in the next few days, will be looking at the structure and delivery of lessons.

PianoDao, written by Andrew Eales, has a very useful about communicating information clearly to piano parents. CLICK HERE

Take care and stay safe. x

Looking for more support and resources that you can use when teaching piano online? CLICK HERE.               

This blog post was written by Dr Sally Cathcart, co-founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers                     

12 thoughts on “TEACHING PIANO ONLINE – GETTING STARTED PART 1

  1. Mark L

    Dear Sally and Sharon,
    I’ve just discovered you. Thank you for your advice. Although the webinar was a long watch on YouTube (I guess you had to be there..!) I liked it because you really seemed in sympathy with those of us who are complete novices at this – whereas some of the proliferating YouTube videos are so slick and professional they are actually discouraging.

    My question is: if you wanted two cameras, could you use a phone as one of them? (e.g. laptop at side, phone overhead)

    Reply
    1. Sharon

      Hey Mark – great that you found this really helpful! And yes, your phone can easily be a second camera 🙂

      Reply
  2. Anne

    I have been teaching students (age 10 and 12 now) by Skype for the past 2 years, in which time they have completed several AMEB exams – in fact, they have averaged 2 grade levels per year, in the AMEB Comprehensive Piano syllabus, which is pretty amazing even if not skyping! Their results have remained high – mostly A results, with one B+, and they are really enjoying it.

    I have modified how I teach slightly (but not a great deal). I probably ask them more questions now, and encourage them to be Music Detectives, to find bars, work out notes, and write on fingering, but even this has helped them to grow as musicians so it has been a positive. For the younger child I initially had a major job to correct very flat fingers – but his sister happily drew a tiny smiley face on each finger tip (so he remembered to ‘play on the smileys’) and he now has a lovely natural hand position. We have also successfully worked on tone and pedaling issues.

    I would encourage any teacher to give it a try – it has surpassed even my best expectations and the children loved not having to change teacher when they moved house 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sally C

      Thanks for sharing your positive experiences of teaching online Anne. It’s most encouraging to hear for teachers who are just taking the plunge!

      Reply
  3. Dorothy

    what does “screens can be shared” mean? I’ve never in my life ever done any video calls, not Skype, not anything. Very steep learning curve here…..

    Reply
    1. Sally C

      Hi Dorothy, if you’ve not done this before I agree there’s lots to learn! Take it one step at a time. When you are using Skype it gives you the option to share your computer screen with the person you are talking to. So if my screen had a piece of music on it the other person would also be able to see it.

      Reply
  4. Gemma Boyd

    Dear Sally and Sharon,
    Thank you so much for all you do and especially for this post, as now there’s a chance I can continue teaching – and pay my bills. I love your down-to-earth, positive approach which rubs off on me as a teacher. My teenage piano student got full-marks for the composition and performance elements of her GCSE Music and has just done really well in her performance of duets with her teacher. She loves the piano and she’s a pleasure to teach – so I’d hate to lose her. I’m proud of myself because I’ve kept teaching her throughout a very dark time for me on a personal level and because all of my recent leads haven’t wanted to pay for my services. It’s times like these when artists go to work and creativity takes courage, and you both inspire me. Thank you. Best wishes, Gemma

    Reply
    1. Sally C

      It’s our pleasure Gemma. We’re here to support you all that we can. Teaching piano can feel quite isolating so it’s always good to have online company!

      Reply
  5. Alison Hart

    Hi Sally,
    Thank you for your really helpful advice on setting up for online piano lessons.
    You mentioned having a webcam on the laptop to optimize the quality of picture. Do you use another camera on a boom to show the piano keyboard or do you adjust the laptop camera to focus on the keyboard?
    When using the free version of Zoom, can you use screen sharing to toggle between the two views?
    I’m slightly confused!

    Reply
    1. Sally C

      I’m still playing with the options myself Alison. We’ll be exploring this more in The Community in the next couple of days.

      Reply
  6. Jeff Thomson B.Ed Dip ABRSM

    I have just come across your help and guidance for teaching on line. I have been considering this for a few days now as I have lots of pupils, 80% of which are in 2 schools. Both may decide to close or even if they don’t, I may choose not to visit them until the virus dies away. It is a slightly daunting prospect, in that I would wish to maintain a high standard of teaching without the benefit of being present. It would also require a lot of cooperation from parents in setting up at their end, plus the need for everyone to have the same software?
    Any further help would be much appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Sally C

      Have you watched the webinar Jeff? The link is in the main body of the text. We’ll be following up this blog with a 2nd about lesson structure and delivery ideas.

      Reply

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