TEACHING PIANO ONLINE – TOP TIPS!

Looking for fresh inspiration and ways to level up your online piano teaching? We asked members of our Community to share their top tips to inspire you for the long haul!

Community Manager, Hannah O'Toole's online piano teaching set-up.
Community Manager, Hannah O’Toole’s online piano teaching set-up. (Yes, we know Practice Makes Perfect is not necessarily accurate – this merits a blog post of its own! Hannah still likes this picture, though!)

March 2020 saw many teachers (in all subjects, not just the piano) taking their teaching online for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic. At first, we got to grips with a whole host of new technology in a very short space of time. Now, almost a year down the line, we’re feeling a lot more confident, and ready to expand our repertoire of teaching tricks. 

Our Director and Co-Founder, Dr Sally Cathcart, shared 10 of her favourite online teaching tips in this week’s Tuesday Teaching Tips Facebook Live, which you can watch here:

The full library of Sally’s Tuesday Teaching Tips, along with our free webinars, are available to watch on our YouTube channel. Subscribe here to keep updated.

As we want to support you through these tough times, we also asked our global Community of Curious Piano Teachers to share some bonus top tips for teaching piano online, and here’s what they said:

#1 SCREEN (AND COMPUTER SOUND) SHARING

Screen-sharing is pretty much standard in most online piano lessons, and is so useful. The most common uses I find for screen-sharing are:

  • Practice tasks for the week on Cadenza (see below)
  • A section of the score which you want to work on detail (I love annotating in colour, either with Apple Pencil or the annotate function in Zoom)
  • Web pages – you can show your student sheet music you think they would enjoy, exam board marking criteria, you name it!
  • Listening together. It could be a YouTube video or a recording – just remember to share your computer sound as well. Depending on your connection, it can work pretty well.
  • iPad apps  

#2 USE YOUR IPAD APPS WHEN TEACHING ONLINE

If you have successfully set up screen-sharing, then you can use your iPad in an online lesson almost just as you would in person. I say “almost”, because the internet lag makes some of the note recognition games that use the iPad microphone (PianoMaestro, Note Rush) a little more tricky. Our members love using Sproutbeat, and Flashnote Derby, to name a couple, with their students. 

My top tip: if you are using Microsoft Teams for your online teaching (preferred by many schools and educational establishments), download the Reflector app to your desktop computer, and it allows you to mirror your iPad screen to your desktop.

#3 USE ZOOM TO THE MAX

OK, so we all moan when Zoom decides to update itself, usually at the most inconvenient of moments, but…haven’t we noticed that they have been listening to our wish list? The sound quality is improving, especially if both you and your student disable echo cancellation, and enable the original sound from your microphones. We love the virtual background feature (used sparingly, to enhance a weekly teaching theme, another favourite idea from the Community for livening up online teaching), emojis, and the ability to annotate the screen.

#4 CAMERAS AND MICS

This is where you get to decide how invested you are in online teaching. We have talked in our Community about how easy it is to fall into the tech “black hole” and think you need the latest everything to teach a great online lesson. You don’t. My first online lessons were taught over FaceTime using my iPad, with no extra cameras or microphones. I have used WhatsApp on my phone as an emergency (although the screen size and lack of functions did bug me). Start simple, and build from there. 

Nowadays, I teach with an iMac, Blue Yeti Pro mic, and wired headphones. Note I said wired headphones and not Bluetooth or AirPods – the internal mics can mess things up and there can be a lag if you want to monitor your sound. Personally, I say avoid! I went for the Blue Yeti, as I like that you can switch between different pickup patterns, e.g. omni if you want to capture the all round room sound, and cardoid for speech work. (I’m yet to figure out the stereo and figure-of-eight settings!) 

If you want to level up your teaching even further, consider an audio interface or a mixer, which will allow you to use multiple mics. Veronica Tadman, a member of our Community since 2017, says this:

“I have my electric piano and a head mic plugged into my mixer that is now working as my computer sound. The kids think the headmic with headphones is cool (I think I look like a pilot or sports commentator)…”

I use three cameras in my lessons. When talking directly to the student, I use the FaceTime camera. I use a Logitech C920 mounted on a mic boom stand as my overhead camera for demonstrating, and have also put my Canon DSLR to work as a side-view webcam using Canon’s free EOS Utility app. I like this view for performing pieces to the student. All you need is a USB cable, and the camera will stay on continuously, beyond its usual 30 minute video limit. Occasionally, I use OBS (Open Broadcaster Software), a free open source application (which I think means that lots of computer wizards work on it together to make it better…) or ManyCam, for picture-in-picture views. 

For a super-professional online teaching studio, I have seen teachers use wall-mounted TVs that mirror their computer screen. No more neck ache! But I’m personally not there yet.

#5 CLASSROOM MAESTRO

If you have an electric piano at your disposal, Classroom Maestro is a fantastic, and reasonably-priced piece of software, which displays a “cartoon piano”, where the notes light up in blue as you play. There is also a stave function, which shows the notes on the stave as you play them. Great for teaching students the relationship between the piano keys and notes on the staves, intervals, chord recognition, progressions, etc.

#6 CADENZA 

At The Curious Piano Teachers, we love Cadenza. Developed by researchers at Queen’s University in Canada, led by Dr Rena Upitis, this is a fantastic online tool for organising lessons and motivating students to practise in between lessons. Web browser-based, it allows you to create an account for each student, and add tasks to each lesson. Uploading pdfs, videos and links couldn’t be easier. The clever Media Annotator feature lets you and your student upload videos and leave text comments that appear at exactly the moment in the music you want them to. Totally worth the monthly subscription, which is tailored to the number of students you have.

#7 SWAP YOUR PIANO STOOL FOR AN OFFICE SWIVEL CHAIR

Really useful tip, but this comes with a caveat; make sure you can fully adjust the chair to the right height so that you can maintain a healthy playing posture. We always need to remember that we are modelling posture to our students. I recently sat on a HAG Capisco Puls, which I liked a lot.  It is a “saddle-style” chair which preserves the lumbar curve, keeps the hip joint angles open and encourages you to change position often; so important for long days of online teaching. I particularly liked that the chair would adjust to be higher than your average office chair. It looked a good solution for online music teaching, so I’m saving up… Of course, Sally’s advice to get up and move around is the best!

#8 LEAVE A 5 MINUTE BREAK BETWEEN LESSONS  

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always manage this, but the benefits for body, mind and sanity are clear when I do. It’s good to move around, grab the resources you need, a cuppa, and switch gear. For those of us who usually work as peripatetic, or visiting music teachers in schools where a rotating timetable is usually required, I have found sticking to fixed times during lockdown (if you can) helps everyone to know where they are, and minimises the risk of missed lessons.

#9 HAVE WATER ON STANDBY 

Another tip on the theme of health. It’s a good idea anyway, but especially important when you’re using your voice a lot. Just watch those cables and electronic goods! One of my students bought me a gorgeous glass water bottle for Christmas; ideal for this.

In the early days of online teaching, I found my voice would get tired. I was pouring too much energy into the screen. It’s not so bad now; the Blue Yeti allows me to monitor the sound of my voice in my headphones. I’m better these days at conserving my energy. Adopting a more collaborative teaching style also leaves us less tired. And finally…

#10 SPEND TIME AWAY FROM THE SCREEN

So important for us, and our students! Everyone knows what it feels like to be “zoomed out” by the end of the day. One of our members suggested using “night” settings for online teaching as this can be kinder for your eyes. But there’s really no substitute for just logging off. The Curious team took a fortnight off during the Christmas holidays; I am so glad we did that and saved our energy for the term ahead. Do what you need to do, go for a walk, take a break, get outside. On that note…

Hannah O’Toole, Community & Marketing Manager, The Curious Piano Teachers

If you’re looking for more online teaching tips, join our supportive Community of fellow piano teachers. Your first month of support is absolutely FREE. We have a bumper Curiosity Box of resources on Teaching Piano Online (April/May 2020), and Building A Resilient Piano Studio (June 2020).

Click here to join and enter the code FREESUPPORT to claim your free month. After that, our usual subscription rate applies.

 

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