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Crash Course: How to Teach Piano Online

What you have been wondering and perhaps worrying about for many years is suddenly upon you. The question was if online piano lesson are worth it and if so, how to get started? Now there is no more time to ponder, this week you will be teaching all your piano students online!

This article is under preparation but since this is an urgent time for most of us to skill up, we are publishing the draft.

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Let us know how things are going for you at the moment by post your experiences, suggestions and questions in the comment field at the bottom!

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https://www.pianostreet.com/teach-piano-online

While you could spend the remainder of this school year investigating and planning for the optimal way to teach piano remotely using various online tools and adjusting your educational approach and content accordingly, it will still not be close to a physical lesson. But online teaching will have both advantages and disadvantages, and as a piano teacher your creative and pedagogical skills will surely help you make the most of the advantages.

This article covers many obvious things, but the aim is to quickly introduce you to the current consensus around the basic concepts of online piano teaching and not least, to help you get your online teaching started today!

Are you ready for the crash course?


Level 1: Just do it!

The best piano lesson?
The lesson that actually takes place. (Any lesson, physical or online is better than a cancelled lesson.)

The best technical devices and equipment?
The stuff you and your students already own.

The best platform?
The one you and your student already use or can easily start using.

The best outcome?
You assist and inspire as many of your students as possible to continue practicing during a time of social isolation.

We suggest that your main goal for the first week is to get started immediately with what you have. Follow up each student’s progress and encourage them to continue practicing.

What not to expect at this level:
– Good sound quality
– Sharing sheet music and annotations on screen
– Multi camera setup
– Working with tone quality
– Giving detailed feedback about interpretation
– Introducing new complex concepts and techniques

Problems to accept:
– You cannot play together due to the time delay (often up to 1 second).
– Quality of the video call may vary and you might have to disconnect and use an alternative platform during the lesson.

A minimal setup
Since your highest priority is to connect and communicate without too much preparation and practical problem solving, we suggest you get started with this simple setup.

Devices and platforms

Both you as a teacher and your students use the following:
– A smartphone, tablet and/or laptop that you already use
– Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc.

Since all your students are likely not using the same platforms you should install and setup accounts on at least two different platforms.

Facetime – often decent quality, but can only be used if both you and your student have Apple devices. It is simply a video call.
Skype – quality can be very varying due to wifi connections etc. You can keep up the conversation between lessons in the chat where you can send text, sheet music, assignments, images and video etc.
Zoom – similar to Skype but as a dedicated online conference and education solution, it has features for scheduling lessons. Most students are not familiar with it and you will be more locked into a “walled garden” compared to the other platforms.
WhatsApp – many users have it and as with Skype you can share different kinds of content.
Snapchat – since most kids use it, it is good to have as a backup solution.
Voice call – a simple phone call should not be underestimated. It is the clear winner in terms of accessability and if you know your student well, you can easily conduct a useful lesson that keeps the student on track.

Instruct the student to place the smartphone in a vertical (portrait) position at the end of the keyboard. Attach it with adhesive (e.g. Blu Tack) or tape.

You can also opt for horizontal video, but you need to decide which of the two to use. For smartphones with small screens, vertical as in the picture above is recommended but if you both use laptops, horizontal is the natural choice.

As a teacher it is useful and practical to use two devices. For example a smartphone for the video call and a laptop for keeping notes in an e-mail or shared text document.

Turn off any sound enhancements, auto mic adjust and “mirror image”.

Planning and following-up

As an alternative or complement to the student’s physical notebook, use either one e-mail (that you both keep replying to between lessons) or a shared Google Doc file. Before the lesson, list the following:
– Lesson time
– Your accounts on the various platforms and the preferred one for this lesson
– Lesson content in bullet form

During the lesson you can make notes for the students and finish by setting up the time and lesson content bullets for the next lesson.

Quick tips:

– Follow the same routines as your physical lessons.
– Have simple goals with each lesson.
– Look at the camera to create a sense of eye contact with your student.
– One thing at a time. Do not talk while you or the student is playing.
– Real-time instructions or counting the beats while the student is playing are delayed, which will be very distracting.
– Give more responsibility to the student. For example let them make notes in their score or judge for themselves if the balance between hands is good.
– Keep in mind that a significant part of the gains with having a piano lesson is that the student keeps practicing to prepare for the lesson and get a new assignment to continue practicing.

Getting to work

Before you quickly jump in, a word of warning:
You will probably need to install new apps and software, sign-up for new services, and encourage your students to do the same. Be aware that depending on your circumstances and experience there may be online security and privacy issues that you may need to consider carefully.

1. Try out two different video call platforms and practice your app skills (chat, post a file or image).
2. Figure out how to position/mount your device(s) and work on your filming skills (switch between front/rear camera etc).
3. Set-up a shared document or e-mail for each student with the content mentioned above and send it over to your students.
4. Read this article and this to have a better chance to avoid embarrassing beginner mistakes. Prepare your family members if you are teaching from home!
5. Wait for your first call!


Level 2: Adjust your content and method

When you have been able to connect and communicate with your students in real time you will probably see obvious room for improvement in many areas. Your priorities will depend on your situation, so need to evaluate your experience from level 1 in order to set up your prioritis for your next steps as an online piano teacher.

While a very reasonable reaction is to start thinking about improving the (sometimes terrible) sound and video quality with better technical equipment, consider that it is not only you as a teacher that need a better camera, microphone, tablet etc. but all your students also need to level up their gear in order for you to benefit from it.

Instead, your time is now probably better spent to pragmatically consider which type of lesson content and methods are the most effective and useful in this new situation.

You may now need a good service for publishing and viewing videos privately. YouTube is the superior market leader for two reasons: it works great and it is free. Get an account and consider asking your students to do the same if you want them to send/share videos.

Here are some thoughts to get you started:

“Flipped classroom” approach
Give students material to learn on their own (video courses, printed material, apps etc.). During live video lessons you assist them by helping to solve the problems they have encountered.

“Video exchange” approach
The student is asked to record a video of their piece or other assessment and send it to you. You can get back with written comments in an email, or with a short video clip with comments and instructions. Videos recorded and posted will almost always be of considerably better quality than a real-time video call.  It is not unrealistic to assume that the student might be even more motivated and dedicated to playing well in the video recording than when just practicing for the ordinary lesson.

Here are more invaluable tips about content, techniques, and routines for online piano teaching that has recently been shared on YouTube by piano teachers.


Top Music: 5 Quick Tips for Producing Video Piano Lessons Online

The Clarion Clavier: How and why I teach piano lessons online through Skype

Curious Piano Teachers: Your Essential Guide to Giving Online Piano Lessons

Helpful articles to read:

Clavier Companion: Teaching in the time of Covid-19

Tim Topham: On How to Maximize Your Effectiveness When Teaching Lessons Online

Color in my piano: Teaching Piano During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Level 3: Improved Technology

Now you are ready to explore the many ways of improving the technological side of your online teaching.

While you can quite easily gear up to deliver impressive multi-camera lessons with great sound on a budget below $3.000, before you jump in, take a moment to consider a few things:

– You can not expect all students to invest in quality gear. They may still use their smartphone with a small screen and poor audio (both microphone and speakers).

– If your online lessons are too impressive, it may not just be the temporary solution that you had in mind. Students and parents will get used to the new situation and it is easy to imagine that they will in many cases prefer and require online lessons even when the period of social distancing is over. Are you really ready to give up physical lessons?

– Just to physically set up the technical gear for high-tech multicamera lessons does take time. If you use a proven setup that you have been working with before, you should still expect an hour to get camera stands, mic placement, hdmi adapters, audio mixer, camera angles, device charging and a lot more to be in place. Unless you have a dedicated online piano lessons studio where you can keep the setup intact over time, you may have to spend a lot of time rigging up and down.

If the above points cannot hold you back, get started by listening to some piano teachers with long experience in this area that we have found sharing their tips on YouTube:

Josh Wright: 15 Tips For ONLINE Piano Lessons (filmed during COVID-19 quarantining)

Hugh Sun: How To Teach Online Piano Lessons

How to Teach Online Piano Lessons


/nilsjohan

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193 Pieces by Liszt Added to Piano Street’s Sheet Music Library

The latest addition to our already vast piano sheet music library almost doubles the number of pieces by Franz Liszt. Last week, we added 193 pieces by this multifaceted composer, taking a significant step towards our goal of publishing a complete library of the classical piano repertoire. Our Liszt section is now nearly complete, but more will follow – with this extremely productive and hard-working composer-pianist it’s hard to know where to stop!

Getting a grip on Liszt’s complete works is a complicated business, not least because of his many reworkings and revisions – many pieces exist in two or three versions. Among our new additions are some early versions of pieces from the important cycle Années de pèlerinage. These works were conceived during the young Liszt’s years of travel, collected in the early Album d’un voyageur, and finalized in his mature period.

Liszt’s pianistic language was incredibly rich, and he wrote pieces in a lot of different genres. As one of history’s greatest touring virtuosos, much of his music is notoriously difficult to play. But there are exceptions, not least among the sacred pieces like the transcription of Arcadelt’s Ave Maria, or some of the late works like Abschied, Wiegenlied, or En rêve. Works from this period are also notable for their forward-looking harmonic language.

We’ve added many of the great fantasies and paraphrases, a specialty of Liszt, who was always very interested in promoting other composers’ works, either by including them in his recitals or by making all sorts of piano arrangements and transcriptions. Among the new opera fantasies on site are the Réminiscences of Mozart’s Don Juan, Bellini’s Norma and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, and the Concert Paraphrases on Verdi’s Rigoletto and Ernani. There are also a large number of more straightforward transcriptions: 39 Schubert songs and 14 Wagner opera excerpts, to name some of them.

The new pieces are also available in the AST, where you can listen to handpicked recordings from Naxos Music Library while following along in the score – an excellent way of broadening your repertoire knowledge, and a chance to get a fuller picture of a composer who was one of music’s greatest innovators but tends to be known by only a tiny fraction of his work.

Se all recently added pieces

For instant unlimited access to the sheet music library and AST, you need a Piano Street Gold membership.


/david

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Coronavirus Etude – A New Viral Piano Piece

A classic viral piano piece, “Dusting the Piano” has finally got a follow-up. While Dusting the Piano should be managable for players of ABRSM grade 1 and suitable for performances during less critical times, the new Coronavirus Etude is more complex (around ABRSM grade 5) and aimed to be more effective against viruses.

Which piece is most useful?

The effectiveness of the new Coronavirus Etude may be questioned since most of the effort probably does not remove, but just move the viruses and bacteria sideways. Most likely, a lot of it will just get stuck on the sides of the keys and “Dusting the Piano” may end up as the winner.

Viral spread

The Coronavirus Etude itelf appears to have gone viral, with dozens of performances already recorded and published in various social media. Check out the Instagram tag #coronavirusetude for some examples.
Here are some of the more notable interpretations so far. If you have recorded it, please post a link in the comments below!

Download sheet music: Coronavirus Etude

More advanced: Dichotomie

If you are into something even more advanced, check out Dichotomie, a piano piece by Esa-Pekka Salonen composed in the year 2000.
Here, pianist Aura Go plays the first movement, ‘Mécanisme’:

On a more serious note

While pandemics are no fun at all, these musical jokes remind us about the importance of hygiene when using shared instruments in lesson and practice spaces and may be justified. If you want to learn more about how to effectively clean your piano keys, please read our article:
How to Keep Your Piano Keys Clean from Viruses?



/nilsjohan

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How to Keep Your Piano Keys Clean from Viruses?

The current Coronavirus pandemic brings questions to the fore about how to eliminate the spread of infectious and harmful microorganisms in our teaching or practicing spaces. One of the most burning ones is what can be done to sanitize or disinfect piano keys without harming them. Piano manufacturers advise against using any form of alcohol, but what’s the alternative? And during an ongoing pandemic when public health have higher priority than material concerns, do we need to re-evaluate the advice?

This article is updated regularly with the latest advice based on what’s know about Covid-19.
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Please help spreading the information by linking to the article on:
https://www.pianostreet.com/virus-free-piano-keys

Occasionally, we all carry viral and bacterial pathogens on our hands, disease-causing organisms that are likely to end up on keyboards. As a consequence, pianos in teaching and practicing spaces, played on by many different people, risk contributing to the spread of diseases.
If teaching, it is obviously a good idea to require effective hand washing or sanitizing before and after anyone plays your piano. But this will not help against, say, any coughing or sneezing that may happen during a lesson. And when faced with a new instrument not knowing who has played it before you – what can you do to sanitize the keyboard before touching it?

Alcohol based disinfectants

The most efficient disinfection would generally be to use some kind of alcohol such as rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol (methylated spirits), but be aware that this could damage the keys. It’s especially risky on an older instrument with ivory keys. But as a matter of fact, both ivory (a natural polymer) and synthetic polymer key surfaces can become discolored or cracked when exposed to alcohol or other harsh chemicals used in disinfectants.

Disinfectant wipes, warm water, or vinegar?

Some piano teachers wipe their piano keyboards with various disinfectants after each student. Is this because they are unaware of the risks of damaging the instrument, or is it that they see no alternative? Or that they have done so for years, and found that the potential health benefits outweigh the potential risks for the instrument?
Some recommend using a solution of water and vinegar, but science is still very scarce on vinegar’s effectiveness as a disinfectant. Clearly, it’s not nearly as effective as chemical products. And you need to allow at least a half-hour of exposure. Also, one would think vinegar a more gentle alternative for ivory keys, but this is not the case. If your keys are plastic, vinegar won’t hurt, but when dealing with ivory, avoid it altogether.
If you want to be really gentle on the keys, you could simply wipe them down with a damp cloth (NB. damp, not wet – nothing spells destruction for a fine instrument like moisture damage). This will not kill viruses and germs but hopefully removes them physically. It’s far less likely to damage the keys than disinfectants, but probably less effective.

The polymer chemist’s approach

John M. Zeigler, Ph.D., a polymer chemist also interested in music, has tackled the problem of disinfecting piano keys safely in his article “Piano Hygiene in the Teaching Studio”. Zeigler found that certain disinfecting wipes (with so-called ‘quaternary ammonium chlorides’ as active ingredients) should be safe for use on piano keyboards, because they contain mostly water and only a very small amount of the disinfectant. Nevertheless, he recommends wiping with a damp cloth afterward to remove disinfectant residues. He also issues a word of warning: Unless you can understand the nature, chemical reactivity and purpose of the label ingredients for a cleaning product, avoid using it on your piano.
Don’t forget to wash your hands!

New recommendations from PTG

Piano Technicians Guilds has recently published the document “Covid-19 and Piano Care”.
Their general recommendations are:

  • Use alcohol-based disinfectants, do not use bleach-based disinfectants or any product containing citrus.
  • If using a spray or liquid bottle, use a disposable towel like WYPALL L30. Put the disinfectant on the towel and not the piano.
  • After use, immediately put the towel or disinfectant hand wipe in the trash and wash your hands as the CDC recommends. Do not use reusable towels or cloths which could spread germs to your kit or the next customer.
  • Always follow up with a dry towel and never leave any liquids on the piano or keys.

What about coronavirus specifically?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives, on their page Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) > Clean & Disinfect, the following advice that can be relevant for disinfection, not considering possible harm on musical instruments:

“Current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials. Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.”

“For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.”

To summarize

It’s not as easy as you might think to find a quick, effective way to disinfect or sanitize the keyboard, which is also completely safe for the piano keys. At the end of the day, the best recommendation would probably still be for everyone to wash or sanitize their hands carefully, both before and after playing, since it’s unlikely that any keyboard will be 100% virus-free. While playing, avoid touching your face, picking up your phone, etc. Add to this a wipe down the keys with a simple damp cloth before and after every playing session.

For a more thorough disinfection of the keyboard, you could go about like this:
1. Wipe the keys with a cloth dipped in a solution of soap and warm water and wrung out well.
2. Remove soap residue with a damp cloth.
3. Use some kind of trusted disinfectant with a low concentration of the active ingredient.
4. Leave disinfectant residue for 30 seconds to a couple of minutes before removing it with a damp cloth.


Links and resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) > Clean & Disinfect

BBC Future: Covid-19: How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces?

BBC News: Coronavirus: How to clean your smartphone safely
(Gives a hint about how effective soap and water is on coronavirus.)

Steinway Los Angeles recommends 70% alcohol to clean the keys.

Steinway & Sons main Facebook page recommends hydrogen peroxide.

“Piano Hygiene in the Teaching Studio” by polymer chemist John M. Zeigler, Ph.D.

As user ardith in Piano Forum points out, it is difficult to get a clear answer about what chemicals to use.
Do disinfectant chemicals such as isopropanol damage piano keys?


Related reading:

Coronavirus Etude – A New Viral Piano Piece
A classic viral piano piece, “Dusting the Piano” has finally got a follow-up. While Dusting the Piano should be managable for players of ABRSM grade 1 and suitable for performances during less critical times, the new Coronavirus Etude is more complex (around ABRSM grade 5) and aimed to be more effective against viruses.


Reader question:

How do you keep your piano keys clean?
Please post your reply below!


/david

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The World of Piano Competitions – issue 1 2020

As a collaborating partner Piano Street is proud to present the third issue of The World of Piano Competitions, a new magazine initiated by PIANIST Magazine (Netherlands and Germany) and its Editor-in-Chief Eric Schoones. Here we get a rich insight into the world of international piano competitions through the eyes of its producers and participants.

Click cover to download:

Contributing Editors: Mark Ainley, Gustav Alink (Alink-Argerich Foundation), Patrick Jovell (Piano Street), Rudy Tambuyser

Free download!

Piano Street is happy to share the third issue of WOPC with our readers free of charge: The-World-of-Piano-Competitions-issue-1-2020.pdf

Content

Gustav Alink reports
Paderewski Competition, Bydgoszcz
Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition, Paris
Bartók World Competition, Budapest
The International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn

Interviews
Claire Huangci & Gerrit Glaner on Paris Play-Direct Academy
Gilles Ledure, Queen Elisabeth Competition
A conductor’s view: Gilbert Varga
A technician’s view: Peter Head, Maene Piano’s
Rob Hilberink, Liszt Competition Utrecht
A teacher’s view: Rena Shereshevskaya
A director’s view: Adam Gatehouse

In Profile

International Edvard Grieg Piano Competition
Bechstein-Bruckner Competition
Concours International Piano Val de Travers-Neuchâtel
ARD International Music Competition
Santa Cecilia International Competition
The International Schubert-Competition Dortmund
International Franz Schubert and Modern Music Competition

Behind the Scenes
Play it safe or commit to being personal?
Florian Riem, Interim Secretary General WFIMC
Virtual Reality at the Chopin Competition


Background

The piano enjoys a tremendous popularity worldwide and has the universal quality to be able to communicate through cultures, history and geographical borders. The value of piano competitions cannot be overestimated in terms of focus on the piano as an instrument and piano playing. The competition industry engages a multiplicity of concerns including hi-end piano manufacturing, media coverage and broadcast, repertoire spotlight and pedagogy, concert and lecture production and not least, career opportunity and exposure for laureates and non-laureates. All this contributes to a richer cultural life and can powerfully promote the aim we all share: to spread the joy and riches of the art of piano playing.

”Piano music, especially live, is incomparable and can be a great source of joy for players and listeners. We all should strive to allow as many people benefit from it as possible. For that, this edition of The World of Piano Competition is an excellent form of encouragement. I hope its message spreads widely! I wish everyone much joy reading it and, later on, attending a concert!”
— Guido Zimmermann, President Steinway & Sons Europe

THE WORLD OF PIANO COMPETITIONS
is published twice a year by PIANIST, as a part of the regular edition, and also worldwide as a separate magazine.

PIANIST (regular edition) is published four times a year in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and Belgium.
www.pianist-magazin.de
www.pianistmagazine.nl


/nilsjohan

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