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How do you feel about online lessons? (teacher AND student perspectives welcome) (Read 464 times)

Offline anacrusis

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Hello everyone,

While I haven't been teaching for nearly two years (if you do not count occasionally coaching my girlfriend who is also a college level pianist) I have been toying with the thought of giving some occasional online lessons for some extra income during the pandemic.

I'm interested in hearing the perspectives of both teachers AND students of all levels who currently partake in online lessons. How do you feel about this format? What works and what doesn't? Do you prefer online or in person? What can one do to make it a good experience?

Offline ranjit

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I think online lessons can definitely work with the right student and teacher. (I'm a student.) A few points I've found:

1. The student needs to be able to appreciate and follow verbal directives. The teacher should be able to communicate what they mean verbally as much as possible.

2. Ensure the highest sound quality possible. It may not be possible to get good audio quality on the call, so make extensive use of Youtube recordings as a reference (or your own recordings), and ask the student to send in audio recordings (or maybe even video recordings) with the best audio quality possible. Most digital pianos have an internal recording option, or at least make a recording in a quiet room without much distortion.

3. It will not be possible to watch the student move in 3D. So the teacher will have to be able to imagine what is going on based on the 2D camera angles, in addition with the student communicating how they are moving their body verbally. The student must be good at verbally expressing their ideas. I think technique is still very hard to teach online, but it should be possible to a decent extent.

4. Communicating theory and similar aspects should basically be equally effective in a one-on-one lesson as it is in person. By theory, I'm not referring to ear training, but simply the theory (what are secondary dominants? how to read sheet music? etc.)

5. I think it may be close to impossible to explain delicate nuances of tone color, especially if they don't come across in a recording. However, I think that most students up to early advanced (say, grade 8) will not typically be focused on those nuances.

6. Oh another point, I got myself good headphones. Around the 100$ range, you can get decent flat-frequency headphones which imo replicate the original sound quite well. In addition, I bought a DAC which I felt improved the sound a lot. I started listening to piano music especially through those headphones, and imo the sound quality was close enough to the original to be of a lot of use -- to an extent, I could hear tone color, dynamics, everything. This is another thing with recordings -- make sure you're listening to the audio with the original dynamics! At least occasionally, listen through good headphones or speakers and not crappy laptop or phone speakers. I'm stressing this point because I didn't truly understand dynamic range back when I had a laptop which compressed the audio like crazy. I was subconsciously imitating those recordings, sure, but had no experience to go by when it came to realistic dynamics on the piano. This is something which I've surprisingly found many piano teachers are simply unaware of!

7. It also depends on the kind of rapport you have with the student, and how engaged they are. It's much harder to force an uninterested student to listen online! You can rap them on the knuckles in person ;D

It still probably doesn't compare to an in-person lesson (and I've not had a single in-person lesson in my life :-\) but I think it can work. I've certainly found some use, especially when it came to motivation or being extra careful about getting the details right. That said, I'm an unusually self-motivated guy (I've self-taught for five years) so my experience may not be typical of your average student. A lot of the ideas I brought to the table (regarding memorization, technique etc.) were my own (or which I had previously studied online or from books), and in fact the teacher did not really teach me technique, except to tell me to practice scales and arpeggios and provide me the fingerings.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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I'm not complaining about online lessons because they kept income coming to me during lockdown, but I don't really like them. I often treat online lessons as if my arms are cut off, my eyes are blurry and my ears are old and strain to listen, because that is what it feels like. In person lessons are much better by far. Ignoring the 2d vs 3d issues and sound quality, a large problem with online lessons is how inefficient it is to explain and describe. For instance if you want to direct attention to a particular bar you can simply point to it, online you either verbally say the section or show it on a video where the student has to look then find it themselves again on their sheets, it might not seen like a lot of time difference but it surely stacks up.

Also getting a student to make adjustments on the go while they play is very tough online. I can easily talk in my students ear while they are playing in such a way that they can understand and make changes but online it is just more difficult with the latency and difficult to actually hear simultaneously what someone says when they notice something.

People also do not connect with you as well online as in person, there is a real innate need for us to see people in person and interact with people on this level. When you are on a video this is torn away and you have some artifical barrier between the two of you. This is a very limiting factor in making a relationship with your student because it always seems so impersonal and distant by comparison.
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Offline lelle

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An acquaintance of mine teaches young children (mostly beginners) and she was forced to start teaching online when the pandemic came here in the spring. She felt it was fine on her part, but many of the children did not like it and wanted to quit after a while. I guess its much more difficult to be hands-on online which is needed for beginners. Said it was stressful to have your job at home so that can be something to think about as well.

Offline anacrusis

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Thank you so much for your perspectives! I imagined that it might not be nearly as good of a experience as a live lesson. It's interesting to hear that you still had a good experience ranjit! Were there any particular qualities your teacher had that made the experience good for you? What did you focus on in your lessons?

I have taught beginners before and it was not my favorite experience. If I would teach online, and could be selective with my students, I imagine I would try to find intermediate to advanced students or happy amateurs who are self motivated. But I assume those types of students are harder to find? Anyone got a perspective to share on that?

Thanks again for your input!




Offline ranjit

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The focus was on catching up on some of the basics, learning some repertoire (roughly grade 7 ABRSM). My technique was already advanced to the point where I could pretty much immediately play the pieces at tempo (it would take time to read and memorize however). So the focus was on playing with even rhythm and some period specific suggestions.

I'm not quite sure about the qualities of the teacher -- I think constantly having to show her the week's work spurred me on to try and improve quickly. As I said though, I'm mostly a self-directed learner and I have learned all my life from imitating video recordings of pianists, playing mostly by ear, and I can pick theory up from books or websites pretty well. So I was able to solve a lot of problems on my own, and the teacher was mostly directing my attention to certain things which were lacking.

At some point, she suggested a very careful practice routine, which I followed. It was too much after 2-3 weeks, and we moved on.

One thing to note was that the teacher was very fluent and articulate, and would send emails with instructions on what to do next, which was very helpful in keeping track of everything.

Offline neciebugs

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I was hesitant to switch to online. I went dark for a month, but my small studio (max 10 students) wanted lessons. I lost 3 because they could not focus with online and needed in person. A good microphone is key, as is a camera. I am upgrading my camera this week from my iPad pro to an external. I have a Rode mic on a boom. My iPad Pro is on a Boom also, however, I think it is limiting, and the camera quality isn't that great... so I am upgrading.

I have had a demand for lessons like no other time... I have had to turn away students.

I have developed skills I never knew I needed.

I use Tonara so that the students can send me clips throughout the week if needed. Also, it allows them to track rep and practice time. It also allows them to chat in a safe environment with other studio members.

I paid for zoom pro, so I can record lessons or parts of lesson to reflect, and self evaluate. It also allows me to post their performances on my FB business page so they can feel connected. I recently took off the waiting room feature so they can just join in on mute so that they can hear other students play and feel connected to other students.

Now that my infrastructure is set up, I honestly think I will continue to offer remote lessons for those who prefer to use them. However, I cannot wait to have them back in my home studio... but not until everyone in my home is vaccinated.

I worried about progress, and while it is slower... the kids still strive to make progress.

My gripes? It's harder to fix nuances like hand position, posture, dynamics etc... and if the student doesn't have a good camera or microphone... the lesson suffers.

Overall, it works for us. I am glad I opted to offer online lessons, as I fear I would have had to rebuild my studio from the ground up...

I teach math by day for a local HS, so I would have been fine financially, however, the learning I HAVE done was tremendous... I was able to connect with one of my piano teacher from decades ago and start taking zoom lessons every other week myself... So... Lots of good has come from the situation, although it does have limitations.

Offline anacrusis

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Thank you so much @neciebugs for your detailed input. Very interesting to hear that it's a popular option in high demand. But I guess you have to put your name out there first  ;D

Offline neciebugs

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There is a lot of word of mouth... I have one family that just keeps recruiting for me... But, I am a member of several FB local community groups and they have Business post Fridays. As soon as I have an opening I post (if my wait list is exhausted). And that gives me a lot of leads.