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  • Writer's pictureJulia Pinckney Jones

Online Music Lessons... You Can Do That?

Well, yes, in many cases you can!

Our experience with online lessons happened kind of by accident, before we had any idea that there even was a "curve" that we could be ahead of!

When we moved from Vancouver BC to Portland, OR, and then again when we turned our wagons south again for Tucson, some of our students didn't want to stop working with us, (and we didn't want to stop working with them, either) so we decided to try to find a way to make it work.

Online lessons can be a great supplement to regular in-studio lessons or, in many cases, a person can take their lessons entirely online.

In this post, I will talk about some of the advantages and disadvantages - the strengths and weaknesses - of online music lessons, to help you decide if online lessons might be right for you!

Online lessons as a supplement to traditional lessons

Last winter, when we lived in Portland, there were at least 2 weeks when we (and much of the city) were essentially "snowed in" - streets were dangerously icy, buses weren't running, and the city basically shut down. And, of course, this was just after winter break, so some of our students were in the position of missing more than a month's worth of lessons all in a row. We needed to get creative, and running online lessons in the students' regular lesson slots maintained their progress as well as giving them something to do during the long days. Since their schools were closed, too, the fact that they had new songs to practice, but no other homework to do got some of them to make breakthroughs that may not have come for a long time, if we hadn't had the chance to do those lessons.

I also had a student who seemed predisposed to get every single cold germ that ever hit any child within 100 yards of him. I respected the fact that his mom wanted to keep him out of class (and away from me and other students when he was sick) but again, there were occasions where he could totally use the distraction (and the ongoing forward progress) of a lesson, if only he could take the lesson without exposing me (and all my other students) to his germs. We turned to occasional online lessons when he was feeling well enough (for example, in the recovery time after the worst of the cold had passed), and were able to maintain his progress, and learn a few new things into the bargain!

Finally, as a performing musician myself, sometimes I go out of town to play a short tour, and the option of offering online lessons makes it easy for me to continue to teach when I'm away from my studio, instead of cancelling lessons and disrupting my students' routine.

Having the option of switching a lesson from a live studio lesson to one that's online (for whatever reason) is extremely useful and almost always worthwhile. For younger students especially, consistency of routine (weekly lessons, daily practice, etc) is key in developing not just their musicality but also their work ethic, so being able to continue to have lessons despite outside influences "keeping us apart" is just one of the many gifts modern technology has given us.

Online lessons as the only lessons

Online music lessons provide some great advantages, but they also create some challenges for both students and teachers (and to the parents of younger students). Some of these challenges have proved to be quite readily surmountable, and others continue to be reasons for me to recommend in-person lessons (at least at first) to some students who might initially prefer the idea of online lessons.

First, the advantages of online lessons:

The availability of online lessons is a huge boon to students who:

  • live in more remote areas, allowing the student a wide range of teachers that they would never be able to get to in person.

  • when a move (either by the teacher or the student) separates a long-term student-teacher relationship. The student and teacher can continue working together and, with a few adjustments, lessons seem to run pretty smoothly.

  • have an extremely busy schedule, since there is no travel time to and from the teacher's house. With online lessons, all the student has to do is boot up the computer, arrange the camera where they want it, and connect!

  • have specific goal and want to find a specialized teacher. One of

Now the disadvantages:

  • The quality of lessons is tied to having a good, stable, fast internet connection, an adjustable webcam and good speakers. You will have to spend some time before your lessons start and in the first lesson finding the best way to arrange your devices so that you get a good interface with your teacher, where everyone can see and hear what they need to. You may also need to download and set up software like Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc, depending on what the teacher recommends.

  • There are often issues with "duplexing." (If people on both sides of the connection are making noise at the same time, "duplexing" allows both people to be heard. Many software options and/or computers won't allow this.)

  • There are always issues with "latency." (The delay between you making a sound on your end of the connection and me hearing it on mine.) This makes it virtually impossible for the teacher to play live duets with the student, or accompany them. There are ways to get around this (I usually send mp3s of accompaniments for songs and exercises) but it has been the biggest challenge for us in establishing our online practice at Desert Home Music.

  • Basically, just the fact that you're not actually in the same room can make it difficult sometimes, especially for beginners. I can't physically place a young piano student's hand into the right position, or have a voice student touch my lower ribs to feel them move outwards when I inhale. Again, we at Desert Home have found methods to verbally explain, show with physical demonstrations and illustrations, but it does take more time than "the old fashioned way."

So are Online lessons right for you?

It's a little hard to say, to be honest! Online lessons can work very well, and the flexibility you gain in hiring, scheduling and organizing your lessons may well be more important than the initial challenges.

Almost any student can benefit from online lessons as an occasional alternative to in-person lessons, either due to weather, sickness, or travel. The novelty of an online lesson every now and again can help keep things fresh and exciting for the student, and the ability to keep up the momentum of learning makes this type of online lessons especially valuable. If you find yourself in one of these situations, contact your Desert Home Music instructor and see if you can switch to an online lesson for that week. The answer will almost certainly be "yes!"

Online-only lessons can also be great, don't get me wrong. I love getting to teach my online students, and I enjoy thinking creatively to give great lessons even without being in the same room as my student - and I often learn new ways of communicating when I have only words and images to get my point across. The only students I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend online lessons to would be young children just starting out. If you need this option because you live in a remote area, be prepared to be your music teacher's assistant, helping your child stand/sit correctly, have good hand position on their instrument, or breathe correctly to support their voice. Even for children, online lessons can work if the parent is very involved, but if you have an option, and your young child is ready to start music lessons (see Desert Home Music's article on that here) I would suggest that you try in-person lessons first.

So if you're looking for something new in your music lesson routine, or if travel time is taking all the fun out of playing for your kids, contact us and inquire about online lessons, either on a temporary or permanent basis - you'll be glad you did!

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