Online music lessons may sound like nirvana to many music students – being able to study music wherever you are and no matter where your teacher is. If you’re a music teacher, though, you likely instinctively sense the possible drawbacks and limitations of learning music at a distance.
Nevertheless, online music learning is increasingly how students young and old, experienced and newbies, pursue their passion. Students, and parents of younger students, need to be aware of the reality behind the rose-colored glasses. And teachers should explore how they might like to include online lessons as part of their studio instruction.
Of course, online music learning is much more than just lessons over Skype or the numerous other platforms like Facetime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. And learning isn’t just limited to lessons; students can learn through online classes, courses, webinars or group programs.
But most students – and teachers – still favor one-on-one interaction even if it’s via computer. And so the question becomes how to make sure that the technology can support the teaching and not get in the way.
Be prepared to take a proactive role in your study. Online lessons require more self-discipline and motivation than in-person lessons. Somehow the virtual connection often doesn’t feel as compelling, but if you maintain a regular practice schedule and good practice habits, you will do well.
It is a good idea to seek out opportunities for hands-on in person instruction to supplement your online lessons, like workshops, masterclasses or seminars. These are welcome additions to any music study, but they are especially helpful for online students.
Online lessons require a little extra patience and planning.
First, in order to set up your online studio, you will need to address some technology issues which are completely separate from the lesson technology. You will likely need a way to take payments online, and you may find that online scheduling or calendar apps make it easier for both you and your students.
Next, consider how best to build in some extra accountability between lessons. You could have your students submit videos in between lessons, or if possible, schedule occasional in-person lessons. You could send the student an email summary of what you worked on in the lesson or their assignment for next time.
In my experience, online students respond best when we set out a curriculum or a goal for our study. This helps us focus our time in the lessons and gives us a clear path to progress.
Taming the Technology
For both students and teachers, the technology is likely to be a bit daunting at first.
I suggest that the teacher should experiment with which online platform works best for him or her, and then test your internet connection speed. The simplest way is to set up an online meeting with a friend or colleague so that they can let you know how the connection was and how your equipment was working.
You don’t need fancy equipment; the camera in most computers or tablets is sufficient. I do however recommend that both teacher and student use ear buds with a microphone or a headset. This prevents painful feedback and sound looping.
I firmly believe in keeping the technology as simple as possible, and I follow these two guidelines:
- Stop when the technology threatens to take over the lesson.
- Always have a low-tech backup plan (like the telephone) if technology fails.
Despite the technology issues and even though online music lessons don’t feel the same as in-person ones, I believe that many students can benefit from music study this way. And as the old commercials used to say, “It’s the next best thing to being there.”