Last updated: March 15, 2020

I have been using video chat platforms like Skype and FaceTime to teach piano online for over a decade now. I remember back when I first tried it out, it seemed like such a revolutionary idea. These days, I have quite a few long-distance students and I weave online lessons into my regular teaching schedule each day. It’s really quite easy and effective to learn piano this way!

Whether you’re interested in learning or teaching lessons online, keep reading and I’ll tell you all about how it works.

(Related: 9 Great Apps For Learning and Practicing Piano)

Who Can Learn Piano Online

Online lessons are ideal for a number of different situations.

After I moved to a different city, as well as when I’ve had students move away, it has worked well for some students to continue online.

Students in remote areas without a piano teacher are good candidates for online lessons.

Busy adults who might not be able to squeeze in travel time plus a lesson into their schedules each week can save time by learning online.

Really, pretty much anyone can learn piano online these days! I have taught all ages and levels online.

Occasionally, I replace in-person lessons with a video lessons in cases of bad weather or sickness. For teachers who don’t plan to use video lessons weekly, it’s nice to have access to them if you need them. I encourage you to explore how to get started, just in case a situation arises!

I had one situation this year where one of my family members suddenly became sick with a stomach bug. There are certain kinds of sickness where it’s not a big deal to have my family closed off in another part of the house while I carry on with my teaching, but this was a situation where it just made more sense to not expose my students to this sickness.

I quickly messaged parents and told them I would call them via Skype or FaceTime at their normal lesson times. It was really helpful to be able to stay on top of my teaching schedule, give my family some space while sick and not share germs.

What you need

  • A device such as a laptop or tablet with a built in webcam. If you have apple devices, you can use FaceTime. Otherwise, download Skype or Zoom.
  • Some where to place the device during online lessons such as a music stand, a table, a stool or a chair
  • A full-sized acoustic or digital piano (I recommend this “keyboard” for beginners)
  • Sheet music or other materials recommended by the teacher
  • Some people find that wearing headphones improves the sound/feedback/possible echoing. I haven’t noticed a huge difference so I skip them.
  • Some people also set up an external microphone, but I’ve found that the built in mic to the device usually does the job.
  • You may want a tripod or this Joby GorillaPod so that you can have more control over the angles that your camera can reach. These aren’t essential, but definitely nice to have. I also have an iPhone mount and and iPad mount so I can attach my devices to the tripod.

Set Up

It can be a little tricky at first to find the perfect set up, but once you figure it out, it’s a breeze to get ready before a lesson.

For the student, it is best to position the device a little ways away from one side of the piano so that the teacher can see the profile of the students as well as his or her hands on the piano. You probably won’t need to change the position of your device once you get set up.

As the teacher, I have a few different placements that work well.
Sometimes I like to sit close to my laptop, so I just place it on the nearby cabinet. This works well when I’m trying to focus in on a student’s hands, listen really carefully or follow along with digital sheet music on my computer.
Other times, I place my computer to the side of my piano so that I can easily demonstrate things. In the picture above, I move the bench close to the computer when I’m talking to my student or listening to them play, then just shift over if I need to demonstrate something. If I adjust my laptop slightly, my student gets a good side profile view of me playing.

Occasionally I’ll position my laptop or iPad in a way that the student can see a birds-eye view of my hands playing the piano. I have an iPad tripod for this purpose, but most often, I just use my laptop.

With some lessons, I use a 2 camera set-up so that my student can see both my face and my hands on the piano. The app ManyCam makes this easy. I just use my laptop as usual, then put my phone on a tripod so that it looks down over the keys. This makes it super easy to demonstrate music on the piano but also keep things engaging for the student.

I find the Joby GorillaPod to be really useful to get position my phone in different angles. I can use this tripod to attach my phone to my piano lamp or another tripod.

Who Calls Who

Different teachers might have different opinions on this, but I prefer to call students.

Just like with in-person lessons, there is a couple minutes of transition time in between students. I usually teach online students in between in-person lessons so I like to get my previous student out the door, then I call the online student. Otherwise, it gets tricky wrapping up one lesson while the phone or computer is ringing for the next lesson.

What Happens During The Lesson

Once you’re all set up, an online lesson is very similar to an in person lesson. You can chat and visit like you would in person. The student can play music for the teacher, the teacher can give commentary, the teacher can demonstrate all of parts of the music.

The biggest difference that I have found is that teachers have to bit more specific with their words. You can’t point to the piano or to the sheet music during the lesson.

For students that are very young beginners, I like to have a parent or older sibling nearby so that they can help point and orient the student to the piano. This is really only necessary for the first several lessons, but it’s always good to have parents standing by.

I make sure that my online students understand how to number measures in their music from the very beginning. This is really important so that we can efficiently talk about different parts of the music.

It’s a little bit harder to start and stop music like you would in person, so the teacher may need to speak up a bit so that the student can hear on top of their music.

I would also encourage teachers to use teaching aids as much as possible, just as they would in an in-person lesson.

With online students, I use scale blocks, flash cards, show students Handy Houses, demonstrate things on my floor staff, play games, and do any other type of engaging activity that we can make work.

Troubleshooting Problems

Inevitably, technological problems will arise during online lessons. They are usually not a big deal.

Several of my online students live in remote areas that sometimes have patchy internet connections. It’s a bit unpredictable. Sometimes we have a crystal clear picture and perfect sound. Some times one or the other is fuzzy and sometimes both the picture and sound are really spotty.

We just roll with the punches. I find that as long as I can hear the student pretty well, the picture is less important. There have even been a couple of times that we just ditched the video and switched to a phone lesson. It’s not ideal, but it works in a pinch. If I can hear clear enough, I can almost always figure out how to help a student with trouble spots in their music.

Occasionally we deal with dropped calls. I think this often happens when there’s a little glitch in the internet connection. I find the best way to deal with this is to immediately call back and then to just pick up right where we left off.

I don’t waste any of our valuable lesson time trying to figure out what went wrong with the connection or even talking about the dropped call. I just continue the previous sentence that I was saying before the dropped call.

Sometimes there are either slight delays or echoes in the sound. This can be really distracting for me as the teacher. I have a hard time formulating my sentences when I’m hearing the previous few seconds of what I have already said. The easiest fix for this is to hang up and call back – it almost always works!


So there you have it! If you’ve been thinking about trying lessons online as a teacher or as a student, I hope that you can see that it’s really pretty simple and accessible!

Leave comments with questions! I’d love to chat more about this topic!

Other Articles You May Enjoy:

5 Ways To Teach Piano Scales

16 Songs That Use Only Black Keys

The Easiest Way To Organize Piano Studio Bookkeeping

Simple Ways To Learn White Key Names

Blogging For Piano Teachers

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  1. I take online flute lessons, but it’s formatted like an online course. The teacher has lessons where we can see the front view and then close ups of the flute… it’s quite good. Since this is my first time on your blog, do you only do skype lessons or do you have some sort of online course for learning piano? I;d like to get back to playing, so that I can create my own music duets.

    1. Hi Lisa! Sounds like your flute teacher has a neat program! At the moment, I’m only teaching via Skype and FaceTime but I do have some online courses in the works. Stay in touch if you want to try out some Skype lessons!

    2. Lisa, you might be interested in flowkey. It sounds similar to what your flute teacher’s approach because there is a birds-eye-view of hands on the keys as well as music scrolling across the screen. I’ve had a lot of success with students learning music from it! Here’s my review of it:

  2. Hi Megan! I’ve followed your fb page for some time now and I have always toyed with the idea of online lessons, but never pulled the trigger! This idea seems incredible to me! May I ask if you request the same payrate with online lessons verses in person lessons? Also, you mentioned following your students ‘digital score’ online- are yoiu able to view these scores for free? Where do you find them? I’d love to chat with you more! Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Mary! I charge the same rate for online and in-person lessons. I try to have a hardcopy of all of my students’ music on hand, but occasionally we buy digital copies online, so I have some pdfs stored on my computer. You should give it a try! If you’re unsure about, see if one of your current students would be willing to experiment with you so you can figure out your set-up and see what it’s like!

  3. First time looking at your blog. Awesome article! I have been doing FaceTime lessons to missionary students in Russia for about 2 years now. At first, I was very apprehensive, but it really works! The time change can be a challenge for us at times and also the connection. But we make it work! It really is cool!

    1. Wow, Russia! What’s the time difference? I also teach some families overseas. They are 8-9 hours ahead of us, so it works well for me to teach in the morning while it is evening for them. We’ve also tried late night for me, early morning for them, which works well too, but I prefer to teach in the morning. I’ve been amazed at how well teaching online works!

      1. Same time difference you referenced. Like you, morning is best for me,
        while it is early evening for them.

    1. Hi Diana, Sorry I missed your comment previously! We make a lot of games work over Skype. I’ll have students use little game pieces or toys on their piano to play games to practice keyboard geography. Flashcard type games work just fine, as long as the picture is clear. I have some students who like to play games where I time how fast they can do things (play something on the piano, complete their flash cards, etc.) I just use the timer on my phone and hold it up at the end to show them their time.

      1. Going through this corona virus business has made me start investigating online piano teaching. I have taught traditional private lessons for years. I have a Mac mini with a tall gaming screen. But I use that to create the assignment card at each lesson. So would I need a 2nd setup. Trying to wrap my head around this. I also do not think I have a built in camera. Any ideas? Maybe you should write a book. Are you a member of California music teachers association? We are on lockdown now due to the virus. So far all students have been coming but with the lockdown I do not know

  4. I teach lessons in student homes, and am exploring trying online lessons temporarily during the coronavirus crisis.
    I cannot purchase copies of all student books and sheet music. Though not ideal, do you have
    any suggestions for resources or tips for effective online teaching during this less than perfect situation?

  5. THANK YOU for posting this. With the whole COVID-19 situation these are some great tips. I’ve never taught via Skype/Facetime etc. so this was very helpful!!!

  6. Do you know what the app is that shows the keys you are playing on a digital piano on the screen as you play them? It’s like a hologram of the piano keyboard that lights up when you press the keys on the actual piano.
    Also, have you found that you are able to see the student’s hands pretty easily through a side profile angle and vice versa?

    1. Is it Synthesia?
      The angles kind of vary depending on the students piano and environment. My preference is to the side and a little above the keys so I can see the span of the keyboard.

  7. Hi Megan,

    Thank you for the very insightful blog. Love it! I have to do remote teaching for the next 4 weeks, due to schools being closed and corona virus floating around. Please can you assist – I’m trying to figure out how to add my phone as extra camera ontop of facetime / zoom calls. I would like to have a second screen showing my hands, like you suggested.

    I appreciate your advise

  8. Hi Megan,
    This has been most helpful. I teach piano here in Connecticut. Now, with the situation we all find ourselves in have been giving much thought to online lessons. I haven’t been able to reach the past 2 weeks and I miss my students! Have done a couple of lessons via FaceTime in the past and it worked pretty well. My question is concerning payment. You charge the same as your normal rates? Do they send you a check? Or how do you receive payments? I thought of giving a slight discount due to circumstances, but have not decided as of yet. Happy I found your site.
    Addie Lee Chase

  9. My wife wants me to set up a system so that she can play a duet with someone 30 miles away. Have you tried doing duets with your students?

  10. I. Am curious. How do you get your overseas students?? I think it would be neat to teach some people from other countries.😊

    1. Originally one of my local families moved overseas, but all of the others have been word of mouth.

  11. Hi Megan
    I found this article very helpful and relevant for the current situation. I did my first piano lesson over Zoom today – and for a technophobe I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was…
    Do you have any suggestions about how to record what practice is being set for the week (normally I would write it in the students practice notebook… And would prefer lesson time not to be spent on them trying to write down what to do as most are children)?
    Also, I would normally make any pencil notes on their music for them (eg fingering) is there an easy way to do this as I don’t want to write all over my copy of the music…?
    Many thanks

    1. I’ve been using Tonara as a digital assignment book. I have my students write fingerings/markings in their music. It takes a little longer to tell them what to write, but if their writing it themselves I think it sinks in a little better.

  12. I am a professional organist and pianist and teacher. I have just begun continuing my jazz piano lessons on Skype as a student. I have a few students of
    my own, most are on the young side. I decided to try Skype teaching with a high school student. We had our first lesson last week and it worked well. I am wondering how to do this with my younger students. Some do not have laptops but have access to smart phones perhaps with parental supervision. I think my jazz piano teacher teaches students in this manner. I would appreciate any guidance you can give me in this manner,

    1. Smartphones work great for online piano lessons. I usually have my students place their phone at the end of the piano keys and I get a pretty good view of their hands on the keys and their face.

  13. Thank you for your timely message! With the crazy last month of COVID-19, I have moved my entire piano studio online. I use Google Hangouts, and it is going as well as can be expected for the first time doing this. One challenge I find is that since the kids have their piano assignment notebooks with them, it takes longer to get through each lesson because they, not me, are needing to write down the assignments. I have had to allow extra time for each lesson to take this into account. Do you require a parent to sit in on the lessons and write everything down? Also, for the couple of kinesthetic learners that I have who need tons of hands-on modeling, I find myself feeling frustrated knowing how to reach them adequately in the online platform. I do a ton of birdseye view demonstrating, with some success. Do you have any other techniques that work well for your kinesthetic learners? Thank you for your time!

    1. I’ve been using Tonara as a digital assignment book. It’s really much more than that, but I’m happy with it purely for the assignment book purpose. As for hands on modeling, I’ve tried Classroom Maestro with some of my students and it’s a great way to demonstrate things on screen.

  14. Hi Megan, I have trouble with the sound. It is unpredictable when it is good or bad. I cannot relate it to any specific app (whether facetime, hangouts, zoom, teams, skype, or whatever). Sometimes the sound is so bad that striking a chord sounds like someone hitting a tin can. That is way too bad for pianolessons.
    Do you have any idea what might cause this? Or anyone else who reads this? Could it be the codecs in the apps that are tuned to voice (and therefore have difficulty with chords)? Do you recognize this problem?

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