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.
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.
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.
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!