Over the years, I’ve taught piano lessons in the closet of a school, in piano labs, in practice rooms, in my 1-bedroom apartment, in my dining room, in my living room, in music stores, in my own studio, in other teachers’ studios, in students’ homes, in churches. I never thought I’d be teaching through the window of my kitchen, but here we are!

As piano teachers, many of us thinking about what the future of piano lessons looks like.

I shifted my studio to all online lessons on March 16, 2020 and we’ve stayed online for the past 3 months. Fortunately, I was very prepared to teach online. I’ve taught lessons over video chat for over 10 years and I consistently have a few long-distance students enrolled who I teach online weekly.

(Related: How To Teach Online Piano Lessons)

While I don’t mind teaching online, I’m anxious to return to a more normal routine. The personal interactions and energy my students bring to the studio just can’t be replicated online. Plus, so many details of the music are lost over video. And, we miss tons learning opportunities with the lack of games, teaching aids and other hands-on tools.

I’m willing to do anything it takes to continue to offer consistent instruction to my students. I’ll stay online if that’s the safest option, but I’d like to explore other options too.

Normally, my home piano studio hosts over 100 students each week. Most students come in groups of 4 and stay for an hour. There are groups of preschoolers and Pre-K kids that come for music classes. Adults and teens come for private lessons. I have 5 assistant teachers who teach with me, lead small groups on their own and teach private lessons.

There’s a lot happening each week and while I would love to continue with business as usual, I’m not sure it’s sustainable to host groups of kids and have so much traffic in and out of my house each week.

There are still a lot of questions marks regarding what fall schedules will look like. While I’m not 100% sure the 2020-2021 school year holds, I’m trying to use my slower summer schedule to find creative alternatives to keep piano lessons as safe and normal as possible.

Here are things that are playing into my thought process right now:

  • My studio normally hosts a high volume of students who use a lot of shared equipment. The students usually rotate through several stations of activities during their hour here and are touching 2-3 different pianos, iPads, game pieces, markers and other games and school supplies. There is a lot to keep clean and often 8 or more people in the studio space at a time.
  • In addition to students, there are often parents and siblings in and out of the studio each week, increasing the number of people around.
  • Because my studio is in my home, I need to take extra precautions to keep my family safe. With the airborne nature of the virus and high volumes of people coming into our home touching things my own kids use regularly and using our only main floor bathroom, I definitely need to be careful.
  • My piano studio is my full time job and a significant portion of my family’s income.
  • I want to offer the best possible experience to my students while keeping my own family, their family and the community safe.

This month, I’ve been experimenting with “porch piano lessons” as a safe, no-contact alternative to in-person piano lessons.

I was inspired by a video I saw online of a piano teacher teaching from the window of her studio. Her student was outside with a keyboard and she used a microphone to speak to her student.

I had played around with the idea of moving one of my digital pianos outside my studio door. I even thought about investing in a canopy tent to provide some shade.  But, it seemed complex when factoring in the weather. It can be really windy in my area, so I was envisioning my students’ music flying around my driveway. And, wind in microphones isn’t really better than the sound quality we have online. Rain is really unpredictable here. Plus, our afternoons can get really hot and sticky. It seemed like my students just wouldn’t be comfortable sitting outside for piano lessons.

Then, I realized I had a perfect spot to replicate this concept in my house. We have a large sunroom on the back of our house that until recently was rarely used. We recently painted it and added some furniture to spruce it up a little. Around the time we were painting it, I started brainstorming about how this room could be used for piano lessons through the window.

On the other side of the window from the sunroom is our eat-in kitchen. It’s not where I would choose to teach piano, especially since I have a whole portion of my house dedicated to piano lessons. But, I can’t be too picky right now!

The sunroom was likely an add on a number of years ago. It doesn’t have heat/air, but the back of my house is very shady and it does have a ceiling fan. I’ve noticed the temperature of the room stays fairly stable, even in the hottest part of the day. It’s completely weather proof.

I moved one of my P-125 digital pianos to the sunroom and a Clavinova to the other side of the window in the kitchen. I used MIDI cables to connect the two pianos. This results in crystal clear sound between the two pianos. Each piano is essentially acting as a control for the other piano. So, the sound of my piano plays through the student’s piano and vice versa. Although, each piano plays normally through it’s own speakers as well. There is absolutely no delay and the details of the music come through perfectly. There is no distortion, feedback or unwanted noise.

Then, placed a microphone on each side of the window. My student’s microphone plugs into my Clavinova and my microphone plugs into a small amplifier that sits under the P-125.

I popped the screen out of the window between the sunroom and kitchen and MIDI cables and microphone cords run through the window. The window stays as closed as possible without smashing the cables.

My student enters through the exterior door of the sunroom. I have a touch-less hand sanitizer dispenser nearby so they can wash their hands.

I got foam microphone covers for each student. They put their cover on the mic and take it with them when they leave. They’ll bring back their own microphone cover each week.

At the end of each lesson, we allow a couple of minutes for the student to wipe down the piano and anything they touched. They leave through the back door.

I added a tower fan to keep things a little cooler since were in the hottest part of the summer. In the colder months, I’ll use a space heater.

So far, I’ve taught a handful of porch piano lessons and I’m thrilled with how well it is working! One thing I’ve really missed with online lessons is the ability to play duets or to play along as my students play. By connecting the 2 pianos with MIDI cables, it’s so easy to play together.

For now, while COVID-19 cases in my area are surging, I’m offering porch piano lessons and continuing online lessons for those interested. In the next month or so, I’ll reconsider my plans for the fall and include porch piano as an option if necessary.

While I know most people probably don’t have a sunroom and window set up to replicate this set up, there are a lot of adaptations that could be made. For example, even a covered patio might work, especially in areas that have more stable weather.

I want to thank Saied Music here in Tulsa, OK for helping me to acquire the right equipment such as MIDI cables and microphones and stands. Also, thanks to Julie Donato and A Capella Productions for providing inspiration for porch piano lessons.

Stay safe!

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2 Comments

  1. There are challenging times, it’s great to see that creative people leverage their creativity to overcome obstacles and continue to do what they do best. Very inspiring.

  2. That’s different! Us teachers all need to think outside the box and continually look for ways that we can deliver the best lessons for our students.

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