With advances in technology, teaching online is becoming more and more relevant to today’s teachers. But what’s the best way to get started?
Here is a guide for setting up your teaching space and helping your students be prepared for taking online lessons.
How to get started:
1) Assess your equipment
For teachers just starting out, you can most likely use a laptop, phone, or tablet you already have - it just needs to have a forward-facing camera and a built-in microphone. Keep in mind, the older the equipment, the harder it will be to experience quality video and audio. It’s best to use a device that is only a couple of years old so the hardware can handle processing current video streaming technology. You don’t want your lesson to get cut off unexpectedly because your older device decided to reboot itself!
2) Choose video conferencing software
There are several options to help your students get connected with you for live online lessons. Skype is a popular web-based and app-based software. Others include; Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Zoom, and even Facebook Messenger. Each program has its benefits. Although all of these programs have free options they may limit the duration of your calls or how many people can be in the call at once. If you plan to teach group lessons online, this aspect is especially important.
FaceTime only works with Apple devices. Facebook Messenger requires having a Facebook account. You may have to be willing to use multiple programs if students don’t have access to your preferred software.
It’s also highly recommended to have a second option ready to go if for some reason you and your student can’t connect. Also, remember to keep your device plugged in while teaching as streaming video can drain a battery quickly.
3) Purchase more Internet speed/bandwidth
One of the biggest struggles with teaching online is latency—a time-delay between when something actually happens and when it shows up on the screen, as well as how the sound and video match up with each other. This is especially critical when teaching music because assessing performance depends on hearing exact timing.
To set yourself up for success, you need to ensure you have decent upload and download bandwidth - at least 20-25 Megabytes per second (MBPS) download speed and 2-3 MBPS upload speed. Internet providers often advertise high download speeds, but upload speeds are sometimes very low in comparison. Check to make sure you have purchased enough Internet bandwidth from your service provider. You can also run your own test to verify your speed at the site https://www.speedtest.net/.
One other thing that can help with latency is using a wired connection instead of streaming over wireless. If your equipment is in working order and you have a high-speed Internet connection but are still experiencing poor video or audio quality, try using a computer and plug it directly into a wired connection.
Additional tips for teaching online music lessons:
- It helps to speak clearly and sometimes even a bit more slowly so if there is any delay the student still has time to process what you are saying.
- Since streaming software often tries to highlight one audio source at a time, any competing noises can sometimes suddenly become the main audio source picked up. If you are near a busy road and your window is open, or if your heating or cooling fan is noisy and it turns on in the middle of a lesson, it could make it harder for your student to hear you.
- Make sure you also don’t try to talk while your student is performing for you, or what you hear from their end might cut in and out. One way to avoid this problem is to mute your audio when the student is playing their instrument.
- You could also ask the student to record themselves while playing their instrument and then send it to you in the Tonara Studio chat (or via text or email) so you can verify that what they played is what you are actually hearing over streaming.
- Avoid having a window behind you, as any light behind you can make you appear very dark in comparison.
- If you use a piano light or some other light source to help you read music, make sure it is not directed at the camera.
- The camera itself should be placed where your student can see you demonstrate on your instrument.
- You will want the student to place their camera where you can see most of their body so you can assess how they are sitting or standing with their instrument and watch how they use their hands while playing.
To compensate for not being able to see students in person, find other ways to build a supportive environment:
You can use a software like Tonara Studio to schedule lessons, send assignments, and track your students' progress throughout the week, as well as chat back and forth when they have questions. You could even group online students into a separate chat group so they could share their music experiences with each other. The possibilities are endless!
Taking it to the next level: Equip Your Music Teaching Studio
If you’re interested in setting up a more professional online teaching workspace, you would want to use a laptop or computer instead of a smaller device so you can plug in external devices via your USB port. Remember, the bigger the screen, the easier it will be for you to see small details like which fingers your student is using or which notes on the sheet music your student is having trouble with. Using a computer or laptop also makes it easier to screen share if you want to show your student something on the Internet or show them how to use an app or website. This is especially helpful when teaching how to notate compositions or go over written theory concepts during the lesson. Here is some additional equipment you might consider investing in.
Using a good quality external microphone can help with reducing any background noise and make anything you say sound clearer. Dynamic microphones will be great at drowning out background noise which is great when you are just talking, but when assessing performances, you need to be able to pick up on subtle differences in sound. A condenser mic might be better for that, but be aware it will pick up a lot of background noise. You may decide to purchase a mic that can be easily altered. The Blue Yeti microphone receives top marks by many teachers for ease of use.
Some teachers use a webcam to allow them to position the camera at a better angle or to be able to zoom in to show their instrument in different ways. Some webcams have a built-in microphone. If you decide to use an external microphone, you will need to go into your device settings and the settings in your video conferencing software to select which microphone you want the system to use. One highly recommended webcam is the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920.
Although you can certainly use existing furniture or even the end of the piano to position your device, using a stand that’s meant to hold your device can make it easy to finetune where the camera is pointing. You can also purchase an overhead stand so you can show students what it looks like from above your hands as you play. Here are a couple of different stand options that come highly recommended:
The Roland SS-PC1 Laptop Stand w/ Tripod Base is great for holding a laptop or a tablet with an attached keyboard.
The CTA Digital Floor Stand w/ Adjustable Gooseneck is perfect for holding tablets of all sizes.
If you want to use your phone for closeups, this UBeesize Portable Tripod is very easy to adapt to smaller locations.
You want to make sure that your student can see you clearly when you are demonstrating on your instrument. Using additional lighting directed at your face and your instrument will help keep the camera focused on you and not an object in the background. This Neewer 18-inch Ring Light Kit is a great fit for streaming and recording.
But always remember...
Keep in mind, though, all of these tools are just that - tools. No amount of upgraded equipment will help if the quality of teaching isn’t there. So before worrying about upgrading your online teaching studio equipment, focus on building great relationships with your students and being the best teacher you can be.
Teaching online music lessons can be extremely rewarding as it allows you to reach students you normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to teach. With these guidelines and tools, we hope you will find success in all your teaching endeavors.