June 10, 2012 at 6:02 AMTeaching Violin by Skype
Out of the blue came a request from someone I didn’t even know, someone who lived far away from me. “Would you consider giving me a violin lesson by Skype?” she asked me by email. It sounded both fun and challenging, so I said, “Sure.”
I’ve now given several lessons by Skype to various students, and I’ve learned a lot about how to do it and whom it might help.
I teach violin / fiddle to beginners, including adult beginners, and Skype or mini-video conferencing is well suited to beginners’ needs. The violin is a very technical instrument, and beginners must learn, consolidate, and maintain many motor skills with left and right shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers. It is crucial to develop good habits right from the start because bad habits will be very difficult to correct later. Beginning students really need a teacher to watch them and make corrections.
Most of us would prefer to have lessons in person, but this is not always possible. An obvious example of a student who would benefit from Skype lessons is someone who lives a long way from a teacher. One of my students came from a small town which was 30 miles from the nearest music teacher, who did not know how to play the violin. He photocopied some pages from a violin instructional book for her, and she used these, along with free teaching videos on the Internet, to teach herself how to play the violin. When she moved to my area, she came to me for a violin lesson. I made a lot of corrections to her technique, and her sound improved dramatically right away. Her sister, who was with her at the lesson, said, “Now it sounds like a violin.” I wish I had been able to teach her earlier.
Even the students I teach in my studio may need an alternate kind of lesson from time to time. There are many scenarios. A lot of my students must drive for 35 minutes or more to get to me, and they may get stuck in a traffic jam or, worse still, gridlock. A student can become housebound after a snowstorm. Some of my students take their violins with them when they go out of town. In each case, my student may choose to take a lesson by Skype rather than miss it altogether. I am a very flexible teacher, and I try to accommodate all my students’ needs.
A lot of my students tell me that the best way for them to learn intonation is by playing along with me. Now I can record myself playing a tune, first at full speed and next at a slower speed, and then upload it so that my students can watch me and play along with me even though we’re not together.
There are technical issues, as well. My computer is a relatively old (4 years) Mac without a built-in webcam. I had to try several webcams before I found one compatible with my system. Now my distance-students tell me that my videos are crystal clear, even when blown up to full screen size. I also upgraded my Internet service to get a higher speed connection.
I enjoyed finding a work-around to a challenge in my Skype teaching recently. One of my students lives in a remote area with a fickle satellite Internet connection. During his first Skype lesson, he could see and hear me perfectly, but the signal of him was so choppy as to be useless for me. I played my fiddle and explained things to him, and he wrote comments or questions in the IM part of the screen. We decided that this was not acceptable for routine use. Now I give him assignments and he videotapes himself playing them and uploads his videos to Google docs so that I can watch them. I give him my feedback in a Skype call / video. I can also post a video for him on Google docs or send him an email. I encourage him to email me if he has more questions.
I feel that Skype teaching is a solution looking for a problem. I’m finding more potential problems and more ways to fix them with Skype. I’m enjoying Skype and video teaching, and my enthusiasm comes through to my students.
I like hearing other people's take on the matter, and I like how you mentioned Skype lessons for your students in-person who cannot make it in person sometimes. Sounds convenient!
I can see some big advantages for both teacher and student to be independent of geography, but it would require a complete re-working of my approach. For instance, how would a teacher arrange recitals? I consider recitals to be an important part of the learning process. A "virtual" recital would require some re-thinking of the whole concept.
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