Practicalities of Online Lessons, for Teachers, Students and Parents

March 15, 2020, 12:19 AM · With online lessons becoming a reality for so many people, here are some practical considerations to help you make the transition. I've included separate lists for teachers, students and parents -- of equipment you'll need, how to arrange your lesson space, what non-musical and musical items to have on hand, and how to change your mindset to make it all work. With a little preparation, you can create a lesson space that helps you feel connected and allows you to keep making good progress.

items for online lessons

What Teachers Need For Teaching Online Lessons

  1. A space to teach in, as isolated as it can be from extra noise and free from disruptions.
  2. A reliable device, such as a computer with a camera, tablet, or smart phone.
  3. A power source for that device
  4. Something stable to set the device on.
  5. A reliable video calling platform that is compatible with student devices.
  6. Audio - this is the tough one for many teachers. Connecting your device to a high-quality speaker or headphones can improve the built in speakers. I really like my Bose noise-canceling headphones.
  7. Set-up: Position the device at or below eye level in a way that you can see the student on the screen and their music at the same time. Make sure you can reach an outlet if you anticipate needing to charge the device during your day of teaching. If the device is on a music stand, you can move it depending on what part of your technique you want the students to view while you demonstrate.
  8. Copies of the students music - same editions, with measure numbers, so you can identify specific spots quickly and easily.
  9. A way of assigning new material. Will you do it verbally and have the students write it down? Or, will you type it out during or after the lesson and email it to them? Keep in mind that this will take additional time. Telling the students/parents to write down assignments in a notebook or on a blank practice chart you can email in advance is a great time-saver and an important step toward independence.
  10. A way to stop students when they’re playing in order to give feed back. With younger students who will have a parent with them, I suggest working out a hand signal so the parent can physically lift the bow from the string. With older students, decide how much you want them to play in advance, and tell them.
  11. A back-up plan. What will happen if your device fails or if the internet goes out during the lesson? One idea is to type out a detailed assignment sheet and email it once you’re connected again. Another is to record a video of you demonstrating new things and email it to them after - or ask them to video the rest of their assignments and send it to you another way. If the technology failure is on your side, please communicate to the student as soon as you are able and make arrangements to either make them a special assignment video, or reschedule the online lesson.

What Students Need For Taking Online Lessons

  1. A designated learning space (usually where they ordinarily practice), as distraction-free as possible and where the rest of the household knows not to bother them or make extra noise while the lesson is happening. (Within reason). They should be able to see the teacher on the screen and their music at the same time, without extra contortions of the body needed.
  2. A reliable device, such as a computer with a camera, tablet, or smart phone. I encourage students to use a bigger screen than their phone, if one is available. The more clearly they can see the teacher, the better!
  3. A power source for that device, or for the device to be fully charged when the lesson starts.
  4. Somewhere to set the device.
  5. Access to the video calling platform(s) that their teacher is using.
  6. Audio. Headphones might be helpful to block out distractions at home (be sure to practice playing with them on before your teacher calls), or a speaker with better quality sound can enhance the experience.
  7. Practice. This goes for in-person lessons too. If you haven’t practiced or prepared for the lesson, then a video lesson of “Play it again. No, again. Again” isn’t going to be fun for anyone. Check and doublecheck the assignment sheet, and make sure you have worked on everything your teacher is expecting to hear.
  8. All their music materials within arms’ reach.
  10. A metronome (it works much better for the student to have the metronome on their side, rather than the teacher)
  11. The notebook or blank practice chart
  12. A back-up plan. What will you do if your device fails or the internet goes out during the lesson? My best recommendation is to video yourself playing the rest of your lesson assignments, then email it to your teacher with any questions you had. The point of a violin lesson is to get information from your teacher so you can learn, so while having them speak that information to you might be your preference, you can still receive the benefit of your teacher’s expertise.

What Parents Can Do to Prepare Themselves and their Children For Online Lessons

  1. Mindset. Cultivate a mindset of curiosity and exploration - let them know this is going to help them learn and be an exciting new adventure! If they have heard doubts or negativity from the parent in advance of the lesson, they will be much less likely to cooperate and their minds will be closed going in.
  2. Preparation. Read your teacher’s directions for online lessons really carefully and prepare everything in advance. Test your lesson area set up with all devices, audio, internet connections, etc.
  3. Practice. This goes for in-person lessons too. If your child hasn’t practiced or prepared for the lesson, then a video lesson of “Play it again. No, again. Again” isn’t going to be fun for anyone. Check and doublecheck the assignment sheet, and make sure your child has practiced everything on it.
  4. Learn to tune your child’s instrument or help them tune it themselves. There’s a great guide on that helps beginner parents demystify the tuning process. Watch this well in advance of your first online lesson and be prepared to start the tuning process before your lesson time.
  5. Decide with your child who is taking notes and marking the music during the lesson, and how it will be done. Print out any assignment sheets the teacher has sent for you to use. Send PDFs or photos of previous assignments to the teacher before the lesson for them to see.
  6. Teach your child how to operate the metronome (or be prepared to operate it themselves).
  7. Prepare a back-up plan in case the technology fails on one end or another. Please don’t email your teacher demanding a make-up online lesson or push for them to go over their time with you (making them late for another student) if your device fails. The point of your child’s lesson is for them to get information from their teacher about their learning. Can you video the rest of their lesson and upload it unlisted to YouTube so your teacher can watch it later? Do you have burning questions about practice or violin that didn’t get answered? Those can probably be done via email. Have back-up plans ready, and be ready to be flexible.
  8. Openness to learning in new ways. The primary function of a music lesson is to communicate information! That information can still be communicated in multiple ways via video calls, written instructions, and pre-recorded videos. Be open to this new process, support your teacher (know that they are terrified of losing their income if you quit because you hate online lessons), and encourage your children to be focused and engaged. After the lesson, ask them what they learned and have them tell you all about it (even if you were there) to help their memories grow stronger. (This is a great thing to do after regular lessons, too!)

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March 15, 2020 at 02:20 PM · Your articles have been excellent! Thank you!

March 15, 2020 at 08:54 PM · Claire, et al.,

An excellent and comprehensive list. If only we all had all these resources at our command. Some of us just don't

I've been sending out e-mail practice plans for some time long before Covid-19 appeared so my few students and parents are used to this form of between lesson communications.

I'm now having them send me brief videos of particular pieces and sections as well as exercises. While the teacher feedback isn't instant, I'm a lot more comprehensive as a result. I can slow the videos down, re-watch, make notes, and then send both a diagnosis of the problem along with a remedy.

Strangely, the Young Musicians' response has been positive and a bit more focused than when we're all in the studio.

I'm not sure that I will drop the videos when Covid-19 ceases to be the serious problem it is today. The information is just so detailed, I don't want to lose it.

March 15, 2020 at 09:13 PM · Thanks for these extremely helpful lists, Claire!

George, it sounds like the videos are a great idea. I think we are all figuring out how to do "virtual" lessons, and so the more options we can share with each other, the better we can devise a plan to suit our various situations.

March 17, 2020 at 11:11 PM · Thanks, Claire, that's very helpful! I've shared this with all our string faculty at your alma mater. We're all needing to adapt quickly.

George's comments are also great! I'm optimistic that our current challenge will spark worthwhile updates and enhancements to traditional lessons.

March 20, 2020 at 08:51 AM · Thanks Claire, your ideas are spot-on!

I have been teaching online for 8 years, and I have made two new videos about online lessons, one for Music Teachers and one for Parents.

From a safeguarding perspective, it is important that you make a clear arrangement with the parent that there will always be an adult in the house to supervise the child that you are teaching. Teaching should also take place in a room which is not a bedroom, and you should also agree that both the teacher and the pupil will be adequately dressed for a learning environment, so no pyamas or skimpy tops.

I have put together an online learning agreement, which is an addition to my normal terms and conditions. You can find a copy of this below the music teacher video. Please feel free to use all or part of this if you want to create your own.

Henriette at Pro-Am Strings

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