Like many of you, I’ve pivoted to online teaching for individual and group lessons as a way to stay connected with the families who normally come to my home studio on a weekly basis. With the camera and sound equipment I already had in storage, this is how I set up my teaching studio to run online lessons. I thought I'd share what is working for me, in case it can provide ideas for other teachers and students about how to set up your own studio or practice space for online interaction.
I prefer to run one continuous meeting, without password, so that the students may enter the "office" a few minutes before their lesson time begins. I’ve set up one meeting code and given that to all of the students. I enable the "mute upon entering" feature so their household sound does not bleed into the lesson I’m finishing. The subscription version of Zoom allows for longer meeting lengths. The free version cuts off after 40 minutes.
There is a "Waiting Room" option in Zoom, which can be helpful if you don’t want the current lesson to be interrupted by the next student. I enjoy overlapping my students with each other in the 5-minute bridge between lessons to play a game or activity together. They are accustomed to seeing each other pass in person, and they’re all happy to see their friends on the screen for a few minutes.
I’ve optimized my technology for lessons and classes to mimic their in-person lesson experience as much as possible as a way to sustain a sense of normalcy and community.
All of my music PDFs, blank pages of manuscript "paper" and other lesson handouts are saved in the ForScore app, which also allows in-app annotations which show up on the screen in real time. For example, I designed a note-taking sheet for lessons that I can put up on the screen while the students watch me "write" onto their lesson assignment sheet with my Apple pencil.
After the lesson is over, I email an annotated PDF of the assignment sheet directly to the student or their parent from the app. This is an interactive supplement to the notes they have taken during the lesson on their end. When showing videos from Youtube or other platforms, the screen share feature from the computer itself works better than running the video through the attached tablet due to lag time of buffering videos through the cable or Airplay.
The "mute all" feature works well in group class settings when all the students try to play together, since a delayed feedback loop with a group of students sounds like utter cacophony. I turn this on and off in my host settings without making it a big deal in the class. The students see each other play, but can only hear me.
The great news is: the technology works pretty well! As we read in Thomas’s post about the comparisons between video conferencing software, there doesn’t seem to be a clear leader for a platform that prioritizes audio fidelity for music conferencing.
I prefer my students to use the Zoom platform on a computer, not a tablet or phone, so they can adjust the advanced audio settings on their end. Tablets and phones do not give access to advanced audio settings. I ask the students to make the following adjustments in the advanced settings: Original sound ON, intermittent and persistent background suppression DISABLED, Auto control of volume OFF. The students who are able to connect even a modest external microphone to their computer improve the fidelity of the sound they send back to me by significant strides.
A ribbon microphone on either end would enable even clearer and more resonant sound than a condenser mic, but these are not typically priced for most families. A ribbon mic on the teacher’s end would greatly enhance the sound of the teacher’s playing to the student and would be a value-add for any online studio set-up.
I’ll add "Adventures in Online Teaching Part II – Group Class ideas" and "Adventures in Online Teaching Part III – Supplemental Materials" in the next few days.
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