Violin lessons by Skype - Your views

February 17, 2017 at 03:10 PM · Hello,

I would like to know what you think.

I teach violin by Skype and I think it works well. However, I know that people have mixed opinions about learning to play a musical instrument remotely.

Let us know what you think. Do you have any experience with Skype lessons? Did it work for you? If so, what worked well? If it did not work for you, why not?

Replies (23)

February 17, 2017 at 03:17 PM · While I don't have experience with giving or receiving lessons through Skype, I would say that it's definitely not ideal. My young students and beginners need a lot of hands-on help with adjusting their posture, bow hold, etc. And for my more advanced students, I am constantly checking the quality and clearness of their sound, which I really couldn't analyze properly through Skype.

I would consider giving a make-up lesson via Skype, but nothing on-going.

That's just my opinion, though.

February 17, 2017 at 03:32 PM · Do you think you can accurately assess the tone quality, pitch, and rhythm of the playing via Skype?

February 17, 2017 at 03:53 PM · I don't see how a Skype lesson can be as effective as an in-person lesson because playing the violin is a physical action occurring in three dimensional space; there is motion in every dimension. Skype reduces EVERYTHING to one flat plane, so neither the teacher nor the student can distinguish what is happening in depth. IMHO the ONLY useful aspect of Skype would be when concentrating on just one aspect at a time, such as fingering, and even that is hopeless unless at least four different angles at a time are shown to give an accurate picture of the spatial relationship of the fingers to each other. Of course this means every demo takes four times as long as it would in reality, where the student can observe in three dimensions the logistics of each motion. Skype would be fine for lessons on guitar or piano, where the action occurs in a flat plane. I don't think most people reflect on the shortcomings of a flat-plane view of violin playing. Viewing Simon Fischer (the best teacher of all) on DVD made me realize, you really do have to be there...

February 17, 2017 at 04:16 PM · Skype lessons can be incredibly frustrating. I have experience taking lessons over Skype.

I work remotely for two weeks at a time, during that period I didn't want to stop my lessons so I thought I could do Skype lessons while I was at work.

There are many limiting factors through skype; the biggest is the internet. Without fast internet, don't even bother, and I mean fast on both ends. Otherwise, the sound quality is mostly nonexistent. Even when the internet is excellent, the sound quality isn't great. If you were to go this route completely, I would buy a separate mic and camera. Also, as the teacher, PLEASE wear headphones; or else my violin playing reverberates back to me.

This isn't impossible, but it's challenging. I would say as supplemental lessons it could be okay, but I couldn't image only ever having this option. There were many times I cancelled a lesson because I didn't want to deal with the stress.

February 17, 2017 at 08:47 PM · As a primary form of teaching, Skype simply cannot work long term. This is especially true with brand new beginners. You might be able to get them to play some notes, but there's going to be a ton of compromise in their technique. And even if you do get their technique in shape, it will end up taking many times as long as it would have in person. There are just too many issues, which he last 4 posters have already pretty much covered. I have theorized about ways to make internet-based learning work, because there are some students to whom it is the only option. They may not live close to a violin teacher. But so far, my ideas would require an absurd level of specialized equipment (think of multiple webcams from different angles surrounding the student).

How many students do you teach this way? What is the farthest, using Skype, that you've been able to take a student who started as a brand new beginner?

I could definitely see it as a "practice teacher" situation where their primary teacher is in person and you just help them learn the repertoire and stay motivated during the week.

February 17, 2017 at 11:04 PM · Skype lessons could be an alternative to in-person lessons if in-person lessons are impossible due to terrible life situations. Video exchange is the next alternative to Skype and in-person lessons.

February 18, 2017 at 11:36 AM · I'm surprised by the negative reactions about Skype lessons. I had several in person teachers during my life. Last 1,5 year I have a teacher that uses Skype and it works wonderful.Never learned so much before about technique, intonation and beautiful tone. The only difference is that there is no physical help possible. I can imagine that for real beginners Skype is not ideal. But for me as an intermediate/advance amateur it's really working well.

February 18, 2017 at 11:36 AM ·

February 18, 2017 at 01:16 PM · Lol, it wouldn't work either for piano or guitar. What's that about plane instrument vs 3D instrument?

That's a very unrealistic thing to say. Every instrument requires personal assistance.

First of all, the sound is just unbelievably poor using Internet, you won't get an idea of how it really sounds, and of course you will miss a lot of mistakes made by the student, sound, hand movements, fingering, violin position... I don't see it working at all, violin or any other instrument.

The only thing that could work would be something like teaching theory, saying finger positions for each note, etc... You would be reduced into a book, basically.

Besides, teaching is presencial, we humans need to stop taking technology to every level in life, that's stupid. We need to socialize, get to know each other in real life. Just imagine a world in 30 years where teenagers hang out Fridays "on line", instead of going together to the cinema, walk, etc...

All my teachers, when I couldn't go to lessons for 2 weeks or so, they would give me scores to practice and explain in the lesson how they want me to practice them.

February 18, 2017 at 01:41 PM · Hi,

Thanks for all these interesting comments. It shows that there are a lot of different opinions out there!

It is certainly true that teaching by Skype is a very different skill than teaching face to face lessons. It takes practice as a teacher to get around the sound issues, and yes I do agree that you need a certain minimum internet speed for it to work well. However, I find that as a teacher, it is refreshing to have to re-define the ways in which you have always explained things. It makes you re-think the point that Erin makes about how you show techniques from different angles. It is certainly possible, but maybe not in the way you have always thought it worked best.

Having said that, I find it most extraordinary that I can accompany my pupil, who plays her violin in Australia on my piano in the UK. Just can't get my head around that still!

I have taught and still teach beginners through very advanced players by Skype, and I feel that I have just as good a relationship with these people than I would have if they were having face to face lessons. But come to think of it, perhaps as you teacher you have to work that bit harder to get a connection going.So yes, I do agree with M Snellen that it can work well.

Thanks again for all those comments and keep them coming!

February 18, 2017 at 01:43 PM · I think Skype falls into the category of "better than nothing". It might give you access to teaching that you might otherwise not have.

You can tell an awful lot from a video, though. I think the 2D vs 3D representation isn't anywhere near as significant of an issue as it's been made out to be. More significant is the video and audio quality over Skype.

This is undoubtedly far better for working with advanced players than beginners, though. Beginners need a lot more physical correction.

February 18, 2017 at 01:56 PM · Most lessons are fairly routine and could be accomplished with little more than handwritten notes, as Tim might have used. Some lessons also couldn't be much worse regardless of technology, so I think that physical presence for lessons is not always necessary nor always beneficial. Moreover, if Skype was a way for me to get access to a great teacher who could help me with my specific issues, that'd be infinitely better than none.

I think however that some of this depends heavily on the quality of the setup used. Most people are probably thinking of the equipment they already have and how poorly it might work for Skype instructions. If I was to use Skype for lessons though, I'd think about changing it to be optimal for that use. Think of using your TV instead of your laptop or desktop screen for example, and think of a dedicated camera or mic. It could be a lot better than what you have in front of you now.

February 18, 2017 at 02:28 PM · I wouldn't want to teach a beginner for sure, too many physical adjustments that would take twice as long to explain (why spend 5 min. trying to tell an 8 year old to move their finger a quarter inch on the bow, when you can just move it (with their permission of course) and say "put it there"). An adult beginner might be possible because they tend to respond more easily to verbal descriptions, but it is hard enough to get some kids to follow my prompts to turn around or take a step forward correctly when I am there to physically direct them when necessary. Playing the violin requires so much kinesthetic awareness that I cannot imagine trying to convey entirely verbally. Helping students to draw a straight bow, feeling tension in both hands, etc. is so important to their kinesthetic awareness.

I might consider it short term for a student I had previously taught in-person (and not a total beginner) but otherwise I wouldn't. I do have 45 students who come to me in-person, so there is no reason to. If I lived in a more rural area and had trouble finding local students I could see how it might be more appealing as an additional source of income.

I also think we should discourage people in general from thinking that they can learn everything "online" so to speak, because eventually I think they are inclined to turn away from even Skype lessons to youtube videos etc.. thinking that it is "just as good." which we all know is not the case. (Although they can be helpful in extreme cases or as a supplement to regular lessons).

February 18, 2017 at 04:20 PM · I think Lydia nailed it: Better than nothing. Regarding videos, have you noticed that when someone posts a video on here asking for critique, they get it all? Posture, hand positions, intonation, shift and string crossing technique, musical interpretation, and yes, even tone! So if that's possible, then I don't see why it should be flatly impossible using Skype. Granted, some things like tone might be harder to assess but I don't think it's a total waste of electrons. Plus there is the possibility that Henriette is an intelligent teacher who has figured out how to work around the obvious limitations and make up for those in other ways?

February 18, 2017 at 05:16 PM · I have taught lessons on Skype when I was out of town. It's better than nothing, but it is not ideal. I only teach via Skype as a temporary solution, with students whose playing I already know well, and who are reasonably advanced. I would never use it with a beginner for the reasons already stated. I would also not use it as the sole medium for lessons. It can be terribly frustrating.

In short: not a fan, occasional use only.

February 19, 2017 at 07:52 AM · To the OP: I don't want to push the issue, but I'm madly curious because I think it would be awesome if Skype lessons could truly work:

What is the farthest you've taken a student who started as a beginner with you, using only skype lessons?

February 19, 2017 at 11:25 AM · Erik, contrary to what some people state on this forum, in my opinion they do truly work! I have taken beginners through to very advanced students. Do PM me if you want to find out. (not sure how to do that on this website, but try the Pro-Am Strings Facebook page)

February 19, 2017 at 06:39 PM · I'm curious about that as well. It's actually a good question for virtually any teacher: What is the farthest you've taken a student that began with you, and over what period of time?

February 19, 2017 at 06:59 PM · Hmmm...

This could be an interesting research topic for graduate students of music education.

February 19, 2017 at 08:01 PM · IMHO it can work, but the student must not be really very serious about the violin (aka, not his profession) and know more or less what he is doing. I am 100% an amateur player (not a good one by any measure) and mostly study alone. That being said, i occasionally use skype to consult with a instructor, mostly to speak about instrument care.

I think skype is probably only useful for an intermediate student, as a beginner wouldnt know even how to hold the instrument, whereas an advanced student would produce sound nuances imperceptible via skype.

This is just my oppinion. .

February 20, 2017 at 05:01 PM · In my opinion, the quality of the teacher and the medium of the instruction are independent variables, and the quality of the teacher is the most important regardless of the medium.

February 21, 2017 at 04:41 PM · I've never had Skype lessons before but I would be glad if you could teach tough pieces like Tchaikovsky's D major Op. 35 or Paganini's caprices.

There are enough videos for free on posture, intonation, scales, bow and fingering techniques, harmonics etc. It would be great if you can teach some challenging pieces.

February 21, 2017 at 10:52 PM · Skype can be great, no question. I think everyone here knows that if you're talking about real-time lessons, we'd rather be in the room than on screen. But when that's not possible, there's no reason to dismiss the possibilities of lessons from a distance. That would be like saying it's never worth it to talk on the phone. You can still exchange real and important information. You just have to be conscious of which nuances get lost.

I think these lessons are more effective the more advanced you are, because you can "fill in the gaps": you can extrapolate what the remote teacher is saying based on in-person lessons and playing you've witnessed. But even for beginners, "better than nothing" is still better than nothing!

But most of the Skype work I do is for audition preparation, and it's very detailed. Surprisingly, Skype can be quite good for that: pitch, tempo, articulations, bow strokes... it's all there. You have to make allowances for sound quality and especially relative dynamics. Those tend to get flattened out, so you have to go by what you see in addition to what you hear as a teacher.

But for those people who need an informed opinion and have trouble locating it where they are, the technology exists to make it happen.

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