Best Platform for Online Teaching?

March 20, 2020, 12:41 AM · Now that my area is on lockdown, it seems I can't teach at all, being a "non-essential business." Originally I was planning on just having everyone stick to a strict protocol (wearing masks, not coming in if they have a cough or symptoms, etc...). But it seems now I have to change my whole system and teach online, which I have never really done before (I did a skype lesson like 5 years ago with a student, but the lagginess due to her connection made it a terrible experience, and I'm afraid of that repeating).

Anyhow, what do you guys feel is the best platform for online teaching? Skype? Discord? Something else?

Also, I have always just received checks from students, and now I'm assuming I'm going to have to take payment digitally. Any good suggestions on that?

Replies (25)

Edited: March 20, 2020, 1:17 AM · My teacher uses a combination of platforms, Skype, Facetime, and other things that a student might have like zoom.

Edit: There is no real way to avoid lag.

Edited: March 20, 2020, 4:07 AM · Hi Erik,

I use Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp video. Teaching on a phone for me is the least satisfactory option because the screen is too small to see much detail.

Whichever platform you use, you should avoid teaching via social media. Any platform where you need to become "friends" with your students will put you in a vulnerable position as safeguarding is concerned.
Check out my new videos about online teaching: one for Music Teachers and one for Parents.

If your bank does online banking, that works for me, as well as PayPal.
Hope you can make it work for you!

Henriette at Pro-Am Strings

March 20, 2020, 4:41 AM · I did my first day ever of online teaching yesterday -- my computer didn't even have a web-cam until I ordered one from Amazon (Logitech C922) on Monday! So Wednesday once it came my wife and I hurriedly practiced using both Zoom and Skype. My wife is using her iPad but I'm much more comfortable using my computer for this.
I did 7 lessons yesterday -- 2 on Zoom and 5 on Skype. Both platforms worked fine. I have two fairly bright desk lamps which I set up on both sides of my desk so my face is clearly lit. When I need to stand to play I can move back behind my ceiling light so I can be seen.

Lighting is important because frame rates seem to slow down in low light situations, so the brighter and more dispersed lighting you can use the better. My teaching room is in my basement so there is no daylight helping.

Using a good quality microphone is important as well. One bad feature of many devices is that they have "automatic sound leveling" built into them. That means that in an effort not to distort for loud sounds, they will clamp the volume down, so if a music student is trying to play a soft passage with an accent in the middle followed by more soft sounds, the device will make the sounds immediately following the accent impossible to hear. If there is a way on whatever device you are using to turn such a function off, turn it off. Of course the students need to do it also.

I have no idea how things looked and sounded on the student's end of things, but they could see and hear me, I could see and hear them, and all the students and their families seemed satisfied with the results. And I was satisfied also.

The only issue is that we can't play duets with our students because of latency issues. My wife has a young friend who is a Broadway singer/actor who has given lots of Skype lessons and he suggested setting up a GoogleFolders account where you can upload an mp3 file of your part of a duet or your piano accompaniment to a solo they are playing so that on a different device the student can download the mp3 file and play along in real time at their house and you can hear how the play along with your accompaniment. Not ideal but it also provides a way to provide them with example mp3 files to listen to and try to emulate during their practice week. My wife is going to try setting that up. I'm happy at the moment not to do that.

PayPal is an easy way to accept payments. You just have to remember to tell PayPal to transfer payments to your bank. I've set up a VenMo account but haven't used that yet so I don't know whether that is better.

I'm going to look into using my Square account to accept online payments -- that puts the money into your bank account the next business day.

March 20, 2020, 10:22 AM · With my entire state under "shelter in place" order, everything is now done online.

My children's violin, piano, and karate private lessons are now being done via zoom, and it's been working great. I did buy an HD camera so I can "angle" the camera in a way their teacher can see whatever they want to see better,i.e. proper posture with the violin and bow hold, proper finger placement in the piano, right form when they do their kata in karate, etc...

My children's violin teacher uses paypal. We use Zelle to pay their piano teacher. Their Karate school charges our account automatically via a debit card we have on their record. Personally, I like Zelle. To me Zelle is the most convenient method of payment.

IMHO, both teacher and student, would need to have a good internet access, otherwise, it could be frustrating for both parties. But even with good internet access (our bandwidth is 125mb downstream, 25mb upstream), you will still have an inherent lag time. But it works!

On a side note:

My children's school has also go online. Their teachers provide lessons online, and my children would do facetime with their friends/classmates so they can do their classwork together, and socialize and play virtually for a little bit.

What my children will NOT be able to do (at least for now), are the group classes for violin that their Suzuki violin teacher usually holds once a week.

March 20, 2020, 11:02 AM · I'm less concerned about the actual platform than being able to interact with students about their music:

How are people who do this dealing with bar numbers, fingerings, and bowings? What do you do if there are some problem spots in the middle of a long etude or piece and you don't want to stop them immediately?

Of course, it would be easier if the teacher always had the music the student was playing, but that's not always the case.

March 20, 2020, 12:17 PM · @Scott Cole that is what we have been struggling with as well. Since my son's recital got postponed until fall, his teacher started him on a bunch of new repertoire. We've done a mix of things.

For his concerto mvmt, she put fingerings in it and then sent images of each page via text. Then we transferred them into my son's parts. Worked fine. (We actually do this somewhat regularly to save lesson time.)

They went through another supposedly short movement (2 pages) together virtually since it required more customized fingerings and bowings. It took probably twice as long as usual but it was possible.

For his new mvmt of Bach she said to use it as an opportunity for him to try to do it himself. Which he did, and it was a valuable process.

March 20, 2020, 12:50 PM · @Scott Cole wrote: "Of course, it would be easier if the teacher always had the music the student was playing, but that's not always the case."

It's not ideal for sure. I personally still prefer face-to-face violin (and other) lessons for my children.

I have an HD camera setup on a tripod. The HD camera on a tripod allows us to "show" the teacher the piece/passage that my child is working on. For example, during my child's piano lesson, the teacher did not have a copy of the book exercise that she was working on. So we pointed the camera to show the book exercise that she was working on, while my child was playing it. The teacher was then able to correct what she was doing wrong.

Edited: March 20, 2020, 1:22 PM · I spoke with my aunt on FB's video link for the first time today. There was a 5 second delay between us, lol. (physical distance about 100 miles). Curiously, the sound quality was poor and the video quality good, the opposite of Skype.
March 20, 2020, 1:51 PM · I had a lesson on Tuesday via Google Hangouts, which I'd never heard of, but it was fine. There was a small delay of maybe a second but I put my laptop about where my teacher usually would stand relative to me and tried to set everything up physically as much like it would be in her studio as possible. And, despite my doubts, it was a good lesson. I'm not a beginner, though, so mostly our lessons consist of me playing, my teacher listening and commenting and sometimes playing as an example. We have the same music in front of us, but for repertoire I use my own fingerings and we only discuss them if she doesn't think they're working.

Anyway, what seemed to work was that we both treated it as a normal lesson and after a couple of minutes the fact that we were doing it via video didn't matter at all. I have no idea how it would work if you had a student that needed fundamental work on posture, basic right arm mechanics, etc. My teacher was able to point out where I was (as usual) rushing passages or getting unintended accents and the like. "Work on those double stops!"

It was all very normal and worth the time and money on my end.

March 20, 2020, 2:28 PM · I've been teaching lessons using Facetime (iPhone 11 Pro) and Zoom (iMac with a Blue Yeti USB mic).

I've digitized all of the music that my students use (most are older so the works they are playing are in public domain), so we have the same exact parts in front of us. I share the screen from my iPad to my other devices, and that in turn can be shared to students as I write on their music and they can in turn copy any markings they wish.

Beyond that, as long as the network connection is solid, everything runs like a regular lesson. I ask them to sometimes put some part of them in front of the camera if I want to check on something (left thumb position or bow hold, for example) but other than that, it has been working great.

Tonight, my youth orchestra team and I will be running virtual rehearsals with 160+ students on Zoom!

March 20, 2020, 2:59 PM · My daughter is having lessons through FaceTime.
We are fairly rural, only internet through phones.
Not ideal but working.
March 20, 2020, 10:45 PM · It's encouraging to hear the adaptations that everyone is implementing. I'm still trying to figure out if I should just take a month off and hope things return to normal instead of undergoing the task of moving nearly 50 students to a totally different way of doing things. I don't teach anyone that would be tremendously affected by one month vacation. However, if the required shelter-in-place duration ends up being longer than a month, it would have been better to start the online lessons sooner rather than later...
March 21, 2020, 10:28 AM · Personally, I'm not expecting that things could return to normal in a month (came to this realization earlier this week). Last week, I made sure to go over tuning in every lesson and made the decision to end in-person meeting after last Saturday. The past week has been working on detailed plans to transition to full distance learning and meeting with everyone (generally, FaceTime or Google Hangouts) to connect on a relationship level, discuss realities and needs and expectations, etc.

The big deal for me, and I don't even have as many students as Erik, is that when it's just a snow day here or there, we do video lessons for a day and don't adapt much. Pre-crisis, I already spend quite a lot of time at the computer and have 20 hours of lessons and 5+ hours of groups that are not screen time. I'm not willing to move those directly to video and let my health and sanity suffer, so this past week and this weekend's work is essentially redesigning the program/delivery. Even though we lose the physical interaction, I can already see there will be some benefits with the advantages we do have. I'm not expecting too many families to quit over this and feel very fortunate because my work can be moved to online, whereas that is not possible for many.

Gene: wondering if you could share more about how to handle the Zoom rehearsals? I have only a small group but it would be nice to be able to continue somewhat.

Edited: March 21, 2020, 5:05 PM · Skype, better video call stability and quality than Whatsapp. I do use whatsapp for group chat and them to send me videos, whatsapp autimatically compresses videos, much quicker.
March 21, 2020, 1:57 PM · God, I didn't even consider tuning until now. I teach a ton of beginners whom, if they had to use the pegs, would likely break a string. Or, even if I was coaching them in real time via Skype, if the peg had slipped loose, it's likely that the string may have slipped out of its groove on the nut or the bridge... or the ball end might barely be holding on inside the tailpiece, or the string may have come out of the peghole. Or, the bridge may now be leaning weird.

These are all little problems that I could theoretically coach someone to look for via Skype, but it would take significant time, and almost all of my students take 30-minute lessons. So I could see it taking up a substantial portion of their lessons if even one string has slipped loose or if their bridge is out of alignment.

I check for all of these factors each week and I would say there are at least 3-5 noticeable/significant issues I encounter within a week's time (of course, they can never recall how it happened). I'm starting to get paranoid at what might happen if I'm not checking their violins every week...

March 21, 2020, 3:00 PM · Last week I made them ALL tune, most managed it, and most by fine tuners, very fortunate that 80% of them have "violin shop" violins that are decent. I think there was 1 bridge adjustment and maybe 1 or 2 where after 10 min I just took it over so that we could still play. This week there was one slipped peg, which I walked them through, and I let them go over time because of the whole transition planning.

All the better reason to set expectations, set expectations, set expectations. A lot more responsibility has to be taken on by students and parents, they have to reach out promptly with any questions and concerns, make their best effort to tune in advance, etc. Maybe have a group session coaching everyone on tuning and checking for basic problems? If they aren't proactive about learning and solving problems, I guess they're stuck spending half their lesson on it (or giving up and quitting...).

March 21, 2020, 3:29 PM · I found FaceTime hassle free as the student and me had that on both Mac and iPhone without setting up anything further. The music school where I work is setting up Zoom. I've always found Skype to be reliable too and you can share the screen (at least you used to be able to - haven't checked lately). If it hasn't been mentioned already, you should use headphones both ends as this will stop the sound dipping out when you speak or vice versa.
April 3, 2020, 5:16 AM · I have tried everything ranging from Zoom to Skype to Facetime. I would absolutely suggest trying Youbrio (https://www.youbrio.com/), a free app recommended to me by a friend. The piano playing on my student’s side is crystal clear and there is significantly less lag. The technology of the app far surpasses that of Zoom or Skype as it appears to have been designed especially for music teaching. There is even a nifty dual view feature which allows you to use one device for the video call and a second device for their whiteboard feature, where students can upload their music for you to annotate. Give it a try, it’s been working well for me!
April 3, 2020, 5:44 AM · I had my first Skype lesson this week. Prior to the lesson, my teacher and I had a 5 minute test call to check that my setup would work. We both use headphones (mine are Bluetooth) and I use my laptop's microphone. He's able to interrupt while I'm playing.

Once I got used to the weirdness of hearing my playing muffled by the headphones, the lesson went about the same as an in-person lesson. Even more helpful, he shared a Google Doc in which he jotted down his comments. I'm able to edit it to add my own reminders.

I'm really relieved that this worked so well, both so that I can continue to progress and so that I can provide him some income during this trying time.

April 3, 2020, 8:09 AM · Gene, I am very interested in hearing about your orchestra rehearsal on ZOOM. I have found many conflicting reports about delays with ZOOM--some good some bad. How did your rehearsal go?
Edited: April 3, 2020, 10:19 AM · My teacher and I have used Zoom for 3 lessons now. It seems to be going ok though last time he had problems with there being no sound from my 1st bow after we paused to discuss, and a few other things apparently related with Zoom settings.

I found a website with optimal advanced settings for music lessons and we will try these Monday. While Zoom isn't perfect, I suspect none are, it fills the need of the time and I am both progressing and able to support my teacher.

April 3, 2020, 12:21 PM · Catherine - if you continue on Zoom, speak a word or two before you play. The software picks up your voice more easily, then is "tuned" (calibrated?) in your direction to further music sounds.
April 3, 2020, 2:57 PM · Erik,

I have a small studio now who happens to have very stable instruments and lots of parental help :) but I have been in your situation before with tons of students with tuning issues, and in this kind of case I think this is what I would do:

1. Establish next week's lessons as "Tuning Week". Just set aside the week for it for everyone.

2. Make a video tuning lesson (or two, one fine tuners, one pegs?) and provide it to everyone. Make it **required viewing** before they call in for their session with you. I would also recommend a "handout"/document with everything in written form, as I think there are a lot of parents who find a written reference helpful. (I have one of these at https://layugstringstudio.com/instrument-guide/tuning-the-instrument/ ; I don't mind if you use it for reference! Pretty sure Laurie has some good ones too and maybe even video you could link instead of making your own?)

3. In the lesson, talk through the process and have the students practice tuning. Require parent presence where relevant. (The only danger here is if they already have a stable instrument, and actually make it worse and can't correct it... :}} )

good luck!!

April 3, 2020, 2:57 PM · BTW I take payment through zelle. It works great and I feel it is secure though I'm no expert...
April 4, 2020, 12:26 AM · Having done 90% online lessons for the past 2 years, I prefer skype. It has the least voice-optimized compression algorithm meaning it preserves music better than other online services like zoom (in my opinion, the music audio is pretty bad).


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