Students opting out of video-chat lessons?

March 22, 2020, 4:03 PM · So, I have now sent a vote to all of my students.

The options were:

#1: start using video-chat to teach until I'm allowed to teach in person again.

#2: wait a month, and at that point, credit the remaining lessons that they'd already paid for going forward.

Currently, about 30% have chosen video chat lessons, 20% have opted for waiting it out, and 50% haven't responded.

I should mention that of the 20% who opted out, most were adult students.

Anyways, I'm assuming that the majority of the 50% who haven't yet responded are going to opt out, because if pursuing the video chat option was important to them, they'd want to let me know ASAP. I'll soon be sending a follow-up message to them to confirm this.

My question is this: has anyone else had a significant portion of students opting to wait it out rather than pursue video chat lessons? If so, did they express why?

Another thing: perhaps I shouldn't have had a vote at all? Maybe I should have just said "hey everyone, we're switching to video chat from now on"? I just felt that they should have a choice, since it's almost certain that online lessons will be less efficient for the cost than in-person lessons.

Replies (45)

Edited: March 22, 2020, 4:42 PM ·
Offer all your students a free-trial virtual lesson, and then ask them personally at the end of the lesson when they would like to schedule their next lesson.

I bet you get 80% of them.

Edited: March 22, 2020, 5:04 PM · They're probably just lazy and want bigger holidays...
The problem is that we may stay like this for several months.
Edited: March 22, 2020, 5:08 PM · Yes you should just say you're switching to video until further notice. One our our teachers we pre-pay the semester, so not really an option to stop. However if we don't find a better conferencing solution it's going to be tough. We tried Zoom, Facetime, and Skype, using Macbook Pro and iPad Pro, with similar results. Ironically the video quality is acceptable, but the audio just isn't going to cut it. I even tried an experiment today with decent recording gear instead of the built-in mics; better but still not good.

Another option is to review videos offline then discuss in person.

The piano teacher simply suspended lessons. Viola teacher however still wants to teach in person, which presents another interesting dilemma.

Edited: March 22, 2020, 5:14 PM · The opt-outs may have less to do with a willingness to do video chats or not, and more to do with just a fundamental angst about our situations generally, and therefore an uncertainty about proceeding with lessons now anyway. We all have much to worry about now. That's just my uneducated opinion.
Edited: March 22, 2020, 5:27 PM · There are certain things folks can try to do over video but I think it's a poor substitute for the real thing in person. At least given the current state of technology at home.

I worked for Cisco many years ago...they had a fantastic, immersive Telepresence product that I could see working well for this - like you were sitting across the table from people on the other side of the country or planet. But there just isn't the bandwidth to do this from home, and it would still be expensive.

Edited: March 22, 2020, 5:48 PM · I need to start doing video lessons this week! I have tested Skype laptop to laptop and the violin sounds pretty good. Would you recommend Skype or something else?
March 22, 2020, 5:48 PM · @Gary, it all depends on the microphone of the device.
March 22, 2020, 7:01 PM · Mark, I have to agree. I think many people are just so stressed right now that violin lessons are the least of their concerns. Perhaps I shouldn't take it personally.

I did come to an epiphany today, though: if I do take a month off, I can use it to finally record the YouTube content that people have been requesting for years but I've never had the time/energy/incentive to do before.

I've wanted to make a series of videos that have 3 versions of each Suzuki piece:

1) slow, no shifts

2) full tempo, with optional shifts

3) full tempo, with phrasing, dynamics, vibrato, rubato, shifts, etc...

I can also record all of the graded duets (applebaum) that I have students play (these are hard to find recordings of). I can do part 1, part 2, and then a video of both together.

In addition, I've wanted to make a "teaching beginners" series where I go over my specific methods that I use in my first 4 weeks with a brand new beginner, since that seems to be an area that could use more content, and I also consider beginners to be my point of specialty.

March 22, 2020, 8:18 PM · Erik, assuming that teaching is an important part of your income, I would strongly recommend that you do what you can to switch as many of your students as possible to video lessons as soon as possible. At this point, no one knows for sure how long all this will last and what it may develop to. So make some money and build a cushion to ride it out while you can. I think adapting is your best option at this point.

It may help to make some videos to help your students with tuning and other basics so they can be a little more independent in case of- what ifs. That way they can do more on their own. For younger ones, work with the parents online if something were to go wrong. There maybe times things don't go right. It happens and I am sure you will do your best to work it out.

If you find yourself in a position where you have lots of free time despite your efforts, then work on your video series.

March 22, 2020, 9:32 PM · There is absolutely enough bandwidth to support a Cisco telepresence suite from home, if you are on fiber or high-speed cable -- Verizon FiOS, AT&T U-Verse, or something like that. Most of us don't have one at home because in order to make the illusion work properly you need to furnish and paint to the necessary specifications. (I nearly did this in one room of my house.)

But it's not really necessary in order to be productive.

My son's violin lessons -- even the Suzuki group lessons -- are continuing via video. We weren't given an option and I don't think teachers who have been paid in advance need to offer the option, either.

March 22, 2020, 10:02 PM · My son's entire program has switched to virtual. No option. It is what it is. Semester is already paid for, so they either do virtual or lose out. They are even going to try to do chamber music and group classes.

And my daughter's very large orchestra (CYSO) claims they are going to try to do a Zoom rehearsal in the near future. I don't know how that is going to go.

@Stan we have been using a Zoom H6 Handy Recorder with a laptop and sound has been pretty good.

March 22, 2020, 11:06 PM · I had all video calls last week, more for planning/discussion/connection than "lesson", and just sent out my full distance learning plan. It probably isn't what many of them expect (just because I mentioned some of the details last week doesn't mean they'll have remembered or understood), and I won't be surprised if someone says, this is not what I signed up for.

It's not what I signed up for either, but I presented it as how I/we will have to adapt. No, I don't think online lessons are ideal, but my students are exclusively children or their parents, and it seems families generally want to keep some stability of music around. I will release them and process a partial refund if necessary though if they really want out.

March 23, 2020, 12:18 AM · I found that a lot of people didn't respond right away. When I contacted them again the day before their lesson, I got replies. I just told them we were switching. When the schools closed, I started thinking about it and offered online as an option. When they closed the restaurants, I just knew it was time to switch. We haven't been ordered to stay at home yet. But, I expect that will happen soon. I think people just have a lot on their minds.

I gave students the choice of what platform - Skype, LINE, FaceTime, or Zoom. All have worked. I can hear if they are in tune, doing dynamics, phrasing, expression, bow control etc. I find the sound quality is making me pay closer attention and makes those things more obvious.

I should have given people more explanation as far as how it would work rather than just assuming they all know more about using those platforms than I do.

March 23, 2020, 8:19 AM · Could it be money? Lessons are further down the priority list when no one knows what next week will look like..
March 23, 2020, 8:36 AM · Our music program didn't give an option to opt out. They could cancel lessons and that would fall under our regular cancellation policy.

No one has quit and we've actually had a few families move to lessons twice a week. My only adult student seems to be happy with the format as well.

Our program is fortunate enough that the majority of our families are able to continue working from home. I'm sure in less affluent areas it would be a struggle.

One of the things that made the transition easier is that in the past, many of our teachers would do online lessons during snow days. So our families have had some familiarity with the format, which relieved much of the stress of adapting to the "new" technology.

March 23, 2020, 10:20 AM · Erik,

I'm not as technical with video-chat/SKYPE/FaceTime,... so I'm getting videos and providing feedback.

Placing the focus on pure technical development is not working. So, I've switched to getting them to make videos of music that is just simply fun and suggesting additional "fun" pieces. I would suggest that Erik might look at the Hal Leonard "101..." series of books - there is a lot of easy to moderate music that your adult students will enjoy and you can lead them through how to play them.

My thought is that if I can get people just playing for fun through this crisis I've done my job and most will continue after the crisis has passed.

Edited: March 23, 2020, 12:42 PM · Well, you learned a valuable lesson here, Erik. If you give people a choice, some of them will take the choice you weren't hoping for. No response? I understand -- the flood of email is tremendous right now with the CEO of every company in America reminding us that "they're here for us," and the news cycle has gone from 24 hours to 2.4 hours with President Trump having suddenly discovered the Press Conference.

"I should mention that of the 20% who opted out, most were adult students."

That's not necessarily because adults are fussy folks who don't want to adapt to technology. It can also because a lot of adults are really stressed out right now, worried (depending on their own ages and situations) about their kids, their parents, or themselves. Also if they have jobs, those jobs could be more demanding right now in some cases rather than less. When I do have free time it's not that easy to just pick up the violin and concentrate well enough for practicing to be much more productive than routine maintenance.

I thought the following was brilliant. Hopefully it's not behind a paywall.

March 24, 2020, 6:14 AM · I'll share my point of view as an adult student: I've also been offered online classes, but I've declined and have agreed with my teacher that we'll check our schedules and try to catch up with those classes when this situation is over. I prefer to have my teacher physically present since I'm not advanced enough (or have enough of a good technique) to progress by myself with confidence, knowing I'm not making any gross mistake. By having my teacher physically in the same room I'm playing, he can observe me better, from different angles, and correct my bad position, my bowing, my fingers, my arm, elbow or back. He can also listen better to my intonation that way.

He gave me some exercises to play by myself during this time, and told me to practice the works I've been playing lately.

Online classes are not ideal. They can be a temporary solution, but at a beginner level it's important to have a teacher with you. I am more advanced on piano and I wouldn't mind to get some online classes there, but that's because I'm confident enough in my technique and can steadily progress on my own. If I try that with the violin, the result will be a mess!

March 24, 2020, 7:50 AM · @Erik, If you were my teacher, I would appreciate this gesture of asking for my preference via vote.

I can understand this is not the best business decision if your main goal is profit maximization. But what is your priority? This is a difficult time. Some people maybe able to carry on as if this is just an inconvenience in their life. Some people need some time and space get back together.

At one occasion, I was advised that I should pay my teacher into the summer out of appreciation, respect and this is not supposed to be a charity. I understand this is the right thing to do. Yet, I struggle to bring some kindness to the table, when I was not offered any remote kind of understanding or patience. Sure, go ahead with those no opt out, no option, all my students has no problem so why should you. I am sure it work out well for some of your students or they will quick get over it, but have you wonder what some may think of you as a human being?

March 24, 2020, 1:53 PM · I agree with Sivrit even though, at first glance, her view might seem to oppose what I previously posted. I'm behind on taking the lessons I've already paid for. But my violin teacher is such a wonderful person that if some unused tuition disappears into his wallet, I will not be the slightest bit bothered. He has done so much for me and my family.

Having said that, maybe it is time for a lesson! He is using Zoom.

March 24, 2020, 2:54 PM · My teacher switched to online lessons but I chose to opt out for now. For me I just don’t see video lessons as being effective especially for the same price as face to face. Not trying to be cheap but I don’t want to throw money away either in the current situation. Especially when there is so much great video content online for free. Or teachers offering online lessons at less than half her rate for that matter. More so when she’s never done online lessons before.

Of course in person lessons are many times better and I’ll return to them as soon as possible. In the meantime I’ll work on fundamentals and a few pieces that aren’t too much of a stretch for me.

March 24, 2020, 9:23 PM · The idea I would like to impart to adults such as Richard and Miguel is that you're assuming this is only going to last a little while. If it lasts longer, are you really OK with:

1) going 3 months without any instruction, even if it's sub-optimal instruction?

2) Your teacher having drastically reduced their income because so many of their regular students dropped out and said it wasn't worth the money any more? I mean, I know we live in a capitalist economy, but one would hope that you've developed enough of a close relationship with your teacher to where you're worried about them in a time like this.

For me, I have savings and can last through this period. But I can imagine many private teachers are going to really struggle through the next few months. If you have loyalty or care about your teacher as a person and aren't struggling financially, you should consider throwing them a bone (as well as doing yourself a favor) and taking some Skype lessons.

As an update to my own situation, many more of my own students have gotten back to me and it seems that at minimum, 50% of my students will be continuing via Skype. I think some are still on the fence, so I predict it will go up to at least 70%. And more adults are now replying and giving me the "go-ahead".

I imagine many of them simply want to support me in this time, even if they're not going to get 100% efficiency from Skype lessons. I'm very appreciative for the relationships that I've developed with my student base and the fact that they care enough for my well-being to give the online lessons a shot.

Edited: March 24, 2020, 9:55 PM · I agree with Erik that saying, "oh, I'll drop out for now because it's not as good of a value for the money" is basically kicking your teacher in the nuts. I pay a semester in advance so I'd only be cheating myself. On the other hand, if you're paying lesson-by-lesson and your own livelihood is also on the line, then I have to agree with Richard that it's a tough call.
Edited: March 25, 2020, 12:13 AM · That’s the point I was making, that it’s not just ineffective instruction. My company already furloughed 50% of staff. That’s enough to make anyone wonder about unnecessary expenses.

If it was just suboptimal instruction I’d almost certainly continue, but paying over $300 per month right now for less than 4 hours of online class just doesn’t make any sense at all.

I know that this is a tough time for everyone and hope we all come through it safely and quickly.

Edited: March 25, 2020, 6:06 AM · Erik:

As for the questions you asked:

1. Am I ok with a longer time without instruction, even if it is sub-optimal? Musically, I'm not so sure. During 3 months I would lose some of the little technique I may have now. But I still think I'd be able to recover it after by increasing the frequency of my classes and 'catching up' the lessons I lost.

2. Am I ok with my teacher having drastically reduced income? No, I'm not. But my income has also been drastically reduced during the last two weeks. I live in Europe, my area has been completely shut down, and my career field is paralyzed. I can't work even if I want to.

My teacher is a great man, and I care about him, but he also understands that some of his adult students may have similar problems, and that violin playing is a leisure activity for them that may be stopped for a while if there are different necessities in a given moment.

Also, note that my intention is to take the lessons I lost and pay for them, adding them to the regular schedule I'd have over the following months, so my teacher's earnings for teaching me over the year would still be the same, just with a different distribution.

I really appreciate my teacher's good disposition to reach an agreement. Had he forced something I didn't want, without asking or talking, I would probably be thinking of searching for a different teacher now. Far from that, he had a great attitude, and he's definitely earned my loyalty for the rest of lessons I may take in... at least, the following decade.

March 25, 2020, 2:48 PM · Thanks for the clarifications, Miguel and Richard. I suppose I have a tendency to assume that the average adult who is taking 1-hour violin lessons has a pretty decent disposable income. So, if you're feeling insecure about your financial situation, it's totally understandable that you're take a hiatus from lessons in this crisis.

Unrelated question: Paul, how do you feel about paying a semester in advance? Is that required or do you choose to do so?

Edited: March 25, 2020, 3:21 PM · Erik, I don't mind answering the question. My teacher is a faculty member in a local private music school called Renaissance Music Academy of Southwestern Virginia. The whole school policy is to pay a semester in advance for all services including weekly lessons, violin group, chamber orchestra, and theory. Ordinarily, students are expected to pay for weekly lessons. However, there is an understanding that weekly lessons are not always practical for adult students. So they allow me to pay for, say, six lessons in advance, and then if I run out, I can purchase them one-at-a-time. Partly they make allowances for me because I have done a lot for them -- for example I accompany the violin group and the cello group pro bono, which is work that I enjoy very thoroughly. My sense is that none of the parents blink at paying up-front for whole semesters at a time. Once in a while there will be a student whose parents are less well off, and the school does offer a few scholarships to them, so that their fees are lower (in one case that I can think of, much lower). Also, the teachers are fairly liberal about make-up lessons; I'm not aware that parents have tried to abuse their forbearance, so that seems to work for them. My daughter has been a student in a different program called Community CelloWorks, and we also pay her tuition a semester at a time in advance. Same basic system. How do I feel about it? I like it -- once and done.
March 25, 2020, 6:23 PM · I'm currently in an okay situation, and I thought about not taking lessons during this work-from-home time, but I really need the normalcy of lessons so am doing remote ones with my teacher for the time being. I don't have enough disposable income for weekly lessons (I WISH I did in the best of times!), but some lessons are better than no lessons...
March 25, 2020, 7:41 PM · Erik - you’re right in that I do have a decent disposable income but if it vanished for 4 or 5 months that might be another situation.

As for being without lessons for some time so far I’m actually learning more. I like my teacher but I’m fairly new with her and I’m progressing better with books and online videos at least for now, going back to basics and my sound and bowing have both improved. I think my teacher was too focused on building repertoire so I’ll talk with her about that when I go back. Then again having an extra 45 minutes to practice a day might be the reason :)

March 25, 2020, 10:29 PM · I’m progressing better with books and online videos at least for now...

Good opportunity to take charge of your own progress, become your own teacher. I mean, lets face it, we'll never make it to the first chair of the New York Philly..?

March 25, 2020, 11:20 PM · Hmmm, it's highly suspicious if you're truly progressing better without the teacher than with her.
March 25, 2020, 11:45 PM · Erik - I can absolutely say that I am. I’m much more focused on what I’m learning and concentrating on just one piece and one or two exercises at a time, and applying the lesson from a boom or video in one focused area. I’ve seen improvement in my left hand and my bow control, and gone back to a couple of pieces had trouble with and played them much easier.
March 26, 2020, 3:06 AM · How many pieces was she assigning you weekly?
March 26, 2020, 8:09 AM · We have doubled up on lessons, two FaceTimes a week, one hour each.
In part, because daughter is out of school and has the time for lessons and much more practice. But also, because we would like to support the teacher.
March 26, 2020, 10:42 AM · Usually two new ones
Edited: March 26, 2020, 2:11 PM · I am starting to see config guidelines for lessons online. For Zoom it looks like everyone in the meeting needs to disable speech processing and the automatic gain controls which are on by default. (Set "allow original sound" and "allow stereo" in both participants general settings, then both turn on "original sound" and stereo when in the meeting and turn off "automatically adjust microphone".) You get feedback this way though, and need headphones or earbuds as the workaround, unless everyone but the presenter is muted, which doesn't work for individual lessons.

I don't see how to disable speech processing in other meeting platforms.

Edit to add: For Zoom with an external audio interface I have to use 44.1K or 48K sampling rate; I normally record at 96K but Zoom doesn't like that at all (digital noise / artifacts).

Is anyone else using headphones or earbuds in lessons?

March 26, 2020, 12:14 PM · A few of my students made huge progress in the last week and a half...because parent is now more involved and they are practicing more. To be fair, we're not after *progress* as a main goal. This is more for continuity of life amidst crisis, but it wouldn't be accurate to say that lack of in-person lessons is better!

I'm using only my laptop's built-in speakers and mic. If I use corded headphones, it will be awkward to move around, and I don't have wireless earbuds, external mic, etc.

March 26, 2020, 12:23 PM · I am currently opting out.
My teacher likes Zoom. I have never enjoyed video links - my internet connection is dismal - I totally hate Skype - and I don't feel I'll be getting a good quality lesson.
March 26, 2020, 2:04 PM · @Stan Yates, since the lockdown, my children have been taking violin,piano and karate private lessons using zoom with no issues. We did invest on a good HD camera that we put on a tripod. The camera is also connected to the laptop via a usb connection, and the laptop is attached to a big screen TV via HDMI connection for their violin and karate lessons. For piano, we just have the camera on a tripod attached to the laptop, as it is hard to move the

We have no need to mute anyone or them to mute us. And the TV and laptop speakers work just fine in hearing their teachers.

Edited: March 26, 2020, 2:22 PM · With default audio settings, these apps are optimized for speech and I don't like what it does to music. Also we're out a bit beyond the suburbs so our bandwith and latency is not the greatest. I don't agree with 100% of what this guy says but it covers a lot of my issues,

Some links at Peabody to Royal Academy of Music youtube videos for teachers and students that go over the settings and what I ended up doing with separate audio interface,

March 27, 2020, 5:58 AM · We are trying out a lesson via Zoom after work today. He experimented with this earlier in the week and said it worked well, I'm willing to try it to both get in my lesson and to support my teacher. I may use my earbuds - but only in one ear if I do. I'm less concerned about sound on my end than what it sounds like for him.
March 27, 2020, 8:45 AM · The music school my violin teacher belongs to is quite disorganized and hasn't set up anything. And I'm okay with taking a break from it. BUT, I think it's important to practice what I've learned so far everyday. I also have a subscription to Violin Lab which I find to be really helpful especially since the Lockdown. It's pretty well organized and Beth Blackerby explains things in detail. It was through her videos that I figured out what I was doing wrong and she gives a lot of good tips and advice.

When I finish the "semester" at my physical violin school, I might look around for another. I'm kind of disappointed with how they handled this sudden change. I would much prefer a school that is more organized and looking into how to continue lessons even if not face-to-face.

March 27, 2020, 2:27 PM · Phoebe, they may be under the impression that the lockdown will only last a month. A lot of people seem to believe that, including some of my students. Switching to online teaching is a really big change, especially for an entire music school. And if the switch happens and then it only lasts for a few weeks, the potential disruption could be greater than the benefit. However, it's becoming increasingly clear that this will not just magically disappear come April, so hopefully your school comes to its senses.
March 27, 2020, 10:14 PM · Thanks for the explanation - I hadn't thought of that. There are other things bothering me about the school though that I hadn't mentioned, so this situation kind of added to it.
March 30, 2020, 1:53 PM · In our case more literally.

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