Experiences so far with Online Teaching

April 21, 2020, 6:59 PM · As an update to some of the questions I've asked in the past, I thought I'd give a brief summary of everything I've learned so far. I know there are other articles on this already, but I just wanted to put my own thing out there.

1) A computer with a webcam HAS to be used for an effective lesson, unless the student is an early beginner. This is because you can not adjust the audio settings for either Zoom or Skype unless you are on a laptop or desktop. Tablets and phones do NOT have the option to change audio settings.

2) Skype sound quality is far superior to Zoom sound quality. Thus, I use Skype for 80% of lessons now. However, Zoom works better if the student has terrible internet quality, probably because it compresses the data more (leading to the worse overall sound).

3) Make sure to have the student adjust their audio settings in both Zoom and Skype! With skype, you just have them turn off the automatic volume adjustment, and with Zoom, they must turn off the automatic volume adjustment, in addition to turning off "suppress background noise (intermittent AND sustained)". Otherwise, you will have the volume cutting in and out constantly. If the student is using a phone/tablet, there is nothing you can do about this, but Skype has FAR less of an issue with this as opposed to Zoom! So if the student must use a phone or tablet, make sure to use Skype!

4) Once I got a couple of weeks' experience with online teaching, I found that many of my lessons ended up being surprisingly effective. However, I found that online lessons amplified good/bad traits in students. For example, the more dedicated/focused students started taking more of their own notes and in some ways may have improved more from the new format. On the other hand, students whom I constantly have to micromanage have really been frustrating to teach, since some degree of independence from the student is necessary for online lessons to work. If their attention span is very low, even a slight amount of latency can make it almost impossible to work with them. Also, communication issues are tremendously amplified. If a student plays while I'm speaking, or continues to play after I try to stop them, I can physically stop them normally. But online, I feel helpless to do anything except repeatedly saying something to grab their attention. It gets very, very tiring.

5) I ended up using a combination of mailed checks/Zelle/Popmoney to receive tuition. I gave students the option of using any of those 3, and it has worked out well.

Now, a question: has anyone experienced students with such bad internet that you had to put them on lesson hiatus? I currently have 3 students with truly terrible internet, and while one of them solved the issue, the other 2 are basically unteachable. It doesn't help that I normally have some degree of communication issues with these 2 students, so their internet connection is just making things 10x worse.

Replies (9)

April 22, 2020, 6:08 AM · Your experiences mirror mine -- iphones and ipads (and other tablets and smartphones) are pretty bad for online lessons.

I agree about the difference in success between self-motivated students and those who require micromanaging during face-to-face lessons.

Before putting a student on hiatus I would consider several factors:
1) how important are the music lessons to the student in terms of self-image? I have some students who really couldn't care less if they continue lessons but their parents are forcing them, so they would be easy for me to put on hiatus. But I have other students for whom playing their instrument and taking lessons is a very bright part of their life and to tell them that it's just not working out and we need to take a break would be devastating for them. Those students I will suffer through bad internet connections for as long as they keep trying.
2) How important are the lessons for the parents? I have some students whose parents look on the lessons, either in person or online, as an inconvenience which costs money and they would welcome a break even if their children want to continue. But I have other students whose parents are very grateful that we can continue the online lessons despite the quality because they help continue their daily/weekly routines and help give a sense of normalcy to these abnormal times.
3) how much do you need the income? It may sound crass but these days when performances are all cancelled and the only income many of us have is from our online lessons, I know I can't really afford to take a break from students. Which leads me to #4:
4) income considerations aside, we never know when we will turn on that lightbulb for a student, flip that switch that changes them from a poor student into a person for whom music will become the most important thing in their life even if it remains just a hobby for them. Keeping them involved even through poor connections might just be what's needed to help them get through this time in their life and will help them see that the continuity of the music is a great thing.
5) is the technological challenge their fault? It may be the internet connection where they live. I have one student who lives in an area with an internet connection that has intermittent cut-out issues. But he is on the autism spectrum and music is the most important thing in his life and for me to discontinue lessons with him would break his heart. And we have communication issues even in person but the dedication he has to playing his clarinet makes all the technology frustration worthwhile.

Edited: April 22, 2020, 10:40 AM · If you have a Mac or iPad, I would strongly encourage you to try FaceTime lessons for those who have an apple device. The sound quality is much better than Zoom. I honestly have no idea why Zoom is so popular for lessons. Even with the correct settings (by the way I heard they just added an option to adjust the audio settings on a tablet/phone- so you might search for a tutorial), I find the sound doesn’t work as well (I also find it much harder to hear students when they are talking for some reason). I also have a couple students I teach on google Duo which was really bad the first week or two, but has improved a lot in the past few weeks (I have no idea why), which might be worth trying for those who can’t use FaceTime.
I have actually found that a couple of my more difficult students do better online than in-person-I think something about the screen and being at home helps them focus. The rest are about the same as usual. I actually haven’t found anyone is doing worse than usual, but maybe I just got lucky.
April 22, 2020, 11:14 AM · I only have one (piano) student and his internet connection is not too great even though he lives near me and his parents are techno-jocks. I have been using Zoom but I appreciate the suggestion to try Skype.
April 22, 2020, 2:03 PM · 1. Zoom released an update recently that allows phones and tablets to access original sound.

2. I personally have not checked Skype, only FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom, and hadn't noticed if there were consistent trends with one platform being completely better or worse. Now that I rack my memory, for some students where Zoom quality isn't great, Google Hangouts wasn't better before during snow and travel days (no Apple devices in the house), so I'm inclined to blame their equipment/connection.

3. Despite repeatedly instructing parents, and in some cases waiting (wasting) during lesson time for them to check settings, I can't help but suspect that some still haven't - or maybe they really have and there is some other technological thing at play. I've also repeatedly asked some to PLEASE rig up a better position for the phone/tablet camera. At this point (6th week), I just figure things are what they are and make do.

About getting students to stop: most have been able to respond to my saying "stop" and showing a stop hand, or at least the parent will notice and convey. Another thing I've had to be mindful of is to specify, play the spot only, play 4 measures only, play one section, etc. Otherwise the student's inclination is to keep going. Also, I need hand signals for repeat and go on.

4. So true! The parents who were highly involved, students with better attention and independent study skills, still are and have, and the ones who were less so, still are. The ones who weren't practicing, or weren't practicing the way I asked, mostly still aren't, although there has been some improvement because I am now writing practice charts for everyone and marking certain items as "recording assignment" that they are supposed to work on and show me some progress.

No one has bailed specifically because of bad internet. However, 1 went incommunicado, 1 wandered off but maintained some communication, 1 (layoff situation) I offered to put "on scholarship" contingent on responsibility and initiative in doing assignments, and 1 (being a beginner without enough parent support, as well as general communication situation) I asked to take a break, first time I ever had to do that. There are also a few beginners who do have parent support and I'm nevertheless about to ask them if they feel up to pushing through to summer, knowing that it's too early to plan farther ahead.

April 22, 2020, 2:13 PM · Has anyone tried YouBrio? It's designed for online music teaching.
April 22, 2020, 2:32 PM · I ended up on Zoom because "everyone else was doing it" (self-rolling bandwagon) and I too needed something quick without having to do a whole lot of research or (at the time) getting people to sign up for accounts. It's logistically helpful to have a studio link and students are responsible for "entering" as they would my physical space rather than me tracking them down via the platform/device of their choice, them connecting too early before I hung up with someone else, while I took a quick break, then I feel like I need to give them their "full time" because I connected late (which is my problem not theirs), etc. It's straightforward to handle small and large group classes and there is no confusion about when is it Zoom and when is it a direct call.

When we need particular attention on sound quality, I do my best to convey through words, imagery, description and demonstration of physical motions. I ask the parent to evaluate and ask them to make a separate video (less compression and such in that case). Now that I have a basic USB microphone, at least my sound comes through better. No one is doing "worse" but some are definitely doing "better" of more time practicing, more motivation, etc. It's definitely limiting at times but there will be good things that remain after the crisis.

April 22, 2020, 2:33 PM · for the students that have poor internet, would it be better if they worked through a cellular connection?
Edited: April 23, 2020, 11:54 AM · Skype lessons going fairly well, for students who are on their third year of learning and up. For students on their first year of learning, as expected I find it very hard, if not almost impossible to achieve quality progress.

About Zoom:

@Timothy, 3G..4G.. yes, probably, but what about the costs?

April 22, 2020, 4:04 PM · cell phone hot spot only works if you have unlimited data on your plan.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

ARIA International Summer Academy

Meadowmount School of Music

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases



Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins


Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine