What I have learnt with a year of online teaching
As a self-employed instrumental teacher, I'm always interested in maximising my income while still providing affordable music lessons. I saw some potential in online teaching but never had time to look into it properly.
Until March 2020, when we all went into lockdown, and I was forced into teaching online! In the build-up to the lockdown, I was living in denial, thinking that it would never happen in the UK, and if it did, it wouldn't last long. Then the UK started getting cases; shops were emptying with panic buying. I then realised I should start preparing for teaching my students online.
Thankfully I belong to a wonderful community called The Curious Piano Teachers. We were all sharing advice on the best set up for teaching online. I spent a week just reading as much information and trying out different ways of setting up my equipment. I gave a few practice online lessons to various people to learn the best way of setting myself up. I produced guides for my students and explained what would happen if we went into lockdown without really knowing what I was doing. I was doing this while still trying to get as much in-person teaching as possible.
Then the UK went into complete lockdown towards the end of March. And I was ready for teaching online. Or so I thought.
I thought I would be able to teach in much the same way as I could in-person. I knew duets would be out of the question because of the time lag, but the rest would be the same.
I found that teaching online takes a lot of mental energy, trying to deal with technical issues (at both ends) trying to make sure that the sound is as good as it can be. I was trying to listen carefully to what the student is playing when the background noise is coming through my headphones, a lot louder than the piano's sound. I had to Make sure that all my resources are ready and work over the internet. In my face to face lessons, I play many games and found it hard to make some of them work across the internet. I also had to make sure that I had PDFs of all the student's music to share it and make notes to help the student. I also found it exhausting sat in front of a screen for several hours while teaching with as much energy as I could muster.
But despite all the issues faced with online lessons. I found some benefits. My students had to become independent learners. I couldn't give them little subtle hints about where to put their hands or if they had made a mistake like I could if I was sitting next to them. They had to write their own notes. They had to tell me if they couldn't understand anything. I also found that my ability to discern pitches was a lot better than I thought it was. I couldn't always see what my student was doing; I had to rely on what my ears were telling me.
I also started sending my student short videos to demonstrate how to play something or a little exercise for them. I found that if a student accessed this video during the week, it helped with their practice and progressed faster. I used Cadenza to write my lessons notes to my students. This site also has the function where students can upload their videos of them practising to give feedback on what they have done. I found that the students how have used this regularly have made significant progress over the last year. This is something that I will be continuing when I go back to in-person lessons.
Lockdown opened up a whole new online world for me. One that I was aware of but not fully participating in. I started networking with people worldwide; I also did lots of online courses for myself.
These experiences lead to me creating Journey Into Music. An online musicianship course for families. These courses help children to learn about musical concepts through song and movement. There are short videos to watch when convenient for the family. With follow up activities for all the families to take part in. I'm planning on developing more short musicianship courses in time.
I believe that there is a place for online music learning. Learning music is expensive and time-consuming. Online lessons can provide cheaper resources for those who struggle with regular lessons with a teacher. It can help to fill the gaps.
But I don't believe that solely learning an instrument online is good long-term. Without regularly feedback from a teacher, it is easy to slip into bad habits. Sometimes these bad habits will not just hinder us musically, but they can physically harm us. If our posture isn't quite right when playing, this can lead to injuries.
Suppose you can't afford regularly instrumental lessons with a teacher. In that case, there are places online where you can still learn and receive feedback on your playing. I have been having singing lessons at the Worship Vocalist and have felt my voice has improved over the last year. This is a series of videos and workouts for you to complete; there is also the opportunity to send a video of you doing the exercises and receiving feedback. I have also come across Artist Works, but a wide selection of instruments, which appears to work similarly. Here is a review of it on Beginner Guitar HQ.
This has been a year of great challenge for everyone. But it has opened up the world of online teaching for me—there are things that I will take with me with my in-person lessons. I will continue to offer online lessons, and I will continue developing and improving my online courses.
It is possible to learn an instrument online. You need to find a way and a teacher that suits you.