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How to teach (or take) music lessons online

skype lessons




Today's widespread adoption of broadband internet means new possibilities in the realm of virtual music education. Free video-chat technologies like Skype™ and FaceTime have made it possible for a piano teacher in New York, for example, to give lessons to a student in Seattle. A student can check in occassionally with a former teacher that now lives abroad. Or a member of a touring rock band can keep up with students while on the road. The possibilities are truly endless.

FaceTime lessons

Granted, teaching or taking music lessons online is not for everyone. Nothing beats live one-on-one contact for learning a musical instrument, but with ever-improving internet technology online music lessons can be a very close second.

Why should I teach music lessons online?

  • By offering your music lessons via a remote delivery method like Skype or iChat, you enable students to study with music instructors they might never have been able to study with otherwise.
  • Flexibility. Not being tied to a particular geographic location means you can teach your music students from anywhere.
  • It's green! When you teach music lessons remotely you save both the environmental and financial costs of burning fossil fuels.

Although the information in this article is presented from the perspective of people teaching music lessons online, most of the information below applies equally to the music student taking lessons online.

What gear do I need to teach online music lessons?

Computer - According to Skype's system requirements, you must have a PC running Windows® 2000, XP, Vista or 7, with at least a 1GHz processor, 256 MB RAM or a Macintosh running Mac OS X v10.3.9 (Panther) or newer with a G4, G5 or Intel processor, 800 MHz or faster, 512 MB RAM.

quick checklist

desktop computer or laptop

webcam & microphone

fast internet connection

video-chat software

payment acceptance capability

quiet, well-lit lesson space

Webcam & Microphone - If your computer does not already include a built-in mic and/or webcam, you will need to provide them separately. Add an external USB web-camera and microphone and you are set. If you need to use an external mic, it is better to use a mic that connects via XLR to a computer audio adapter of some sort than to use one that connects with USB.

Internet connection - The faster your connection, the better. Most DSL and cable connections will be good enough but keep in mind that it is the upload speed that matters most. Skype recommends an upload speed of at least 384kb per second for fluid, stutter free video and audio.

Video-chat software - You will need to subscribe to a video-chat service of some type. Skype is free and works on any computer platform you might use. iChat is a popular choice for Mac users and FaceTime is free to use on iOS devices as well as Apple computers.

Payment acceptance - One of the easiest ways to accept payments from students is to use PayPal. It is easy to set up and PayPal only takes a small percentage (2.9% + $0.30 USD) of each transaction.

Lesson space - It is very important that you choose a quiet lesson space that is conducive to learning. Try to use an area that has as plain a backdrop as possible. Background clutter, pets, windows, etc., can all be distracting to a student. Lighting is also of the utmost importance. Try to have at least two different sources of light that best show details important to the music student.

How do I get started?

1. Make sure you feel comfortable with the technology involved before teaching your first online music with Skype or iChat. Take the time to set up a lesson space with good lighting that is free of distractions. Find the distance between yourself and the camera that best highlights the technique involved in the particular musical instrument you are teaching. Finally, have a friend help you by participating in a mock online music lesson and offering feedback on how the overall experience can be improved.

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remote music lessons

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read more about how Lesson Maestro can help online music teachers

2. Come up with a game plan on how you will handle new students. Consider setting up a test video-chat/consultation appointment with the new student to make sure their video-chat set up is adequate. This is also a good time to discuss payment terms with the student. It is in everyone's best interest to require payment prior to the actual lesson and to have a clear cancellation policy.

3. Once you are set up, the next step is to find some music students. Because you are teaching online and have the ability to teach students anywhere in the world, many of the old methods of finding music students fall short. You need a web presence to be able to reach as broad an audience as possible. Consider building your own website and/or subscribing to an online music teacher directory service like LessonMaestro.com.

Any other hints?

  • Use headphones for an improved audio experience. The audio will sound clearer and be less prone to echoes or feedback if both you and your student wear headphones.
  • Offer to email your online music students PDF files of sheet music.
  • Include the use of pre-recorded video or audio in your online music lesson curriculum. Create video tutorials for different aspects of playing that the student can review on their own time.

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