How do online piano lessons work?

Online piano lessons are a great alternative to overcome geography and distance. Maybe you stay far away, or you are in a different state or country, maybe you have medical or health reasons that do not permit you to travel, or maybe you just need a masterclass or two to tune up what you’re playing. Whatever the reason, for online lessons to work really well, we need to fulfill certain conditions.

Lesson Structure. Foremost, the teacher must be fully prepared to structure the lesson before hand with a solid lesson plan because online lessons lack the organic nature of face-to-face lessons. This means pre-lesson screenshots of scores, handouts, etc. must be sent to the student prior to the lesson so that all the necessary information is already in place as much as possible. It might also include backing tracks, pre-recorded tracks, etc. whatever it takes to make the lesson itself work. Where this is not possible, the student and teacher must understand that some time will be taken up for the online transfer and ‘sharing’ of these teaching materials during the lesson itself.

Variety of activities. The lesson plan should include a variety of activities like technical work, aural, repertoire, theory, quizzes and so on. Even when different students have different needs, generally, a balanced pedagogic approach is still needed as the nature of online piano lessons can be pretty ‘intense’, compared to a real-life, face-to-face piano lesson, so having a carousel of activities can help break the monotony.

Excellent internet connection. No matter what software you use, be it Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc. if you don’t have a stable connection, it’s useless. Most people use their home’s wifi connection. While this is generally fine, there are some blind or weaker wifi spots in the home, where connection is just weaker. If it’s not possible to move your keyboard/piano, buy an additional wifi extender or mesh system to increase the wifi signal in your room. The signal has to be as good as possible! This is probably the most important factor! If you can, the ideal situation is to use a wired LAN connection, ie. using physical LAN cables that connect your laptop to the LAN point instead of wireless.

A good camera. Not all cameras are equal. Many older laptops still come with old-school VGA cameras. For eg, many older MacBooks use VGA cameras, resulting in grainy videos. iPads come with better resolutions. Modern cellphones like Samsung, iPhones, Huawei, etc. come with full HD and even 4K, so you get clearer videos. However, for online piano lessons, peering into an iPhone may not be good for your eyes.

The ideal scenario is to use a separate, dedicated USB webcam connected to your laptop/desktop. Eg. Logitech full HD, stereo mic webcams are a great solution to having really much clearer videos during lesson time. However, if you don’t wish to improve your video quality, then I am afraid you have to bear with grainy videos. For those who want to try, I guarantee you will never want to go back to the inbuilt camera found in your laptop after you have enjoyed an online piano lesson that is much more crystal clear where you can see the piano keys clearly and hear the stereo sounds from the stereo microphone!

Good camera placement. For the teacher to see you clearly, you have to place your camera as if the teacher is sitting beside you in person. So take a chair, stack it with some storage box and thick books, then place your laptop on it. The teacher on the other hand, has several options. Some prefer an overhead-cam approach, which means more complicated setups are needed like tripods, stands, etc. Others prefer a side view, or the face, etc. whichever the case, it is important that when the teacher demonstrates on the keys, the camera should show the keys as clearly as possible.

A quiet environment. If your piano is in your living room, and your family members are watching TV while you are having an online lesson, you are in for trouble! The mike picks up everything and amplifies it, distracting your listener greatly. Similarly, children screaming in the background incessantly, dogs barking, fans blowing directly into the camera’s microphone, etc. all create background noise disturbances that will lower the quality of your online lesson. Negotiate with your family members to lower down their volume during your lesson time.

There you have it. A lot of it also depends on your personal expectations. But if you are already paying for online lessons, you might as well set it up as optimally as you can so that you can get the most out of it. All the best to having great and enjoyable online piano lessons!