We find ourselves in a new world of online teaching and learning that we had no time to prepare for in March this year, but now it is time to reflect a little.  I have been thinking about the pros and cons of online learning, on the grounds that this is how it is going to be at least until January next year.  However I am giving serious consideration to much of my studio continuing to be online at least for 2021 and maybe beyond.

The Pros:

Some years ago maybe during the ice storm or a snow storm (can’t imagine that now!), I had to teach students on skype.  A parent just loved not having to drive the student here and being able to go on with her work at home while I taught the student.  At that point I was not interested in online teaching.  But thinking about it now, I can imagine many parents would appreciate not having to schlep to my place (even though we now have that lovely waiting room).

I have also had many students say “I can play that piece perfectly at home but I come here and your piano is so different to mine that I can’t play it the same”.  Now students can have a lesson on their own piano in their own comfortable space, and apart from me watching it would be just like practicing. They can perform their prepared piece as they describe!

Anyway, at the moment we have no choice about online teaching given the prevalence of the virus and my age – I am very healthy but I am 75.  I cannot take the risk of getting the virus by having people come to the house.  Conversely I do not want to give it to anyone.

The Cons:

Three of my students found it very difficult to listen to instructions emanating from a screen; two had to quit and one might soon.  Being next to the teacher for them meant being able to understand and respond.  Being able to see me play a certain piece in real time was necessary for them.

Learning music, piano, guitar, ukulele, is such a solitary activity and this is enhanced by it being taught online.  Students long for the interaction with their friends.

Also the internet transmission has a delay which means I cannot effectively play and/or sing with the student.  I have to play or sing, and then they have to repeat the same after me.

Singers who cannot accompany themselves are having a very hard time even though I record their accompaniments on the piano.  It is not the same, singing to a recorded accompaniment compared to standing beside me so i can adjust my playing to their singing.

After consideration I think that some students actually benefit from online tuition, and some do not.  Some benefit from being in their homes away from the stress of school, and the classroom schedules, but some need the in-person interaction with their peers and their teachers.  However, right now, all I can offer is online music lessons.

During the pandemic I have accepted new students who began their tuition online, and it seems to have worked well for them.  Several live in cities too far to travel to my house for lessons, so they will always continue online, although I have ideas of hosting small group “campus visits” here on one or two occasions in the Spring semester.

Result of my reflection:

I need to build some sort of community among the students and I am going to seriously think on that.  In the meantime as Fall commences soon, I am going to ask students to respond to a question – I will send a sheet on which they can respond and hopefully then send or email to me.

I am going to plan some December virtual holiday soirees, so watch this space!  The first Virtual Summer Soiree was wonderful.  My neighbor David Dodson, a singer and pianist himself, participated in the concert and said it was the highlight of his week.  So sweet to see my students play so well, and also sweet to work with my daughter Rose.

In the months up to December I am going to give students a project to give their family a concert and I will send instructions for this!  It will involve getting dressed up and serving refreshments made by them!

I need everyone to update their information sheet.  It’s surprising how quickly they get out of date.  Please fill out the attached sheet and email back to me or send in the mail.

I am going to remain positive and encourage students to be positive.

I have also upgraded all my equipment and now have a blue yeti microphone and wifi boosters everywhere.  I know from testing that my setup works well.  I teach now on my mac laptop and I have the new microphone and good speakers.  However, much depends on the device a student is using, and their internet connection. I am fortunate to have fibre optic cable and very fast speeds here as well as up -to-date devices.  I know this is a tremendous burden for families who I am sure have had to buy more phones, ipads, and laptops and spend money on internet connections. I can highly recommend stands for phones and ipads and laptops; propping up phones can lead to interruptions and broken devices.  I will send a separate email with advice about online music lessons’ setup conditions.

August (we are still here ):  There are two more weeks of teaching and a few people owe fees.  I would really appreciate it if I could have all August fees owing in to me before I leave on Saturday 8/22, if possible.  You can pay with Zelle or through the mail or in my letterbox.  I will try to email each person over this week.  I will be on vacation from 8/22 – 9/8.

Fall Schedule:

I really need to try and see where I am with the schedule.  If you are not coming back to online lessons please let me know as soon as possible.  That is the most important piece of information. If you need a different time, that is not quite so critical at this point, but if you are continuing and you want your same time I need to know that asap.  Thanks to the people who have already responded.

Website:  Have done some tweaking  of the website, changing the order of the pages and revising the text.  The schedule is as good as the information I have received so far, and I will continue to update it even while on vacation.  Remember to look at the student performances – I hope to have more up there soon.

Advice about set up at home for online music lessons

I know that some of this will not be possible with financial restraints, however this would be the ideal:

  1. An up-to-date device with a good built in camera.  Phone is OK – ipad if it is up-to-date is probably better, laptop is ideal but not necessary.
  2. A stand to support the device – I need to see the instrument and the student’s hands on it.  For ukulele and guitar, I am going to adjust my devices so i can stand to teach these instruments and I would prefer students to stand too if possible mainly because of posture and because of future performances – much better standing.
  3. Few distractions.  Most students’ home situations are fine and have few distractions but it is hard if there is a lot of noise – we both need  to hear and concentrate for me and for the student to have a good lesson.
  4. Most students have been amazingly well on time.  It is important to be ready when I call (and for me to finish lessons on time ready for a student to call me).
  5. Internet – we are at its mercy!  Even with a great connection there are interruptions and freezes.  The better your wifi connection of course the better the lesson. Some students get upset if the lesson is constantly interrupted.
  6. Please charge your device before the lesson.  I have to remind myself also because I have had the laptop run out of juice and had to switch to phone!

Thanks everyone – I know you all do your best under these trying circumstances