Easy Ways to Switch to Temporary Online Lessons – COVID 19 Help
Lots of piano teachers are talking about how to do online piano lessons, so I’ll link to some of them below. But this article is especially for teachers who have little experience teaching online piano lessons, don’t think they have the technology, or just don’t know where to start.
Because surprisingly, it’s very easy to teach piano remotely on a temporary basis! It doesn’t even take an internet connection! And if you do happen to have an internet connection, it doesn’t take any fancy equipment or be tech savvy to do it.
In this article, I’ll show you how the easiest ways to teach with OR without an internet connection.
There are two parts to this article and one is going to work better for you than the other. But I would encourage you to read both sections as there are some surprising things you can learn about your teaching and your students in both contexts.
Phone Lessons – A non-techy way to teach remotely
For years before online piano lessons were a thing, I gave “phone” lessons to students who couldn’t make it to their lesson for a variety of reasons. The only thing that was required was a telephone.
That’s right. A telephone. Set up for this is easy, but you do have to adapt to some things. However, I can promise you that if you adapt well, you’ll be a far better teacher because of it! Here’s how to teach with just a telephone:
Student equipment needed:
- A phone that has the ability to do “speaker phone.” This can be a landline or a cell phone.
1. Direct the student to place the phone next to the piano on the right side (the bass will come through better than treble, so placing it on the right side of the piano is best. In addition, placing it on the piano rack will cause vibration, so using a different surface than the piano.)
2. Ask the student to put the phone on speaker phone.
Teacher equipment needed:
- A phone
Any phone will work, but if you happen to have a cell phone that allows you to have headphones, this will be handy because it’s useful to have your hands free to play something for the student or juggle things while you are listening.
- Duplicates of the students’ books or pieces
Please note that it is illegal to photocopy copyrighted material. But many teachers have duplicates of students books in their own library, so you need to pull these out or order some online so you can see what the student is playing as they play. In addition, this is where studio licensed music from ComposeCreate comes in handy! You can easily see what the student is playing by pulling up the PDF on your computer or making a print for yourself since you are licensed to print the music for yourself and as many students as you directly teach.
How to teach a phone lesson:
The way that you teach with a phone is much different than in person. But you’ll find yourself a much better teacher after you’ve done this for a few weeks because of these changes you’ll have to make. Here’s what you need to know about the challenges of teaching on the phone and how to adapt:
- Because you cannot see them, you will not be able to easily tell if the student is paying attention.
To adapt: You will need turn your directives into questions to keep them engaged. Instead of saying, “Here in m. 3, there is an F# and you are playing an F,” you’ll have to say, “Look at m.3. What is the first note? [Wait for the right answer.] Do you think that note is natural or sharp? [Wait.] Okay, I was hearing an F natural. Could you play m. 3 again with an F#?” You will be absolutely amazed at what you learn about your students when you are required to ask them these questions. When I started doing this, I was flabbergasted that many of my students didn’t realize that there are measure numbers at the beginning of each staff system! I learned how many of my students didn’t know their notes as well as I thought they did.This is why you will become a better teacher with this method…it requires you to ask the questions that you should be asking as a teacher. It’s just too easy to get in the habit of telling the student what to do, a one-directional style of teaching, rather than asking questions and really understanding what they are thinking.
- The sound on a telephone is not the greatest. You will not be able to hear dynamics very well and the sound might be distorted in some cases.
To adapt: Have some ibuprofen ready! And don’t be too picky about dynamics. It actually might be very helpful in your teaching to have this disadvantage because you can explain to the student that “On a telephone, I can’t hear differences in volume very well. So you are going to have to exaggerate your dynamics! Try it again but make your softs the softest you’ve ever played in your life and your fortes the loudest you’ve played. Let’s see if we can beat the odds of me not hearing dynamics on the phone!”
- You will not be able to see the student and the student cannot see you, so technique and other things may be difficult to teach.
To adapt: Try to capitalize on what technique you have already taught them. Ask them questions or give them directives that involve language and techniques with which they are familiar like, “Can you try that low do again with a lion paw?” Then, to see if they are really doing it, ask them to show you a contrast, “Now try it again like you are a tiny mouse with a mouse paw.” See if you hear any difference. Ask them if they hear any difference.
- You will not be able to see the students fingers, so scales can be a challenge.
To adapt: If the student is just doing single hand scales slowly, then having them say their finger numbers that they are using out loud as they play will help you know if their fingering is correct.
If they are playing 2 handed scales, then there are just a few things you can ask them that will give you a clue if they are using the correct fingering but won’t tell you for sure. “What finger did your RH end on? What finger did your LH end on?” You’ll get even more creative about the questions you use the more you do this.
- Phone lessons can only be used on a short term basis.
Unlike online video lessons (discussed below), phone lessons are not a long term solution. Specifically this is because you just can’t see the student and the telephone is not the best sound quality and so technique can become difficult to teach. But phone lessons will be just fine for several weeks or even several months of lessons when dealing with a national crisis.
Remember that teaching this way will take some adjustment, but you’ll find that you are a much better teacher as a result! Realizing how much you do or don’t ask questions and how much you lecture (I’ve never seen a lesson in which I though the teacher talked too little!) instead of asking the student to talk about the concept, will become aha moments in which you can make some amazing improvements in your teaching. These changes can pay high dividends in terms of engaging students.
Facetime or Skype Lessons – Keep it simple
The next step up from phone lessons is basic Facetime or Skype lessons. You can do all kinds of fancy things and use all kinds of fancy equipment for Facetime and Skype lessons, but when it comes right down to it, you don’t need much and you certainly don’t have to be tech-savvy.
Here’s a quick tutorial on what you need and how to do it:
Student equipment needed:
- A device that can do Facetime or Skype next to their piano.
This can be a smartphone, an ipad, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer if it’s close to the piano. You’ll want to spend some time at the first lesson making sure that their device is situated so that you can see both the student’s face and their hands. It’s not absolutely necessary to see both at the same time, but it would be useful for obvious reasons.
Tip: Ask that a parent be present with the child for the first part of the first lesson as you’ll need someone that can move the device around. Parents are great about finding a shorter or taller table or something in the room that can help move it up or down at your directions.
Teacher equipment needed:
- A device that can do Facetime or Skype next to your piano.
You’ll want to situate your phone, ipad or laptop in a way where the student can see your face (most important) and your hands. The student really needs to see your face to be engaged with you. It will help hold their attention more than if they just see your hands and only hear your voice.
- Duplicates of the students’ books or pieces
Please note that it is illegal to photocopy copyrighted material. But many teachers have duplicates of students books in their own library, so you need to pull these out or order some online so you know what the student is playing.
In addition, this is where studio licensed music from ComposeCreate comes in handy! You can easily see what the student is playing by pulling up the PDF on your computer or making a print for yourself since you are licensed to print the music for yourself and as many students as you directly teach.
- You’ll also need to communicate parents about what you are using (Skype or Facetime). Before the lesson, you’ll need to find out what number or username you need to call them at their lesson time.
Tip: If you have never used Skype or Facetime before, or are nervous about it, ask one of your loviest piano families if you can call them earlier during the day to “test” things. You’ll feel much more confident about all of your lessons after you have the experience at least one time.
How to teach a Facetime or Skype piano lesson:
Now, once you have this situated (and don’t feel badly about taking a good deal of time on the first lesson to establish the right position of the device), you can proceed with your lesson as normal.
Where to sit: You’ll want to be sitting on your piano bench (to demonstrate things) OR be sitting at a desk close to your piano so you can hop over to the piano to demonstrate if needed. Remember to have your device situated in a place where students can see your face most of the time!
Have all the students’ books on your desk so you can quickly open to their pieces. They’ll have to tell you what is written in their assignment journal in the first lesson or for the first lesson, you can have parents send you a picture of the assignment sheet if there’s time.
Giving assignments: While teaching, and so that you can keep a record of what you are telling them, you’ll write down their assignments in your own teaching journal or in an email so that you can send it to them later. Then you’ll be able to easily pull this up the next week and know exactly what you assigned them. Ask a parent to print out the email so that the student can see what was assigned OR allow the student time to actually write down in their own journal what to do. This is actually a better way to do this as some kids remember far more because they have written it down!
While teaching, keep these things in mind:
- Sound is always somewhat distorted with internet connections, so don’t judge your student too harshly for dynamics. Instead, use it as an opportunity to exaggerate dynamics like we talked about for a phone lesson. [Remember, reading the section about how to give a phone lesson will give you really helpful insights in just becoming a better teacher!]
- Sound is slightly delayed over the internet.
Because of this, playing duets or doing rhythm drills at exactly the same time may be tough. Playing a backing track for your student and asking them to play with or clap with it will not usually work very well. You can always try it, but if it doesn’t work, just skip duet playing for a while.
If you are using Rhythm Menagerie, your students should have already purchased r (Menagerie tracks and Rhythm Cup Explorations cannot be shared with students). If they haven’t done so, now is the perfect time and the perfect reason to do it. This will help them play the tracks while they are clapping so that you can see if they are really clapping accurately since the tracks and their clapping will be coming from the same source.
- You can see your students technique, but be careful about giving too much attention to it.
Remember that the sound is distorted on an internet connection, so be careful about giving corrective technique instructions unless you are sure that you are seeing improper technique.
- It’s harder to pay attention if someone is not physically in the room (especially for kids).
So, remember to ask lots of questions instead of telling them what to do! I gave this example in the phone lesson section, but here it is again. Instead of saying, “Here in m. 3, there is an F# and you are playing an F,” you’ll have to say, “Look at m.3. What is the first note? [Wait for the right answer.] Do you think that note is natural or sharp? [Wait.] Okay, I was hearing an F natural. Could you play m. 3 again with an F#?”
- Remember that you can still play games!
See some ideas about “long-distance games” here.
Of course, this article cannot touch on all the nuances of teaching remotely, but this should give you a good start. What you’ll find is that the way you do it will be different than the way I do it or Sally does it or Sam does it. You’ll need to adapt to your own teaching style and especially to your students’ needs. But the only way you can do this is to just get started. Teach a week of piano lesson remotely and you’ll know way more about what you need for the next week!
Please share how you are doing remote lessons with me and other teachers in the comments below. Your ideas will help hundreds of other teachers who are doing this in the wake of the COVID 19 outbreak.
I hope you stay healthy and stay safe!
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