So, you've been in lockdown for what feels like forever. You're either teaching online already and looking to strengthen your set-up, or are looking to get started. We've got a few recommendations for making the transition not only easy, but successful. Many of these can also work well for the student set-up at home.
Why teach online? First and foremost - the human connection and sense of normalcy it gives us and our families. School is cancelled but piano doesn't have to be! Online classes are great options to continue our learning, and we're seeing students flourishing.
- tablet, desktop, laptop, phone with a built-in camera
- most of us will think the computer is the best device to use. However, if you're on an older model, use the device with the best camera/mic. My personal preference is my iPad if you don't have multi-cams set-up with one over your keyboard. The screen is big enough to view the student and I can easily turn the camera around to view my hands on the keyboard or theory/worksheets.
- table/stool - something to set up your device on
- copy of your student's music
Headphones - to hear your students more clearly without any feedback
White board- to explain more from the lesson (some platforms have these built in)
External Mic - Better audio quality so your student hears your music and voice clearly
Keep it simple. Don't go out and buy expensive equipment that is not needed. You can always upgrade as things progress and you discover what works and what doesn't.
There are a number of platforms that you can use for online classes. Here are the most common:
Other platforms are available like Facebook Messenger & Google Duo, but often involve providing your personal accounts if you don't have a business account set up. Lots of factors play into your connection, so consider testing them out and see what works for you. A lot of our teachers have found the most success with FaceTime because of the connection. But because not everyone owns an apple device, Skype is our go-to. It's simple to use, and I don't have to worry about going over the time limit. For the most part, calls have been stable. The chat feature is also great if you're facing connection issues or the student isn't answering the call. If you have many students, or multiple teachers - stick to one platform. This will keep you and your teachers organized and on time.
Tip: Ask a parent to be present for the first online class so you can help work the device and see where it should be propped up against. You'll want to make sure that the student's face and hands are visible against their piano. After the initial set-up, each class tends to run seamlessly. If you run into connection trouble:
reset your modem or recommend they do the same
ask other family members to avoid heavy streaming during the lesson, and make sure you and the student are close by your router/modem. Plug directly into it if possible.
3. SET UP
Set your device on a table or desk next to the piano. A music stand flipped around is also great for being able to adjust the angle easily. The screen should show yourself and the piano so your students are able to see everything - especially when showing examples on the piano.
Be organized and prepared. We use My Music Staff to keep schedules clear and easy to read. This way teachers can prepare their resources for the day by getting advanced notice of which students are scheduled. Have all supplies ready: music, pencil, headphones/mic, glass of water.
4. SCHEDULING & ASSIGNMENTS
My Music Staff takes care of a lot of this. Student & Parent's contact info, instrument, level, repertoire & schedule are all included. There are notes sections to communicate with the student, the parent, or privately/for yourself. You can email the notes directly to the family, and they also remain in the student portal for them to access. It integrates perfectly with Skype, FaceTime and Zoom. Having multiple teachers online with many students, this has been a crucial feature. Once their login details are saved and you've scheduled a 'Skype lesson', you're done! When it is time for the class, the teacher just clicks on the link and voila - lesson begins.
If you aren't using a studio management software, another way to organize is with spreadsheets or apps.
List all students with their grade level and the pages they are currently on. Jot down any notes to remind yourself what you did in class and to see how much they have improved in the next few classes.
My go-to is GoodNotes, but Notability & OneNote work just as well. I'm almost completely paperless between my iPad and my computer. I have a notebook with all student levels, exam info, pieces & notes included. I also love using this with my theory lessons. I import their worksheets and mark/offer feedback. You can also do this using the mark-up feature in photos, but it isn't always reliable. Email the file back to the student or screen share to go through together. I use ForScore for my more advanced students. Their music is placed in 'Setlists' by student, and I can mark the score up in the app. A similar free version is PiaScore.
Having the music in front of you is so important to the success of your lessons. If you can get your hands on the books, I highly recommend it. However, if you don't have a copy, you can ask the parent to take a picture of it and send it over. You can also screenshot it by having the student hold it up to their camera. Use the measure numbers indicated on their repertoire, or have them write them in so you both can follow along and work on individual sections together.
5. RUN A SUCCESSFUL LESSON
Adjusting from in-class to online will take some getting used to without a doubt. I challenge you to approach it with excitement rather than fear. Once you have adjusted, it can be just like any other class. Teaching online isn't difficult at all! With a good connection and the right resources, the main thing you won't be able to do is play duets together! With the right camera view, technique can be adjusted and directed, games incorporated and skills learned! Keep it fun! Attitude is everything, so our students will pick up on our excitement.
Lately, I've had lots of requests from parents asking me to play the piece and record it. This is a great aid for the student to have when they are practicing throughout the week. You can also send little snippets of sections they are having trouble with in order to demonstrate and explain what or how it can be done. Sending these videos can be done through: Dropbox, Google Drive, SMS, iMessage, and WhatsApp. If your a MMS user, take advantage of the Online Resources. Create folders and import for the student to have easy access without needing another app, or losing it in email.
We hope everyone is doing well in these unprecedented times, and wish you all the best in your online teaching. Most importantly, keep safe and take care of yourselves! We will come out stronger together.