During this Coronavirus pandemic, many piano teachers are being forced to move their piano lessons online.
Online piano teaching doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. However, it can feel really intimidating if you have never taught this way before.
Fortunately, online piano lessons are not new and most people already have everything they need to get started.
As the teacher, remember that the main thing that your students need from you is your eyes, your ears and your support. You don’t have to have super high-tech equipment, a perfect set-up or special gear.
As you’re getting started, accept that there will be glitches and technological bumps in the road. This is normal and expected. If you handle them lightly and learn to move on quickly, they will be no big deal.
Here’s everything you need to know to get started with online piano lessons.
What You Need
- Any device with a built-in camera such as smartphone, a tablet or a laptop.
- Your own copy of your student’s music.
- A place to set or prop up your device such as a music stand, small table or chair.
These are really the only necessary things you need, but of course, there are other items that you might find helpful.
- Headphones (Sometimes you can hear your student more clearly or avoid feedback by using headphones.)
- A tripod – you can find all kinds of tripod attachments to hold phones, iPads or other devices. This will help you find different angles so to help you demonstrate things on the piano keys.
- An external microphone might make your voice a little more clear to your students.
- Most teaching aids that you use in an in-person lesson will work via video – flashcards, dry erase board, game pieces, etc.
Platforms To Use
There are a number of different video platforms that you could use for online lessons. Try out a few different options so that you can switch between platforms if needed. Some students may not be able to access the same platform you are on for a variety of reasons.
Here are the most common video chat platforms:
There are pros and cons to each of these options. They can all have a super clear connection with clean video and audio, or they can all also have a lot of glitches, dropped calls and bad connections. There are a lot of factors that play into the quality of your connection, so it’s best to be familiar with a few different options in case one isn’t working well for you or your student.
How To Teach
When it comes to the actual teaching, there are a few adaptions that teachers will have to make.
First, take the time at the beginning of your student’s first online lesson to help them find a good set-up so that you can help them the most effectively. Give them instructions on where it would be helpful to for them to place their device. Ask them to move it or make changes until you can see everything that you need to see.
Second, you can’t point to your student’s music or to their piano, so you’ll have to replace your normal gestures with words. Teach your students to navigate their music via measure numbers and lines so that you can quickly help them find specific places in their music. You will quickly learn how to rephrase instructions so that students can find where to go on the page or on the piano easily.
Next, you have to listen very carefully. You may or may not have a good view of each hand and all of the keys. You’ll quickly be able to tell if your student is playing incorrect notes, but without seeing everything, you will have to rely on your ear so that you can help them make corrections.
When you are teaching online, don’t hesitate to demonstrate your student’s music and show them as much as you can from your own piano. However, you will find it more difficult to play along or to demonstrate very specific concepts. Be creative with how you communicate.
Online piano lessons can definitely still work with younger piano students, but they may look a little different than in-person lessons.
Even if your youngest students normally attend piano lessons independently, you may want to ask a parent or older sibling to be nearby so that they can help the child stay oriented and focused.
Help your younger students find excuses to leave the bench occasionally. It can be difficult for young students to stay in the same place for 30 minutes. Find games, activities or skills they can do off the bench. Ask them to go get their favorite toy to be the “audience” for their new song. Even just letting them take a quick break to stand up part way through the lesson would be helpful.
Some Surprising Things About Online Lessons
Some students are more focused. Surprisingly, students that are normally easily distracted sometimes do better in an online lesson. With just the screen and their music to focus on, they can be more productive.
Online teaching is more tiring. You’ll find that you have to speak up more and stay more focused yourself, so online lessons can be a bit more draining than regular piano lessons. You might be used to getting up and about and moving around during a lesson, but when you are teaching online, you are more confined to the same place. It can be exhausting to sit in the same place at a device for long stretches of time.
Time passes differently in online piano lessons. It’s not necessarily that online lessons move faster or slower, the timing is just different than in-person teaching. Some things might take more time than you expect, while other aspects of the lesson happen more quickly.
Certain habits that your students have will start to make sense. One of the advantages to online piano lessons is that we get to take a peek into our student’s practice environment. You will get to see exactly where and how your students are practicing. You might see benches at incorrect heights (or no bench at all!). You’ll hear pianos that are completely out of tune or that have broken keys. You might observe that your student has a lot of distractions where they practice. Sometimes a student’s poor technique or messy playing isn’t their own fault, it is because of the piano they are practicing on. This is all really helpful information for you to know and it will equip you to set your student up for success.
Teaching online piano lessons can be a hard adjustment. As teachers, we thrive on the relationship we have with our students and seeing them in-person is energizing and important to us.
For now, online lessons are a temporary solution and it is at least encouraging to still have weekly interaction with our students. Plus, we all now have the added benefit of knowing how to teach online piano lessons if we ever need to again in the future on a snow day or in another situation where a student may not be able to travel for a piano lesson.