As the country shuts down in the face of the coronavirus crisis, and more and more musician friends are turning to online teaching to earn a living after facing of months of cancelled gigs, I’ve been getting A LOT of messages asking how to do it!
I’m sharing this with you because I believe if we all look out for each other in these unusual times, we can all get through it. A really easy way you can say ‘Thanks’ for this information is to like and subscribe to my socials Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. A little mention never goes amiss!
First of all though, I hope you’ll permit me a moment to talk about my experience working in this field.
My online background
I’ve been teaching melodeon (diatonic button accordion) since 2009 and started online lessons in 2013. Since then my online presence has grown to become a successful, global brand.
Online Melodeon Courses
I worked with an online learning expert for 2 years to create ‘Pick Up & Play with Mel Biggs: Let’s Get Started!’ – my online course for absolute beginners.
Mel Biggs Music on YouTube
Over many years, I’ve built up an extensive knowledge of how to avoid the pitfalls, and deliver valuable online experiences to my students.
The bit you’re all here for…
Online teaching platforms
Predominantly I teach online via Skype. I also use Facebook video messenger and Zoom as back-ups. I will keep the focus to Skype, as I am still finding my feet with Zoom, but most of this advice is applicable to any video conferencing platform.
Setting up Skype lessons
All you need is a stable internet connection and a device with a webcam and built in microphone.
- Both you and your student will need a Skype account and be added as contacts in order to connect.
- iPads or similar are ideal to use. I wouldn’t recommend using mobile phones as the screen is too small.
- If you use a laptop or PC I recommend using a separate webcam to the one that’s built in to the screen. This is so you can move it into different positions to highlight what you’re demonstrating.
I recommend either of these HD webcams:
Top Pick: Logitech C920 HD Pro USB 1080p Webcam – uses built in stereo mic.
I start my lessons with camera on top of the monitor so my face is in the frame to do the welcome. When we get into the lesson, I want my hands and the instrument to fill the frame so I balance the camera on top of an old toilet roll – a classy touch. It’ll not be long before it gets roped into it’s intended role…!
Getting a good connection
A clear and incident free Skype call relies on setting up and checking a few things before we connect a call:
- Skype relies on a fast and stable internet connection. Make sure your connection speed isn’t being hindered by uploads/downloads/streaming TV whilst the lesson is in progress.
- Make sure you set up the camera angle so that your whole instrument including left and right hands can be seen on screen. Ideally your face too – but not to worry if you can’t get everything in!
- Find a light, comfortable place in your home where you can sit or stand for Skype lessons.
- Devices such as notebooks and tablets allow you to be flexible about where you are in your home and many have built in webcams and microphones. But be aware about the changes in the strength of your wireless signal as you move around the house.
- Being wired into your router via an ethernet cable will be quicker and more stable than wireless.
Dealing with delays
Yes, it’s obviously not ideal to have a delay and it poses a significant obstacle to playing together – you just can’t. But I’ve found a solution to it.
There is a delay in the connection, no more than half a second or so even to Australia, New Zealand and US West Coast. I get round this by counting or playing an introduction. That way the student plays along in time to what they hear at their end, and I deal with the delay at my end.
It’s a different kind of experience as the tutor but I adapted easily and have never found it to be a hindrance. As long as the delay stays constant throughout the playback, you know they’re in time with you.
Another way around is to play call & response games – i.e. you play a bit and then get them to play it back to you. That way, you don’t have to actually try to play along together. It will challenge you to come up with new ways to teach!
Wanna see how I roll?
If you want to see me in my ‘melement’, join tonight’s trial Melinar on Zoom (free to sign up)
Hopefully that’s enough to get you started! Good luck and let me know how you get on
[:]||| Mel |||[:]