Having taught my instrumental pupils online for two weeks now, here's what I’ve learned. If you’re looking for technical advice, you’re in the wrong place: this is just some reflections on my experiences so far.
Good news! It works!
All my pupils came back for a 2nd lesson and seem to want to continue. I noticed that they had all practised what I’d asked them to (dear reader, can you read between the lines?)
I have found Zoom to be better than Skype. Thanks are due to Mary Price O’Connor who shared this very useful video about how to set it up for music lessons.
Connection and equipment
It may seem obvious, but internet connection makes or breaks a lesson. Living as I do in an old house with thick walls, I understand the challenges of getting Wifi to where it’s needed. However, everyone needs to do what they can! I’ve realised that if one lesson was clear and the next was impossible, there’s not much I can do about it and I should stop beating myself up. The problem is at the other end.
Equipment doesn’t seem to be as important as signal. Whilst I have set myself up with an external microphone and my Bose speakers, not every family will want to do this. Ensuring that the camera lens has been cleaned within living memory might be a start, though (mentioning no names…..) I anticipate that as this mode of communication is here to stay for a while, more households will invest in better equipment. I have just ordered a webcam and hope this will give me more flexibility.
Preparation and organisation is even more important for online lessons. Have everything you might need to hand. Looking for music while they’re playing might be okay if they’re in the same room…… I also sent lists of instructions to parents both for themselves and for their kids, including having music, instrument and pencil ready (I know, I know….)
Always a source of animated debate amongst teachers, I am a believer in clear written instructions for the week. In our new circumstances, the parents of my younger pupils are sitting in on lessons and taking notes. Sometimes I tell them exactly what to write! Some of the 9-11 year olds are taking their own notes, prompted by me. The older ones are writing headings to expand on after the lesson. Personally, I don’t want to have to email after every lesson.
One-to-one lessons can be quite intense under normal circumstances. My experience so far is that online delivery makes them more so. This week my timetable incorporated 15-minute breaks between lessons, to allow for digital faff and to give me the chance to run up and down my stairs twice. (Thanks, Kathryn Kay, for this great idea.) Sitting still never was my forte…..
In the first week I had great difficulty in getting pupils to stop playing once they’d set off. I liked Kathryn Kay‘s suggestion of a stop sign but hadn’t found time to make one by the time week 2 started. In desperation, I reached into one of my Dalcroze bags and pulled out a puppet. Slightly confusingly under these technological circumstances, my first pupil named him Mike. I’m happy to report that Mike the Mute Mouse worked a treat with all ages of pupil, raising a smile every time he appeared. (Wondering whether this idea could have broader applications…..)