I’m never going to stop teaching online.
I know I’m a bit of a Pollyanna and I have a tendency to focus on silver linings. Even before the pandemic, people were occasionally taken aback by my optimism and self-assuredness. I can’t help it!
The topic that I want to discuss this week is online learning. I know so many musicians who are begrudgingly teaching online and they can’t wait until we have in-person lessons again. Not me! There may be a small handful of local students from pre-pandemic that I’ll work with in person, but the bulk of my students are scattered across multiple time zones! I love teaching online—it suits me well.
I taught online before the pandemic a few times with mixed results, but with recent updates in Zoom, I truly believe that online lessons are as effective as in-person lessons for most students.
There is some adapting that we have to do and some technology that’s worth investing in. I’ve found every upgrade to be worth it to improve the efficacy of my teaching.
There are a few reasons why I don’t think that online lessons are going away, and why I think that’s a great thing. I also created a quick guide called “Level Up Your Online Teaching” which outlines my set up and includes helpful tips which you can download here by subscribing to my weekly emails. (I promise I won’t spam you!)
The Pandemic Has Legitimized Online Learning
Millions of students across the planet have now attended school remotely. Even if it was just for the initial shutdown for a few weeks or months, the students who attended school online now understand that learning online is a practical medium to further their education.
They can be in the safe space of their own rooms and work with a teacher who has a plan to help them grow.
Parents know they can save time by not having to travel to a teacher’s place of work, when they can instead help their child connect to Zoom and call it a day. In addition to the hour(-plus) that they’ve gained, they saved money on gas and maybe parking as well. Likewise, for teachers that commute, we save time and money, and are able to book students in closer succession. No more eating dinner in the car!
A New Market Is Open
Now that folks in the 9-5 grind have had a chance to work from home, many will want to continue doing so. In this, they gain several extra hours a day that were previously spent commuting. Many of them are filling their spare time with joyful hobbies including music creation.
Previously it was rare to find adult amateurs taking lessons in their 30s, 40s, and 50s because they were in the height of their careers and busy with their families. Now, many are flocking to music-making as a source of comfort.
Best Teacher-Student Match
Students are no longer limited to teachers that are near them geographically. Instead of going to the best teacher in their town, or the closest teacher down the road, students can elect to study with a teacher that inspires them that they found on Instagram or YouTube.
A student can find a fantastic teacher-student match by recognizing the strengths of a teacher through content they’ve made available online. Releasing video tutorials can draw students to you who can instantly see the value you will bring them in lessons. Creating downloadable PDFs can effectively convey useful information while helping foster the “know, like, and trust” factor which is critical in decision-making.
I know which kind of student I am attracting through my content: students that are keen, hardworking, and passionate. They recognize that there are gaps in their knowledge and they are eager to learn and to fill those gaps.
There’s a lot of wasted time in in-person lessons that I think some of us, myself included, were unaware of.
Students can “arrive” warmed up at the start of lessons. For oboe this is a game changer. Arriving at a lesson and then needing to soak reeds, assemble the instrument, and then warm up eats away at 5-10 minutes of a lesson. It’s fantastic to be able to get to work right away.
Additionally, it’s great to be able to send my students the resources I make, including tutorials. They get much more value out of lessons when they can refer to relevant tutorials on an issue they’re working through. You can take this a step further and create a membership area on your website where students can download resources such as practice logs, diagrams, explanations, and more. Students can feel when their teacher is truly invested in their growth.
As a teacher, I hope you want to be on the frontier of online teaching. I know classical musicians—they are some of the most resilient people I’ve encountered. To make it through music school and the first years of freelancing is incredibly difficult. If you can take an orchestral audition, you can cultivate the skills to become a thriving online teacher. It’s much less work—I would know.
You can begin by making great content to attract students. Build relationships with people online. Learn as much as you can to provide the best resources and experiences for students. Build strong bonds with your students and give them the tools they need to flourish. Those students won’t want to leave you when “things go back to normal.” They will appreciate you and cherish the gift that you’ve given them.
My Top Tips
Be accessible. Offer students the gift of accessibility. Open the doors for them to message you when they have questions. If there are big questions better suited to lesson time, you can let them know! However, the days of the aloof professor who doesn’t reply to a student’s messages are numbered.
Screen share. I’m constantly screen sharing PDFs of the music with my annotations. Both the student and the teacher can annotate in screen share mode. You can ask a question, such as “where is the peak of the phrase?” The student can circle it rather than refer to measure 114, beat 3. This is great for visual learning styles.
Use the whiteboard. The whiteboard function is incredible for explaining concepts in music. I use it to write down what I would normally have written in a student’s notebook. They are now responsible for taking down information.
Take notes using the notes app. I have three windows open while I teach: Zoom, Calendar (for scheduling), and Notes (I also have the music open on my iPad). In the notes app, I’m keeping track of what we worked on, qualitative notes, concepts, and assignments for the next lesson. It’s great to do a quick review of last week at the start of a lesson and check in on how things are going.
Use a document reader or second camera for an alternate angle. I bought my document camera for teaching reed making and reed adjustments, but I am using it all the time. I find it useful to demonstrate a fingering from a similar point of view as the student. It’s also great to help students when their oboe goes out of adjustment.
My Teaching Set Up
Disclosure: I only recommend products I love and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links through which I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Microphone: Avantone CV-28 I was recommended this microphone by the principal oboist of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Claire Brazeau, who often does remote recording sessions. I’ve found it to be a fantastic microphone which picks up my sound extremely authentically. Additionally, I sound like an NPR announcer when I talk.
Audio Interface: Mackie Onyx 1-2 you can definitely get something fancier than this, but it works great for my needs. This is used to connect my microphone to my computer.
Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 35 II I find these comfortable to wear for long periods of time while teaching students back to back. The audio quality is fantastic, and I can plug them into my audio interface.
Document Camera: InSwan INS-1 I originally bought this to help teach reed making and reed adjusting, but I have found it’s also useful for demonstrating fingerings because you can provide a point of view more similar to the student’s own. Additionally it’s a lifesaver while helping students with adjustments.
Ring Light: Neewer 10” Ring Light you can call this a vanity item, but I think it adds professionalism to present yourself in your best light!
iPad Pro I’ve gotten so much use out of my iPad and I absolutely love it. I have all my scores on it, I’ve performed with it many times, and I’ve found my newest use for it while screen sharing with my students. I pull up the music they’re working on and make annotations while they’re playing, when they’re finished with a passage or etude, I can walk them through what went right and draw their attention to any details we need to fix.
Apple Pencil I consider this essential along with the iPad. It’s so easy to write with and make annotations on music. Outside of music, I got quite into colouring and drawing with it.
Computer: iMac 21.5” I’m an Apple fanboy. I find this computer handles my copious video, photo, and audio editing graciously.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you download the PDF I made with tips to ‘level up’ your online teaching by subscribing to my email list. I despise receiving useless emails so I promise I won’t send you anything that I don’t think is valuable information about weathering the next year or two as a classical musician with regards to social media.