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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Sipher

Can Virtual Piano Lessons Be Effective?

When I started my virtual piano studio in April of 2020, I wasn’t sure if it would work. My life circumstances had drastically changed and I needed to quickly begin to provide an income for my family.

So, I turned back to my first love, extensive training, and first career, piano teaching. The only problem? The world was on lockdown with a global pandemic.

"No problem," I thought. "I know how to teach piano. I’ll just transfer all my skills to the virtual platform and make this work."

As confident as I was, I still had a few doubts it could work.

Almost two years later, I can confidently say, YES, virtual piano lessons can be effective for both the teacher and the student. I am excited to share the tools and tips I utilize for teaching piano on the online platform. Perhaps this will ease your concerns if you are considering either receiving or teaching virtual piano lessons.

The Online Platform

I teach on Zoom's video conferencing platform. Zoom provides me with the opportunity to establish recurring meetings, control audio quality, and utilize the chat feature. I chose to give each of my piano students an individualized meeting link to prevent students from overlapping each other in my personal meeting room.

Pro Tip: After setting up recurring meetings, populate them into your virtual calendar. In the case of holiday breaks, the software allows you to delete specific meeting/lesson dates. Once the meetings have been added or deleted, send a meeting invitation to your students. My students and I appreciate having all lesson dates, times, and zoom links available at the click of a button in our online calendars.

The Set-Up

To help connect personally with each student while viewing their hands at the piano, I ask that my students use two separate devices during their virtual piano lessons. One device allows me to connect “face-to-face” with each student. The second device provides me with a view of the students' hands at the piano. Utilizing two camera angles prevents me from teaching to faceless bellies and hands!

Pro Tip: To avoid the feedback loop present when using two devices, log into one of the devices without connecting to the audio! Problem solved!

The Materials

In traditional lessons, students arrive at piano lessons with their lesson books. For virtual lessons, we both bring our copies! I have also found a phone stand and ring light to be helpful tools to enhance the video quality.

Pro Tip: Coordinate lesson book materials before the first lesson or when transitioning books ensuring everyone is on the same page (literally and figuratively) during those first lessons. Also, check those editions! (They often have different page numbers and repertoire selections.)

The Method

I teach the same way I teach in-person lessons. I bring my passion, joy, personal connection, emphasis on proper technique, and gesticulation. (I have been known for talking with my hands since I was a toddler!) I still use flashcards, rhythmic games, ear training practice, theory worksheets, and technical drills.

With Zoom's screen sharing abilities, we can even point to specific measures in question. Not being in a shared physical space, causes my students and I to speak more accurately and clearly about the music we are discussing. This specificity in language has been very beneficial for my piano students' understanding of basic music theory.

Pro Tip: Ask each student to keep a pencil handy in order to add markings or corrections to their music.

The Tools

The final major adjustment I have made to teaching on the virtual platform is the use of the Practice Space App. Inside this app I can share lesson notes, pdfs, videos, audio content, and so much more. Students can track their practice record and compete against their cohorts to be on the leaderboard while also earning in-app rewards. Students can make notes about their practice sessions and even upload documents and videos to the app to share with me! Prior to using Practice Space, I used Google Documents to record each student’s lesson notes. To keep the hundreds of lesson notes organized, I maintained a file folder for each student. While teaching, I typed their lesson notes into a new dated document for each lesson. At the end of the lesson, I immediately shared with the student and/or parent.

Both of these methods enables us to both have a record of the assignments for the week so we can easily follow up during the following lesson.

Pro Tip: Use these lesson sheets to communicate future lesson dates, tuition reminders, and general bits of encouragement in these documents. Keep each student’s zoom link at the top of their lesson notes, so they can easily access the link each week. Finally, take advantage of the opportunity to share youtube links of current repertoire, composer playlists, and other inspirational tidbits.

The Creative Solutions

Due to video and audio lag, student/teacher duets can not be played. I believe students gain many skills when performing duets, so I was determined to find an alternative. To that end, I initially created a series Youtube playlists containing the teacher duets for the method books I typically use. Now I upload teacher duets and even additional teaching videos directly into the student's lesson notes through the Practice Space App. Once my students perfect a piece in their lesson books, they can “perform” the duet “with me” by playing along with my recordings. These are solid alternatives that still allow the student to practice playing duets.

Pro Tip: Have your more advanced students video record their repertoire and upload the recording to a private Youtube channel, thus providing the teacher and student the opportunity to evaluate the performance and take notes outside of lesson time, providing ample time to discuss the performance during the lessons and make adjustments. By recording themselves, the students receive practice “performing” through any nerves that appear as they record. The recording also allows students the opportunity to watch themselves perform to evaluate their performance.

Yes, Virtual Piano Lessons Can Be Effective!

What a wild but wonderful time we live in! Access to technology keeps us connected, learning, and growing against all odds. Though I'm based in Massachusetts, most of my students, ranging from age 6 to adult, live both out-of-state and out of driving distance of my home studio. Beginner student to advanced student, each is learning and growing as a musician through virtual piano lessons.

Together, my students and I have found these slight adjustments, tools, and creative solutions to be effective in bringing the joy of music into hearts and homes.

If you are interested in trying virtual piano lessons, please schedule a discovery call to see if I can help you reach your musical goals.

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