Online music lessons are a great way to teach and collaborate across time zones and geographical areas. Moreover, using the correct equipment and video conferencing software allows for teachers to continue meaningful instruction during situations like a global pandemic or a student moving a long distance. But, what is the best setup for online music lessons? Creating an excellent virtual space consists of investing in some audio and visual hardware, checking for good lighting, and choosing the best video conferencing software. With these tips, virtual lessons will be music to your ears!
Tone, tuning, dynamics, and articulation are essential components for instructors to observe during an online music lesson, and obtaining the right audio gear can make all the difference. While most instructors don’t require an overly complex setup to be successful, investing in a quality microphone or pair of headphones helps the lesson run smoothly and allows for teachers to notice smaller details.
The best type of microphone differs for every device, but for laptops and desktops, a USB mic is usually an easy, reliable, and relatively cheap option. USB microphones plug directly into the computer, so setup is a breeze and the equipment itself doesn’t take up too much space. If placing the mic is a challenge, consider obtaining a mic stand that allows for the mic to be swiveled and placed optimally. A quality USB mic might only cost around $60, making USB mics sound investments for their value. Built-in mics for desktops and laptops might be sufficient for casual video chats, but a USB mic will help with controlling volume throughout lessons and improving sound quality overall.
Headphone sets eliminate background noise and ensure the sound quality of an external microphone isn’t wasted on built-in computer speakers. Ideally, both teacher and student should use headphones so both parties avoid extra noise and feedback. Complex headphone sets are not required–something as simple as Apple earbuds can improve the sound quality of a lesson–but investing in the best headset for online teaching can provide comfort and ease during instruction. When purchasing headphones, consider the size of the instrument and the distance away from the video conferencing device to make sure the cord has enough distance. Otherwise, consider Bluetooth headphones.
While music lessons primarily rely on audio, instructors and students must be able to demonstrate factors like posture, correct hand placement, and overall physical technique. Quality visual hardware allows music teachers to better identify and correct their students’ tendencies and provides clarity in a virtual setting.
For most small instruments, the webcam built into the desktop or laptop is sufficient for demonstrating an instrument throughout a lesson. For larger instruments, or for instructors who want to include detailed shots of their hands (like during piano or guitar lessons), adding an extra webcam or video streaming device at a different angle can allow for increased clarity during a lesson. Most instructors will probably need to invest in a clamped cell phone holder or a webcam stand/tripod to place a phone or webcam at a different angle.
Proper lighting minimizes miscommunication during online music lessons by illuminating the facial expressions of both the student and the instructor. Sufficient lighting can change the whole tone of a lesson by promoting professionalism, focus, and understanding. To achieve good lighting, make sure neither the student nor the teacher is harshly backlit–this will cause shadowing over the face and body. Instead, the light source should appear from behind the primary camera or webcam; for example, this is easily achieved by facing a window with natural light or placing a lamp next to your video conferencing device.
Video Conferencing Software
Choosing the best video conferencing software is essential to a successful online music lesson–the software creates the virtual classroom, and without it, instruction couldn’t happen at all. The most popular options are Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime, and each has its pros and cons.
Zoom is one of the most preferred software for music lessons because of its ease of use, customization, and versatility. The program is free to download and quick to install, and it allows instructors to schedule recurring meetings with students so everyone stays on track. It also gives users the opportunity to select different audio and video sources and provides more detailed audio options, which streamlines setup and configuration for any additional mics or cameras. Finally, the ability to record lessons to upload later with Zoom’s meeting recording feature diminishes the need for extra screen-recording software. Unfortunately, Zoom restricts meeting times to 40 minutes for those using the free version, which places a limit on teaching time or interrupts the flow of a session.
Because of its global notability and lifespan, Skype has the advantage of possibly being more familiar to both students and instructors. Like Zoom, Skype is free to use and relatively easy to install, but it cannot record meetings without outside software. Skype has fewer options for audio configuration, but it also has more lenient limits on virtual meeting times than Zoom.
For Apple devices, FaceTime is the built-in video conferencing software. If students and instructors both use Apple devices FaceTime can be a great tool, but it’s not available on other devices, limiting its availability. Like Skype, FaceTime also requires additional software to record lessons.
What is the Best Setup For Online Music Lessons?
Purchasing equipment doesn’t have to break the bank, and each small investment goes towards improving the online music lesson experience for everyone involved. Setting up technology for a successful music lesson will differ from teacher to teacher, so the most important intention to keep in mind is how to best meet the needs of each student.
Written by Sarah Foster