Setup for Success with Online Piano Lessons!
Something good always comes out of trials. For many of us, venturing into online music lessons to replace in-person lessons was not only an unexpected road we found ourselves on, but also a pleasant discovery of new musical possibilities! And though recent loosening of social-distancing restrictions in Manitoba have made in-person lessons once again available, many students who have discovered the convenience and efficacy of online piano lessons are opting to continue with them.
If you'd like to give online piano lessons a try, but are overwhelmed at the thought of setup, I have great news: setting up for successful online lessons is relatively simple!
So, let’s cover the basics of setup together!
1) What equipment do I need for online music lessons?
There’s no need to purchase an expensive webcam, microphone, or special software! If you have:
a tablet or laptop
& a strong Internet connection
you are well on your way to setting yourself up for great online lessons! Even a smartphone will do, though the larger screens of a tablet or laptop make for a more visibly accessible, stimulating and enjoyable lesson.
To make your device setup more stable, secure and versatile, and to enhance your audio/video experience, I would also recommend:
a rotational mounting bracket (if using tablet or smartphone)
a pair of headphones
The mounting bracket will keep your device securely in place and allow you to change camera angles easily during the lesson, and the headphones will reduce interference with your device’s microphone, reduce distractions from background noise, and enable you to hear the lesson instruction more clearly.
I recommend the iKlip 3 for tablets:
Adjusts to fit most tablets ( 7 to 12.9 inches)
360 degrees rotational
Secure & reasonably priced
Adjustable clamp accommodates diameter of up to 1.2 inches
Similar iKlip available for smartphones
As for headphones, if you have a digital piano at home and headphones for it, those should suffice. If not, then an inexpensive pair of wired headphones will help you hone in on your lessons. But this is really optional. Most of my students don’t use them, but when both teacher and student do, there is a noticeable difference in audio quality on both ends. And I have found that I can interject short comments while the student is playing with little to no disruption of the audio transmission when we both use headphones.
I use the AKG K52. These run about $60, but there are other good brands too. No need to spend hundreds of dollars! However, ear buds (earphones) are not suitable as most do not sufficiently reduce background noise.
2) Where should I position my device?
Your device can be placed either:
Directly off to one side of your piano (I have mounted the iKlip 3 to a music stand, but you can use a floor lamp or other suitable pole that fits within the clamp.)
your device can be placed:
Off to one side AND in front
of your piano
BUT it should NOT be placed ON the piano like this!
Propping your tablet or smartphone against the keyboard frame like this will subject your device to vibrations when you play and disturb audio/video transmission!
Plus you will be craning your neck to see the screen and straining to hear!
3) How High Should I place my device?
Your device screen should be about eye level when you’re sitting at the piano. This enables you to easily and comfortably see the screen and anything screen-shared such as a music score. This is where a mounting bracket comes in handy!
In the absence of a mounting bracket, you can elevate your device by piling books on top of an end table etc. One client of mine taped her cellphone to the back of a chair! But again, a mounting bracket is more secure, particularly for a tablet or cellphone. A laptop on a flat, elevated surface is more stable. Adjusting for Face to Face Communication
Proper height facilitates eye contact! Having eye contact at times during the lesson enhances enjoyment of the lesson and helps the student feel more connected.
A laptop screen can be easily angled up to one's face or down to the keys, or depending on your setup, may be able to capture both at once. With a tablet or smartphone, a mounting bracket will provide even more flexibility.
As a teacher, I sign in on two devices simultaneously so that my students can always see both my face and piano at all times and not feel they are speaking to a wall!
4) What is the best Camera Angle?
It’s important for your teacher to be able to clearly see both your hand posture and your keyboard.
These excellent views resemble the view I would have of the student’s hands if I were sitting beside them in an in-person lesson.
To achieve this type of view, place device off to one side AND in front of piano, with screen angled diagonally & fairly close to keys as shown below:
Note the keyboard angle that appears on-screen when this view is achieved.
(Here, device camera is on the left side; you may need to angle your device differently if camera is located elsewhere.)
5) What about Lighting?
Your own natural lighting is fine in most cases, but the light should be situated behind your device camera, not in front. If sunlight is pouring into the room and causing a distracting or blinding onscreen glow, it may be necessary to draw the window coverings and turn on a room light.
Other online setup tips:
Use your newest devices – the newer the device, the faster the Internet speed. Older devices may not keep up with the latest Internet speeds
For best results, limit/close other Internet use in your household during the lesson
If feasible, hard-wire your device to the Internet via Ethernet cable rather than connecting with wifi as this will give you a stronger, more stable connection
Test the Internet speed of your device when it is near your piano to ensure you have adequate Internet speed at that spot in your home. While a download speed of over 90 mbps would be great, I have found 35 - 50 works well. When speeds hover around the 10 or 20 mbps, connectivity issues may make the lesson unfeasible. https://www.speedtest.net
Eliminate background noise (TV etc.) as this will compete with your device microphone
Ensure your device is fully charged or plugged into a power source during the lesson
So now you're all set for success! And whether in-person or online, I look forward to "connecting" with you at the piano!