With the arrival of Covid-19 this year, many things have changed in our world, from social-distancing to wearing masks and working from home. My heart goes out to those who have suffered with this illness and their families as well as those on the front-line in hospitals, grocery stores, etc.
One thing that changed for me in a pretty big way was teaching my piano students remotely through either the Zoom, Skype or FaceTime platforms. At first, I was nervous that I wasn’t tech-savvy enough to tackle lessons this way. I was not super familiar with most of these options, or how they worked. Also, I was not sure how I would actually conduct these online lessons, being able to only see my student’s face and hands from a distance. Once I got past my initial hesitancy, I bit the bullet and began to study about these platforms and find practical ways to teach piano through the computer and phone screen.
From A Distance
Since I would not be sitting with my students, I would need to have a way to follow along with their lesson books. So I made sure that I had the same books in front of me that they had in front of them. Also, the parent set up the screen so I could see my student’s face and hands. This was challenging because even though I could somewhat see their hands, it was far enough away that I couldn’t always tell what key they were playing. My listening skills came in handy as I was mostly able to hear what note they were playing. At times, I would ask them to put their hand in a certain place on the piano, like their right hand thumb on middle c and then asked them find g with their little finger to ensure they were playing the correct notes.
Get Their Attention
Some students did better with online instruction than others. Some were quite attentive and others were distracted by things going on around them. I found that saying their name and asking questions pretty much kept them focused. I found that asking personal questions about their day and school work would bring their attention back. Some even wanted to show me what they got for their birthday so I called that a huge win! Also, I didn’t have super high expectations that this would totally replace focused, in-person, lessons. We did the best we could!
For each lesson, I would get out my students lesson book and write out, on the page, what I wanted them to see or do. I would circle dynamics, time signature, tempo marking, and new concepts, whatever I wanted to be sure they saw in the music. I would make it a game and they loved it! I would write at the top of the page their name and the date of the lesson so I would know quickly what we were going to cover in that lesson. I laid out on the top of my piano the books in order of students so I could quickly transfer from one student to the next.
I found that sending assignments in an email the day following their lesson was the best way to be sure they knew what to practice between lessons. Asking the student or parent to write down the assignment took extra time. Most parents would even send a picture of completed theory pages if I asked them to. Also, sending an assignment sheet allowed me to set goals for each piece and give additional instructions on how to practice. This is something I think I will keep doing after we go back to in-person lessons. It worked really well!
Teaching lessons remotely did have benefits. Most parents sat in on the lesson, often off-screen, but were there to help along if needed. With more difficult students, having the parents near was often a life-saver! They also saw first-hand how lessons are conducted and how their child was doing. Some students did better with in-home lessons than in-person. Maybe it was because the parent was close by or they just felt more comfortable in their home environment. As a result of teaching online for 7 weeks, I feel like I have truly accomplished something of value and worth. Not only did I learn how to use these new platforms, but I interacted with my students and their families in a new way. I feel like I know my students better after “being in their homes” for a short amount of time. Being able to see them in their home environment gave me a new understanding of them. And as a result, we did not have a disruption of lessons and were able to keep moving forward.