Can YouTube really replace a teacher?

October 16th, 2014 by

I heard from the music school that a new student had signed up, so as usual, I called him to find out what level he was at, what he wanted, what his email was so I could send him a link to register with Music Teachers Helper. youtubemusic

It became clear soon into my phone call that this new student was hesitating  at the music school’s requirement that he sign up for 4 lessons to get started.

“I think I only want one or two to get started,” he said.

I told him that it was a good idea to give it a few lessons to get started and see how it worked, though of course if it didn’t seem a good fit, it was fine to drop out.

“I think really I only want one lesson,” he said.

I said, well, we can get started with some basics in the first lesson, but the second lesson is where I see what he took in, how he did, and where to take it from there.

Then he dropped the bomb.

“Actually I just want one half-hour lesson to get all the basics.  I can get all the rest from YouTube.”

I wished him good luck.  This is not the attitude of a student I wish to work with.  I did think of protesting that it would actually take 35 minutes, not 30, to give him ALL the basics.  My Facebook friends came up with a number of other responses, of course, such as agreeing to give him all the basics in a half hour, if he could in turn teach me all the basics about how to be a jerk.  Et cetera.

The question remains:  how much can you really get from YouTube?  I have experimented and struggled for six months with offering students an online experience.  Where is this kind of teaching going?

As you probably have seen, there are many videos by beginner or intermediate players basically putting themselves on TV, or sharing their experiences as learners.  I saw one video purporting to be a middle-age man learning violin for the first time but in fact he already played quite well and was just giving advice and encouragement, while providing a link to a musical instruments store, and being couched in online advertisements.  Another video promised to teach people how to play violin in less than an hour, but also had advertisements and was intended to channel people into other activities.

In general, any learning videos of quality on YouTube are enticements to get people to sign up for one of many websites offering videos and other products such as DVDs or CDs.

Still, there is some basic instruction to be found out there for free, and someone with some music experience (or an outsized ego) could find enough to keep them engaged.

My motto for students is:  “The more you play, the better you get; and the more you play well (or efficiently or correctly — you can fill in the word!), the faster you get better”.  In terms of online learning, this means that someone who finds the right material to feel engaged in learning online will get better with time, but if they were to find good instruction to direct their attention to the right priorities, they would get better much faster, and go much farther with their music.

The benefits of these online services is that someone can stay home and use them at their own pace.  It also offers instruction to someone who The drawback is that studies have shown that the person least qualified to judge one’s progress or the best learning strategy is the learner him/herself.  That’s where the teacher comes in.

I could leave it there, because the bottom line is that a live, in-person, lesson is the best way for a student to get attention to his or her own needs.  That fellow hoping to get “all the basics” in a half hour was the victim of internet fantasies, in my opinion.

Still, there are options for providing online instructions.  One of the most popular involves Skype or another video service for private lessons.  In my own experiments, I have found a way to offer live online classes, in addition to private lessons.  This works quite well, but the difficulties enter when doing scheduling.  Either you have a minimum number of students, or you are willing to teach one or two with hopes of getting the ball rolling.  I’ve tried some experiments with using the Music Teachers Helper calendar and some with my own website, but the jury is still out on what will work best to bring together the minimum number of students at the right time.

Which brings up the other major aspect of providing online services:  marketing.  This is necessary for performers and teachers, as we all know, but it is usually totally unconnected with the reason we perform and teach!

That’s why a key element to making online teaching work is to find an approach, a way to view what you do, that you are comfortable with, that you can get behind and enjoy.  Definitely not an approach you would be embarrassed to admit to your closest friends!  And that’s possible, if all you do is look up the most successful strategies.  If they don’t fit your personality, they will just burn you out.  But if you’re happy with what you’re offering, you will be energized by seeking out those who want what you have to offer.

This is a big part of all our lives, so we all welcome your comments and feedback on this topic!

Posted in Music & Technology, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

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