Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Are Online Lessons For the Birds?

Thanks to a slightly skeptical nature, I’ve held little interest in virtual long-distant lessons for three reasons.1320790122282390135bird-on-wire-svg-med-1

  1. Full Roster: My studio stays full thanks to living in a large metropolitan area so it seems pointless to look for online customers.
  2. Time: With the commitment of a full-time organist/pianist position, it would be difficult to squeeze in more practice time if I committed to lessons for myself–locally or beyond my bubble–with a master teacher.
  3. Trouble:  Why would anyone wish to trouble shoot their way through an hour-long battle with camera angles, band width limitations and WiFi glitches?

My view of online teaching changed drastically thanks to a recent business partnership with master improv teacher Bradley Sowash and our venture called 88 Creative Keys (camps and clinics for creativity at the keys.) I realized that if I was to achieve a higher level of improvisational skills, it was paramount for me to study with Bradley who happens to live in Ohio. Not willing to make a commute from Colorado to Ohio every other Wednesday morning, it was clear I must submit to the “wonders” of technology yet once again.

TigerXML-YYPT-MCYICECAM2-2For some odd reason, Bradley and I take pride in the fact that we have matching equipment (not on purpose): we both own a Macbook Pro and the iPhone 4s so he thought it wise for me to purchase an identical camera that he already owned. With a recommendation and a price tag of only $17, the Macally Camera was a practical and economical choice.

Finding a way to hoist the camera in the correct position over the keyboard so that Bradley would have a visual of my hands during the lesson was an interesting adventure. Following his advice, I purchased a boom mic stand for $32 from Guitar Center and thanks to the magic of duct tape the camera found its perfect position above the keyboard.

Prior to our lesson we had tested our connection and determined that FaceTime would be our designated Wi-Fi video chatting platform.

After the first lesson a couple of days ago, my skepticism about this whole process took a turn, a complete turn. Why? Mmmm…. I bet I can come up with three reasons.

  1. Trouble-free: FaceTime made it incredibly easy to switch between the iSight webcam on my MacBook and the one hanging above. A glitch in the Wi-Fi connection never occurred. We tested the possible lag time between sight and sound. It was amazing how there was virtually no delay between his clapping while listening to the tapping of my keyboard metronome across the (1) 2
  2. Virtual Reality: It seemed a little strange to think that I “stepped” into Bradley’s studio for an hour while staying put in the comfort of my own piano bench.
  3. Brain Training: I’m getting close to the age where igniting new neuron pathways (synapses, to be scientific!) is nothing but beneficial. (Read The Brain That Changes Itself and you’ll learn why.) Embracing this commitment means a new type of practice. Instead of mastering whats on the page, my head is spinning with chord symbols, roman numerals and scale tones. It requires quick thinking to make my fingers find the right keys all in good time, of course. I’m feeling younger already 🙂 I’ll keep this up for a while before switching to crochet needles.

It’s doubtful that I’m the only “bird on a wire”? Are you teaching or taking lessons online? If not, this could be a terrific and EASY way to fill your teaching schedule. Do you have some hints and tips about your experiences? Perhaps you have a better solution to my inexpensive camera mounted with duct tape? Please share your thoughts and experiences.


Bradley playing my Yamaha C6 while visiting here in April. Since I can’t beam Bradley up to my studio, I’ll stick with 21st century technology and try online lessons.

Interested in learning from Bradley Sowash yourself and building more brain cells? His technique and teaching methods for jazz improvisation and improv in general are truly world class. Click here to learn more about Bradley’s online lessons.

My parting words: it was fascinating to be treated to a lesson and not be the “treater” or teacher. Have you ever thought of yourself as one who treats others? If you are a teacher YOU ARE a TREATER!

Don’t be fooled, I’m a lifelong fan of technology and especially of the iPad and now of online lessons. I’d love to have you share in my adventures with the unique gadget. Please visit to learn more about my book to be released late September.


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  1. Nathan Sw.

    Well, I dont know what to say about your problem with the camera set up other than buy a better mounting system. I see good sides to online lessons like better flexibility with time, but I also imagine many downfalls. Online lessons pose a greater risk for distraction during lessons, it removes that stress we all have to conquer as musicians from not playing before other people, and it makes it harder for the teacher to show certain fingerings or techniques on your instrument. I dont take online lessons, but I believe you get so much more out of being in person. For anyone else who takes online lessons, I ceratinly think it has good potential and the increasing development, accessibility, and use of technology will make it more and more popular. However, if you can have lessons in person, take them.

  2. Boston Voice Lessons

    I have taught both voice and guitar lessons online to students. This does help with filling a roster if you are having trouble doing so locally. I live just outside of Boston, so that is not a problem for me. The downfalls to online lessons is the lag time on a program like Skype. For guitar, this stinks for working on improv stuff. I like working with prerecorded tracks for skype so students can hear the scales and sing a long with them and I can listen. Also, if a students mic and set-up aren’t the best, then it makes hearing difficult sometimes. For people who do not have access to good teachers locally, this is a great option.

  3. Elaine Fredendall

    I teach on line with same set up you mentioned except I use a logitec camera Instead of duck tape you can purchase for for about $6 a clip that attaches to the boom. It resembles lobster claw hair clip. I wrapped the handle of the camera in a strip of plastic shelf liner to give it some grip. Then the lobster claw clip securely grips the camera. I can assemble it in about 10 seconds. My only problem is the camera doesn’t allow a view of full keyboard. Have not yet found any camera that does.

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