Ed Pearlman

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 country. He tours, often with his son Neil, a pianist in Scottish/jazz/Latin/funk styles. Ed directed the Boston Scottish Fiddle Club for 18 years, including major concerts and festivals. He has 3 CDs of his own and appears on others. His primary expertise is in Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle styles, but Ed plays other Celtic, American, and Canadian fiddle music, classical, some jazz, klez and Hungarian. For ten years he ran a CD distribution company to bring music to the USA from Scotland, Atlantic Canada, Ireland, Brittany and Wales. Ed has written the music column for Scottish Life magazine since 1996.

In this article:

  • Sound adjustments to optimize Zoom for music
  • Zoom settings for teaching private lessons
  • Tips on teaching live workshops or classes
  • Integrating Zoom into Music Teachers Helper

Note that this article is being updated from time to time with new info, and your comments at the end are welcome!

Sound Settings for Private Lessons

Zoom was created in 2013 by two guys who left Go To Meeting to start up something better. It was built for voice meetings, the typical business use for teleconferencing. But there are settings you can adjust within Zoom to make it work better for hearing music.

Uncheck the option to automatically control volume. This is located in the Audio Settings once you’ve started a meeting. Using the up-arrow next to the image of the microphone, click on Audio Settings on the “drop-up” menu. You’ll find the automatic volume control checkbox right under the Microphone settings. (Note that this allows you to — and might require you to — occasionally adjust your microphone input manually so people can hear you better.)

Disable noise suppression. Before leaving the Audio Settings window,  [···]

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I once attended an ASTA (American String Teachers Association) convention and went to a workshop on improvisation. You could cut the tension with a knife. The attendees, mostly classical string teachers, appeared to generally believe falsely that improvisation means having the guts to screw up in front of others!

Let’s look first at the surprising benefits of improvisation, and then look at what improvisation actually is. I think you’ll agree that by my definitions, teachers as well as students — at all levels — can easily learn and enjoy by doing what I call improvisation.

Perhaps the nicest benefit of improvisation is that it turns off your inner critic. Musicians who are constantly monitoring their playing for errors, and stopping when a mistake is made, are basically training themselves to be obsessively fearful of mistakes, rather than actually playing music. By playing straight through a passage of music, even a short and manageable part such as a phrase, a learner can focus on the continuity of music, and still train themselves to keep mental notes about what’s going well, and what needs improvement. Being saddled by too much inner critique is like breaking up your music with static on the radio.

Brain studies show that when the part of the brain that handles improvisation is turned on, the part of the brain involved in self-critique is turned off (see the article This is your brain on improvisation—and why your creativity depends on it). This indicates that the mere effort to improvise makes you less inhibited and negative. It also suggests that anyone deeply wrapped up in a live performance can go all in and benefit from turning off their inner critic while they perform.

And what exactly is improvisation? What is performance? Many imagine improvisation to involve making up notes, and performance to require an audience…    [···]

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Whether you have your own teaching studio or work for an organization, there is a temptation to schedule lessons back to back. If you have a lot of students in a row, this can be a recipe for burnout.

I know, I’ve done it — figuring I can get through a lot of lessons on a single day with no breaks. Sometimes, it’s just hard to say no when there’s an opening for a lesson and somebody wants it.

But you do need to look after yourself, for the sake of not only your own mental and physical health, but also for the sake of your students.

I don’t need experts to tell me this, because I’ve found out the hard way, but the experts do say that it’s important to your metabolism that you eat every three of four hours. If you go too long between meals, your metabolism starts to shut down, and then when you eat a big meal, your body doesn’t know what to do with all the extra calories. Best to keep the fire going, keep feeding that stove, and eating on a regular basis, even if not as much at a time.

Whether you’re at home or teaching at a school, be sure to have quality snacks and drinks with you for time between lessons, and be sure to actually eat something significant (not necessarily a lot) every 3-4 hours. For this you’ll need to schedule time. Set that time aside by blocking out a “lesson time” for yourself in your Music Teacher’s Helper calendar. A half hour is nice but it could theoretically be 15 minutes if you have food and drink ready — and if you can finish the previous lesson on time.

When I tried this, I discovered that I maintained a much higher level of energy than when I tried to plow through lesson after lesson. I knew I could handle “plowing” through lessons — I have my Daily Summary from MTH and enough experience to really focus on and help my students — but when I’m reasonably fed and watered, I have energy to spare for humor, new ideas, and a varied approach.

You might choose to offer 55 minute lessons and finish on time so you can take a breath, and get a moment to yourself for a drink or snack, or even to enter lesson notes online into MTH and reconciling a lesson; or to write those notes with a pen or pencil (remember those?) in a notebook so you can transfer it to your online lesson notes later.

It’s not a crime to schedule 45-minutes on the hour and allow 15 minutes between lessons! I know, it’s hard to think you’re deliberately spending an hour and only getting paid for 45 minutes, but it might mean that you can have a bit, drink more water, feel better, enter lesson notes you won’t have to do later, and generally have a more energetic and calm presence for your teaching time.

You might mix and match, and schedule a few back to back 30 minute lessons, but allow 15 before a longer lesson, or just leave a space of a half-hour for your own sake.

As to snacks, remember that there are really tasty snacks out there that won’t leave you feeling bloated, jittery, or on a sugar-high (i.e. maybe avoid doughnuts and coffee!). You just need to be a little creative and do a little research and trial-and-error.

For your breaks, you may even want to bring a novel to read, or a magazine that has nothing to do with music, just to give your mind and spirit a break for short periods of time. Facebook, texting, etc., probably will only add anxiety and not provide a break to your over-multi-tasking modern mind!

So plan for some mental breaks, quality snacks and periodic meals, and be sure you drink enough water. It’s amazing what a difference these things can make in turning a heavy teaching day into a fun and productive one. And don’t forget — one of the easiest and most effective mental and physical breaks is to simply take a 15-minute walk.

For both you and your students, look after yourself!

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