Music Teacher's Helper Blog

REVIEW: Teaching Private Voice Online via Ashbury Music Hall

This week I taught my first lesson on the Ashbury Music Hall website.

Musician David Gottesman has come up with a way for private studio teachers to reach out to students who want to have lessons, but have problems with time/availability.  David and I initially connected via Twitter in the spring @ashburymusich and @dgottesman.  I have created several videos (to go with a 10-week lesson outline).  My biggest concerns was whether or not I would have direct contact with the student, and how easy it would be to tailor each lesson to students.

I have spent several hours on the phone with David (and Justin Flores, his right-hand man) working out a way for me to feel like this was something I could feel comfortable doing (and actually be able to help students!).  Emails have been flying.

My experience has been positive overall.  It’s definitely an experiment, but one, because of Dave’s willingness to work with me and help me tweak the system to fit my teaching style, that I think will be a success, as long as we can spread the word and keep working out technical difficulties.

What we’ve worked out:

I created a 10-week lesson plan for beginning singers.  So far, I have recorded videos for 3-weeks, with more to follow.  I use a Flip video camera – it records REALLY well into Quicktime file format, with good audio, and is easy to manage.  I started with a Flip Mino HD (which costs slightly more than the Ultra HD, but is more compact), but the zoom on the Mino isn’t available until AFTER recording has started, the battery is only chargeable through the USB on my computer, and the one hour record time ended up not being sufficient.  I now use the Ultra HD because it has a 2-hour record time, I can set the zoom before I start recording (it’s more mechanical), and the rechargeable batteries can be replaced with standard AA.  My only dislike of the Flip Ultra is that the battery level indicator doesn’t show until the battery is almost out, so I’m never sure if the camera is charged or not.

After recording, I edit the file in QuickTimePro and then upload it to the Ashbury Music Hall site.  Once on the site, the video is available to be placed into any lesson plan that I wish to create.  I have created a “Master lesson Plan” of lessons.  I can, at any point, copy the entire lesson and create a new one.  This allows me to add/delete sections and customize it for each student – it is then renamed for the student and, once registered, the student receives a private URL for them to access the information.

The videos I create are of exercises – I request that they do the exercise and video-record themselves doing the exercise directly into the Ashbury Music Hall platform in the Lesson Forum. I am then able to watch these videos and reply back in text, audio or video.  I request that the students do these exercises before we “meet” via Skype so that I can respond to the practicing before the “lesson.”  It means that, if I need to, I can respond to the students when I have time, even late at night.  Having 2 small children (ages 5 and 8), this is VERY helpful.  My biggest struggle this semester has been scheduling enough students that I can pay the bills, but still making sure that I have dinner/bedtime set aside for time with my kids.  This flexibility that Ashbury Music Hall is affording me more teaching opportunity at times that are non-traditional.

To supplement the online videos, I knew from the beginning that I MUST have some sort of immediate interaction with the student.  The online videos back and forth are great, but some concepts really need to be discussed and talked about immediately.

Enter Skype.  For those of you who don’t know, Skype is a free online video phone call that you can make to anyone (it was just sold off by eBay and also have VoIP technology that must be paid for).  Now, Skype is not always 100% dependable, as I found out today, but it is a good alternative.  Even today’s lesson, which wasn’t optimal, was beneficial to the student.  To use Skype, you need a video camera (between $10-$30 for decent models), a web connection that is on the faster side (dial-up doesn’t work), and a computer.

My student and I pre-scheduled a ½-hr lesson (just as I do with a “live” student – although in person, I am incapable of teaching in ½ hr.  Because of the previous interaction of videos and responses, we were able to build upon new ideas).  I called her via Skype at the appointed time.  We had some technical difficulties – her video wasn’t streaming optimally and kept freezing up.  Ultimately, I ended up working off audio – she could see my video, I just couldn’t see her.  But, we did get some good work done.  I had scheduled my time pretty close (we were trying to time it between when she got her 2-yr old down for a nap and I had to leave to pick up my kids from school), and so didn’t really have time for her to reboot her computer.  It seemed like the memory was a little bogged up.

So, a checklist for me to put up for future lessons is:

1)      Have students view exercises and record video responses by 36-hrs before each scheduled Skype lesson.  This will allow me time to create a response.

2)      Have student freshly boot up their computer and have NO other programs running before we enter into our Skype call.

But, because I can customize each lesson to each student, as well as work with the personally (if not in person), I DO feel that this can be an effective tool for accessing students with whom I would not otherwise be able to work.

Overall, I’m excited to see the future of Ashbury Music Hall. David Gottesman is also in the middle of trying to see how to use the platform to add value to my current studio.  The idea that I like (and that my students have responded positively to) is to use the ability to video exercises and have me respond.  I have a few very busy adult students who would love to be able to have more feedback between lessons (sometimes 2-4 weeks apart).  We would video the student DURING their own lesson doing an exercise.  Then, the student will practice it and post themselves practicing.  I will then be able to respond to them & give pointers – more like a guided practice.  This will cost a small amount to the student via Ashbury Music Hall, and then I will probably charge them for the time that I take reviewing exercises.  So, it’s a win-win.  The student receives better guided practice (and therefore more progress) and I am able to increase my revenues slightly, but in a way that I KNOW is helpful to the student.

Keep checking back for more updates on how Ashbury Music Hall is working for me.  I’m really looking forward to it and seeing how it can also help my current “live” studio (maybe by posting Studio Classes for those who weren’t able to attend?).  Because it’s a closed system, the possibility of privacy abuse that exists in YouTube is greatly lessened and I feel more comfortable using it (especially since many in my studio are minors).

What do you think about this approach to teaching?  Do you think it’s a viable alternative to the in-studio model?  What thoughts/suggestions might you have for improving the distribution of lessons? Improving the lesson model?  I’m excited that it’s easy to customize to each student and that I will be able to interact with them in real-time, as well as in messages.  Let’s see what technology can do for teachers and students to better enable use of time and availability of quality instruction.

About the Author

Rachel Velarde
I began my music career in Bloomington, Indiana. After receiving my B.A. in Music from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, I earned two Master of Music degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. Luminaries I have worked with include Vernon Hartman, James Caraher, Lorenzo Malfatti, Shirlee Emmons, Mary Sue Hyatt, John Sikora, David Jones, David Britton, and Carol Smith.

I offer ... [Read more]

3 Comments

  1. Michelle Payne

    Fascinating!! I think this is the way of the future. I am definitely going to check this out. I have been wondering how I could give valuable lessons online. I know people all over the country, and it would be great to be able to teach people over the internet. I do get nervous about the quality of the lesson, but your testimonial sounds good, so I’m willing to give it a try.

  2. Maria D'Aura

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve been interested in offering online lessons for a few years now, but just haven’t found the right online tools. I thought of using a combination of Skype, AIM, iChat, and paypal, but I didn’t want it to get too complicated. I was also concerned that 1 lesson would turn into 3 hours of me supplying technical support to the student.

    I’ve recorded a few videos, but haven’t been happy with them so far. I would really like to see videos other teachers have created to get ideas for recording my own. If anyone has videos they’d like to share please email me at madaura@mac.com

    I will be signing up for the Ashbury online demo.
    Thanks again.

  3. Character Education

    Thanks for the post, you have done such a marvelous work, thanks for sharing this wonderful post with us, i have bookmarked it and i will definitely share these ideas with all my fellows, thanks and keep it up.

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