Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Teaching by skype: the results so far

Image used with permission.

Last month’s article about teaching by skype generated a lot of interest and comment, so I thought I would update you on my progress so far.

I’ve taught two piano lessons by skype, working with my 11-year old student of three years, and it’s been more challenging than I imagined. Yesterday we were working on new material, and it was remarkably difficult for my student to pick it up without me being there. I realized that I have had a tendency to jump in and demonstrate, and of course, I was unable to do that. However, if my student is to improve, he will need to get better at working this out for himself, so I can see the benefit of stepping back a little.

I also used to write notes for him, and now he writes his own notes during the lesson. I would notice that he didn’t always read what I had written, so I think that the act of writing his own notes might help him to remember my suggestions more easily– another step towards maturity and ownership!

Another challenge for him is that he is a very shy and intense person, so looking into (and being observed by) a camera intimidates him. When I was there in person, it was easier for me to help him relax, have fun, and enjoy the lesson. I miss being there physically also.

In learning the new material, I asked him to clap the rhythm with me- only to discover that this wasn’t possible due to the delay. We had to alternate. As one of the comments on the previous article mentioned, this also affects being able to play duets together. In addition, if I speak while he is playing, for example to correct a wrong note, he can’t hear me.

To compensate for being able to show him new music easily, I’m supplementing the lesson with musicianship homework. Last week, I asked him to listen to two performances on youtube, answer some questions, and then we discussed them during the lesson. I’m also planning to introduce him to an online aural skills program.

So what are the benefits? Well, so far it means I am able to continue to teach my student. The sound quality is better than I expected, and he is making progress, although I’m having to give him extra time, simply because it takes so much longer to communicate this way. The biggest benefit may be the independence he will need to develop if we are to continue this experiment successfully.

About the Author

Valerie Kampmeier
Valerie Kampmeier, M.A., brings decades of performance experience as a successful classical pianist in Europe to her piano teaching and her life coaching practice for musicians. She also writes about living a creative life on her blog.
A gifted p... [Read more]

6 Comments

  1. Amanda Furbeck

    Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been thinking about adding skype lessons to my studio, so I really appreciate that you shared your challenges and successes. Please keep us posted on how it’s going!

  2. Yiyiku

    I appreciate the update. I expected the need for extra time. It shows how dedicated you are as a teacher. I doubt all teachers who teach by skype give the extra time. One of the main reasons I have not opted to teach by skype (at least not yet) is I don’t think it is fair for the teacher to give the extra time. Yet it is not fair for the student either to have to pay for extra time in order to achieve what can normally be accomplished in a regular lesson time frame. You are able to give extra time now because you have just relocated and probably have room in your schedule, but once your schedule starts to fill up, will you still be able to be so generous? The independence thing is a good point, but students must reach a certain level before they can be that independent in their learning, so for beginners I would imagine the challenges would be way bigger. The question here is how long can this last? I do admire your efforts and patience! He is a lucky student!

  3. Ashley Brockett

    I’ve added Skype to my studio, and so far I only use it when students are unable to make it to their regular lessons. I’ve considered using it for students that move (I live near a military base, so get a lot of students from military families that move frequently), but have not yet.

    I’ve realized many of the same things as you have. Generally, when introducing new music, I have the student listen to it for a week first (sometimes longer), clap it for at least a week, and we often clap it together during lessons. Now, like you said, that’s not possible – they have to try it on their own and when they hit trouble spots we have to alternate. Once they’re ready to start playing a new piece, we usually play it together. Again, not possible, so I’ll usually demonstrate, and have them try it on their own.

    Skyping for lessons is definitely much better for more advanced students. I have one beginner student who’s used it a few times, and she’s pretty successful with it, but she’s a very good student. I had one 4 year old who we tried it with once, and her mother was present to help her, but we still didn’t do anything new, and it wasn’t remotely as good as an in-person lesson.

    I look forward to hearing how this progresses, and maybe I’ll be able to use it with students that move away.

  4. Jordan Stevens

    Thanks for the post about online music lessons. I’m always trying to encourage my students to become independent. Skype have some limitations but a lot of it is due to internet technology something that will be improved with time.

  5. Shirley Kirsten

    I am always interested to know other teacher’s experiences with Skyped lessons, and your account was very detailed enlightening.

    In my own recent SKYPED piano lessons delivered out of state, etc. I found that with a youngster in the 7 to 9 or so range, that supplementing with video sharing really helps things along.
    That was my preliminary appraoch before I took the next step to SKYPE, and as it turned out, I have kept the video exchange process going from week to week, in and out of lessons

    . While it may be time consuming to create and upload videos to You Tube and then send through Private communication,, it crystallizes points of instruction, and reinforces them. When the student’s video is sent back showing her practice session, I can then make comments and send back my own responsive video.

    I agree that the one at a time, SKYPE Limiting interchange takes some getting used to, but overall it’s a pretty nifty way to transmit lessons when perhaps, they are otherwise not available, or are good in between reminders for students who want more than one lesson per week.

  6. David Taylor

    I am going on my fourth year Skyping with some of my students, not all. I have a few voice students who are away at college and still want a lesson each week. We’ve been able to overcome many of the delays and similar limitations as others have mentioned, but there’s still no place like in the studio. Those students are successful particularly because they are more advanced in their skills and they are also extremely internet and technology savvy.

    I have several piano students that I teach around the state (I’m in Texas) and others in Louisiana and Mississippi. Most of those have attended my week-long camp in the summer and have continued the lessons. The inexperienced ones, however, work online three weeks of the month, and at least once a month, drive into Houston for a face-to-face lesson.

    It’s not the best possible circumstances, but it does help. I have a fantastic student who sings at the largest opera house in Germany who periodically Skypes with me for lessons in preparation for her leading roles in the opera. She lives and breathes by them. She has a piano accompanist who wears a headset and communicates everything to her as we work. It’s difficult to get them into “The Zone” in hard work, but it’s better than nothing at all.

    Best wishes to all who attempt this and I look forward to your feedback as well.

    David Taylor
    Houston, Texas

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