Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Teaching via Zoom

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, click on the button at lower right marked “Advanced.” If you don’t see this, update Zoom to the latest version, and try again. The first two settings, having to do with suppressing background noise, should be disabled.

These might be a little complicated to ask your students to do for you, but if you do it on your own app, it will make you sound better to them. One setting I do sometimes ask students to do, however, is the first one — unchecking the automatic volume control. Otherwise the automatic volume control can sometimes suppress and even wipe out some of my students’ sound.  (Note that if they do this, you might want to ask some students to adjust their microphone level up so you can hear them better.)

There’s one more setting to experiment with. It’s called Original Sound. You can enable this in your meeting controls on your account on zoom.us. It creates a button at the upper left of the meeting screen allowing you to turn on Original Sound, and with the arrow next to it, to choose the microphone you wish to use. This seems to improve the quality of sound transmitted.

Keep in mind that when you go to your Audio settings you can also adjust the volume of your speaker.  Sometimes this can help when adjusting your system volume may not.

Settings for Private Lessons

First of all, if all you do is work one on one, you can have unlimited time with a free Zoom account.

Take note of two (new) default settings, one for passwords and one to enable the waiting room. With the flourishing of Zoom use during the pandemic, many reports came in of “Zoom-bombing” where people finding public Zoom meetings started sharing offensive material and the presenters (generally new to Zoom) weren’t sure how to remove them. As a result, on April 5, 2020, Zoom made passwords and waiting rooms into default settings.

I don’t see a need for passwords for private lessons, so I have turned off this setting from my Zoom account. In the settings for your Zoom account in your browser, in the first section under Schedule Meeting, there are five, count ‘em, five, settings in a row for various uses of passwords for you to consider. I don’t use any of them at the moment.

The Waiting Room is really helpful for private teachers. This allows you to use the same Zoom link for all students but only to admit the student who is scheduled at lesson time. It also allows the next student to click the link early and be present and ready, but not be admitted until you let them in for their lesson.

Caution:  If you have a free Zoom account, think carefully about how you use the Waiting Room.  If you are teaching one student and the next one logs in early and is placed into the Waiting Room, Zoom will consider this a 3-person meeting even though one student is in the waiting room.  Free accounts allow unlimited time for 2-person meetings, but with 3 or more in the meeting you’re only allowed 40 minutes, and a warning and countdown clock pops up after 30 minutes, letting you know how much time is left until you are cut off.  The 40 minutes starts counting from the moment the extra person entered the waiting room.  If you wish to turn off Waiting Room, go to your online Zoom account and click on Settings, then scroll a ways down the list under “In Meeting (Advanced)” to find the Waiting Room toggle.

Tips on Teaching Live Workshops or Classes

If you work with more than one person at a time, a free Zoom account allows you 40 minutes before cutting you off. An announcement will be posted to all participates at the 30-minute mark saying that you have 10 minutes left. If you do group workshops regularly, I’d recommend a paid account, which is cheaper to pay for on an annual basis. Then you have unlimited time with up to 100 people at a time. (I recently sponsored some Covid Concerts online and added a license allowing me to host up to 500 at a time, which was great because a couple of concerts had audiences of well over 100.)

I don’t need passwords for my group workshops on Zoom because they all originate from my website at www.fiddle-online.com, where the only people with access to the links are those who have paid for the classes. I create new links for each new workshop, except for weekly classes. But if you publicize group Zoom workshops, you might want to use passwords and give them out to those who sign up; you can have Zoom generate a password or create (or change) the password to suit yourself.

I recommend disabling screensharing except for yourself. Sometimes I will share a screen showing an exercise that I have everyone try. If you allow screensharing for participants, chances are that somebody will hit the share button by mistake and have no idea how to get back to the class!
It’s nice to allow everyone to say hello and ask questions on Zoom. Be sure to click the “Manage Participants” and the “Chat” buttons to open up a panel where you can see all participants and can send or view messages to and from students. You can also enter a link or other important written material into the chat box.

Managing Participants allows you to Mute All with two clicks. The first click activates the Mute All button and the second click is to confirm, but note that the confirmation window allows you to check or uncheck the option to let people unmute themselves, a great idea for a normal class, but a bad idea for a large presentation. There is a “Raise Hand” button for participants which will alert you to them having a question — if you check the Manage Participants list!

When teaching a particular bit of music or skill, I mute everyone so they can play along with me but can’t hear each other, and I can’t hear them, which is good because the lag time inherent over the internet would make the sound a mess. It’s bad because I can’t hear my students, though! I can, however, see how they’re doing, and whether they are trying or whether they are ignoring me! Sometimes while discussing something I have to mute certain individuals who don’t realize they are transmitting background noise from other people, speakers, or are noisily snorting or creaking their chair, or just decide they need to practice while I’m talking and have no idea anyone can hear them! This actually happens in live in-person classes too, though, as some of you know. I once asked a fellow, who was quietly playing away while I was talking in an in-person class, why he was doing that, and he said he didn’t realize anyone could hear him!

I also like to find ways to have people play individually for me if they wish, sort of like a master class, where I can give them comments that help everyone. Or I might have people trade off playing phrases of a tune, so they all participate one at a time while reinforcing the building blocks of the music.

Integrating Zoom into Music Teachers Helper

It’s super easy to integrate Zoom into Music Teachers Helper because unlike Skype, you don’t need a contact list, and you don’t need to make a special call or connection. You only need to give your student the link to join you on Zoom.

A great way to do this is to use rich text in the description of your upcoming lessons. This way you can enter the Zoom link into that description, and if you set up your email reminders properly, each student can be reminded of that link when they get your email reminder the day before their lesson.

To set up the lesson reminders for this, go to your MTH account, and click on the down-arrow in the top right corner of the screen to view your account info. Click on Settings, and look at the Messaging tab. Click on “Lesson reminder” to see how you have your email reminders laid out. Be sure to include the variable {$lessonNotes} in your reminder. This way, the Zoom link that you entered in rich text in the description of your students’ lessons will appear in the emailed reminder they get a day in advance.

I’ve used Zoom since 2015 because it is high quality, easy to use, and fairly idiot-proof! I hope it helps you continue teaching lessons and classes in these times of social isolation, and that these tips help you use it better.

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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