Music Teacher's Helper Blog

The Pros and Cons of Remote Music Learning

By Lindsey Wright, guest author

With increasingly cheap bandwidth and a growing library of applications to use, remote online music lessons are growing more popular, affordable and effective. Both in-person (traditional) and remote styles of music instruction have unique benefits that appeal to different students, leading some to prefer one method to the exclusion of the other. For most people, however, the choice is not mutually exclusive. There is great potential for the two styles to combine in a single curriculum, providing a rich and layered learning experience. In fact, many traditional lesson plans now include or allow for remote instruction. However, remote online music lessons are not a replacement for traditional lessons, but can be either a supplement or a partial alternative. Which approach is best for a particular student depends on how they weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Commonly, music lessons taught at an online school use video chat programs like Skype that provide audio, visual, and text communication for free. This requires both instructors and students to have computers with high-speed internet connections and decent webcams and microphones in order to see and hear each other clearly. Generally these tools are attainable and inexpensive, but could represent too heavy an investment if they are used just for this one purpose. Remote instruction can also reduce costs by eliminating travel and replacing paper materials with digital files, but whether it is ultimately more affordable for a particular student depends on the circumstances.

When teaching online, instructors can still observe mistakes and give visual and verbal feedback on how to improve. Likewise, they are able to share written materials like sheet music directly so it can be used immediately, and are able to provide students with the necessary tools for most lessons. The downsides of online lessons are that they still don’t allow for any physical interaction between students and teachers, and the format opens the Pandora’s Box of technical difficulties and other interruptions.

For remote teaching, barriers to entry and operating costs are fairly minimal for instructors, which in turn increases the number of instructors who are able to offer their services online. As a result, students get a wider selection of instructors to choose from and instructors get access to more students. Additionally, the elimination of travel saves time as well as money, allowing instructors to offer more lessons per day. This helps reduce the cost per lesson without compromising the wages of the instructor.

Cost is hardly the only concern, however. One of the most important considerations in choosing a teacher is finding someone compatible with the student in their method and style. Being comfortable with an instructor is valuable for any student, especially if they have special needs. For example, Mark Miller is a pianist and music tutor who gained widespread recognition for offering lessons worldwide using Skype. He developed and refined a style of jazz piano instruction that is quick, easy, and geared towards remote learning. It is also flexible and allows him to adjust his lessons to fit his students. One of his students had her lessons interrupted when she lost the use of her left hand, but Miller worked with her to find and create piano arrangements and exercises that required only one hand to perform.

With remote online lessons, geographical location no longer excludes certain students. They now have access to a wide range of instructors who, like Mark Miller, are capable and willing to accommodate different skills, learning styles, and even disabilities. Finding the right fit is made easier because most of these instructors offer samples of their work that show their style and approach.

The expansion of the marketplace for students and teachers to a global level is one of the greatest advantages of remote online music lessons, and the technology itself can aid in instruction.  Nikki Saurman, a 9-year-old girl from Thousand Oaks, California found it extremely difficult to learn music through conventional lessons due to her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as an auditory processing disorder in one ear. She was eventually paired with Marlene Cooper-Williams, an instructor specializing in children with learning impairments and teaching music through remote online lessons. Ms. Cooper-Williams runs a website that pairs students with music teachers who meet their needs and specialize in the instrument they want to learn. This accessible format allows almost any student to find the fit that is right for them.

Nikki started taking her lessons online, even though she lived within easy driving distance of her instructor. The online format and use of headphones reduced the distractions and discomfort caused by Nikki’s disabilities and allowed her to focus more on her piano lessons. The remote online format was the key difference for Nikki between struggling with her lessons and excelling. For most people, the decision between in-person and remote lessons may simply come down to a matter of taste and comfort, but some will find they prefer the online format just as strongly as others prefer to be taught in person.

Lindsey Wright, guest author

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

About the Author

1 Comment

  1. Amanda Furbeck

    Fascinating! Thank you!

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