4 Things I’ve Learnt Teaching Online

It’s been about eight months since the majority of us began teaching online lessons. Whilst some experienced a brief return to face-to-face teaching, the majority are now back online.

It’s been a huge learning curve, but a recent poll in my Teaching Music Mindfully Facebook Group revealed that 93% of members felt more comfortable teaching online now than they did back in March.

Some of us have even been wondering whether in the future we might combine a mixture of face-to-face and online lessons in a new hybrid model of teaching.

Teaching online certainly hasn’t been without its challenges; however, there have been some advantages. Indeed, one of my own students shared his positive experience of online lessons in a recent guest blog post.

In this blog post, I wanted to share four of the things which I’ve learnt over the past eight months. They are not necessarily positive or negative, but they do offer a different perspective.

1. I’ve seen things from a different angle

Teaching online has made me realise that when I’m teaching in my studio, I either sit or stand in the same place for each lesson. Even when I get up and move around, I tend to move in the same kinds of directions.

It has been really interesting seeing students literally from a different angle. Whilst I have provided some guidance and suggestions for where it’s best to place the camera, I still get about 20 different angles every week. Some of these change week-to-week too!

Some students have laptops on top of their pianos with the screen angled so I can just see over onto the keys; some have phones balanced on the side of the piano. Others have tablets balanced on the edge of their music stands; and once, I’ve been propped up against a tin of leek and potato soup.

It’s interesting to see pianists’ hands side-on and flautists’ hands from below. It’s even interesting to watch singers’ shoulders at eye-level.

When I’m back teaching face-to-face, I certainly want to try and move around more, both to sit and stand in different places. I may have to think how I can change the room to facilitate that. Having sat in front of a screen for hours every week for the past eight months, I think I’ll be more than ready for this!

2. I’ve seen my students’ home setup

There have been both positive and negative aspects to being able to see the kind of home setup students have. It’s interesting to see their home pianos and often, how out of tune they are! I’ve seen the piles of stuff on top of the piano too, not to the mention the lessons where things literally fall off the piles mid-piece.

But, it’s also been interesting to see what their home instruments are capable of. I’ve seen some excellent digital pianos which, quick frankly, I’d go out and buy for myself if I needed one.

It’s not just pianists though, it’s been interesting to uncover the fact the some students don’t even have a music stand at home. The lighting is often poor too, and space can be limited. Then there are the loud clocks with their relentless tick at 60bpm.

This has given me a different perspective. It means that I now have a much better idea what students are dealing with when they’re playing, singing and practising at home. All of their home setups are perfectly adequate, but it’s definitely been interesting seeing (and hearing) them firsthand.

 Online Music Lessons

3. I’ve had to accept there’s a lot outside of my control

This has been perhaps the biggest takeaway for me this year. When I started teaching online, it caused me so much anxiety, but gradually, I’ve had to accept that so much is out of my control. To name but a few things:

  • I can’t control their internet connections (I can’t alway control mine either);
  • I can suggest where they place their devices to give me the best view, but space is often limited and despite my best suggestions, I get all sorts of angles;
  • I can’t control what kind of device they’ve got;
  • I can’t control whether their pianos are in tune, have squeaky pedals etc.;
  • I can send things via email to be downloaded or printed out, but I can’t do anything if we get to the lesson and that hasn’t happened;
  • I can’t control the fact that sometimes Skype, FaceTime or Zoom plays up for us all – we just have to go with it.

There are so many more things I could add, but I think that overall, we all need to be kind to ourselves at the moment. There’s a limit to what we can control, and to be honest, that’s probably not a bad thing.

4. I’ve had to learn to use my ears more than my eyes

This has been quite surprising for me, and it’s made me realise that when teaching face-to-face, I probably rely a lot more on my eyes than my ears. Two examples from the past week alone. Firstly:

Student: “It would be more useful if you could see my diaphragm”
Me: “Don’t worry, I can hear if it’s working.”

…and secondly:

Student: “How do you know if I’m doing the right fingering for this scale when you can’t see my hands?”
Me: “Ultimately, I don’t, but I’m trusting you, and I can hear whether it flows or not.”

When we’re eventually back teaching face-to-face, I wonder how this will impact how I teach? Will I revert back to eyes over ears?

I’m sure that over the past eight months, we’ve all learnt so much about both ourselves and our teaching.

I’d love to know what your biggest takeaways are so far from teaching online. Why not Tweet me or share your thoughts on Facebook.

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