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Better than Zoom for Music Lessons: Complement live teaching with asychronous recordings from students

More students, less of your time.

If you’re a private music teacher, you need to keep your business going during the pandemic and make it sustainable for when this is over.  In this article we give you some tips on how to add online components to your business that actually let you teach more students in less time. That means a better bottom line for your teaching business, even after things go back to normal. Here’s how it can work. But first, here's what Cindy Moyer said about the combination of live (Zoom) lessons and not-live feedback on her students' self-recordings.

Teaching Music Online with WeVu

WeVu has made quality online violin “lessons” possible. My students upload videos to WeVu. I then leave WeVu comments. After the student has had time to look over the comments, we meet up via Zoom for 10 - 30 minutes to discuss whatever couldn’t be addressed by my WeVu comments. I was thrilled that WeVu solved the Zoom problems of terrible tone quality, a constantly-freezing stream, and sound that doesn’t align with the motion. However, my students and I have quickly discovered other advantages: having to make recordings has proven to be motivational for practice and being able to see and hear exactly what I’m talking about has helped students understand what they need to change.

I heartily recommend WeVu for people teaching online music lessons.

Here are five steps and tools to boost your teaching revenue – and student progress.

There are five steps and they're for teachers with various kinds of music teaching jobs. Lots of folks have already been doing four of them. It’s number five that’s a new idea and the key to the benefits you’ll see.

The key is asynchronous video.

Synchronous teaching over Zoom or Skype is OK but it’s limited. Here’s what one teacher said in a comment on an asynchronous (student-uploaded) video in WeVu. (It’s a bit harsh, but surely now the student will play the phrase over and over and fix that note!)

“This should be a B not a B-flat.  We've corrected this a number of times, but it isn’t sticking yet. You must not have listened enough, one phrase at a time and then played just those few surrounding measures at least 10 times. Have you?  Clearly fixing it a couple of times in our Skype session was not enough to resolve this.  You simply must use practice strategies that will fix errors.”

This teacher was able to deliver the feedback asynchronously, which gives it a better chance of having an impact, according to this long article on giving and receiving feedback. The key thing is that when feedback is delivered as text alongside the exact moment in the video where the student makes a mistake, the student says “OK, I get it, I really was doing that.” And because the student doesn’t hear it in person they don’t have that automatic resistance that we all have to criticism. It’s easier to benefit from it because there’s some distance between the event and the feedback. Students can even reflect first on their own performance, like this one.

Vocal Performance With WeVu

You can easily add asynchronous teaching to your toolbox. That’s the secret – step 5 below (jump to it here).

Five Good Practices for Music Teachers During Covid-19

1. Start by letting your students know you’re there for them

You’re doing this, of course, but we don’t think it’s possible to overdo it, so keep it up.  

Most music learners (and parents) will really want to maintain the same lesson schedule as they had before. If that’s possible, great. But you may be able to actually reduce the contact time over Skype or Zoom but increase the time they practice and the feedback you’re able to give them. That’s what we get to in tip number five.

2. Temporarily drop your price by 10-15% if you can. 

For some families where you know they’ve been financially impacted you might even drop the price further. No, this is not crazy. You’ll more than make up for it in a bunch of ways. And you’ll be able to bring it back up again when the crisis is over.

Your students’ and their families will really appreciate the gesture if you say that you’re doing it because your costs are slightly lower without having to host students in your home or travel to theirs.

You’ll increase student loyalty and, more importantly, referrals. You want your students and families to be telling their friends that “our music teacher dropped her price by 10% because she’s aware of the financial challenges that are coming for some families.”

You will probably be able to actually charge your average student a bit more, or spend less time, by gradually using this opportunity to introduce more asynchronous teaching. 

You’re going to pick up more remote students from further away.

3.  Get the best, most comfortable technology for connecting with your students in real time.

Choose Zoom or Skype or Facetime or Google Duo.

  1. Zoom might be best because your students don’t need accounts – you just email them a link. The connection is really reliable. I’m sure you’re using it already. One extra benefit is you can record sessions and upload to WeVu (see below). Zoom probably has the best settings for music quality, as we mention below.
  2. Skype was down but it’s coming back. Your students need a Microsoft Skype account, but after that it’s as easy as a phone call.
  3. Google Duo is good because everyone has a google account.

Sound quality. You need to be able to hear tone. Apple products are pretty good with onboard microphones, but Windows and Android devices are usually terrible. You probably already know that a condenser microphone is much, much better. We think the best deal for you to recommend to your students is a USB Condenser mic from FFINE. Under $50.  If you’re using Zoom, look at this video from Phil Gervasi showing how to set it up for best audio quality.

Use headphones so you don’t get the audio feeding back to the student. Most of the videoconferencing technology is pretty good now with this, but you’ll probably concentrate better with headphones. (Unless you’re playing yourself and need to hear yourself demonstrate!)

Lighting. Make sure your students have got some help setting up their camera (and microphone) so that you can see them clearly. Lighting is actually pretty important.

Practice. Build in at least 10 minutes at the start of your first lesson with each student to get comfortable and fix any issues with the technology.

Check out other guides from David Taylor, and some great tips and a whole course from Carly Walton at TeachMusic.Online and this resource from Texas Tech University.

4. If you can, do a practice lesson or two so you can get comfortable with some of the differences from in-person lessons.

Referring to the music is harder. You can’t point! If you have a moveable webcam, you could point it at the music and then point. But mostly you’ll have to refer to it in other ways that your students can understand. It might take a bit of extra teaching of how you’ll be referring to pages and bars on the music.

Demonstrating and referring to positions on the instrument or technical moves is harder. See if you can set up your camera to comfortably speak toward it and have your own playing visible too.

Check for ‘latency’ – which basically means delay. You and your students may need to get closer to their wifi access points or routers.

5. Add asynchronous teaching to your toolbox using a platform like WeVu. 

This is NOT more work. In fact, students will practice more and they’ll take your feedback in a new, complementary way. It’ll boost their progress without you spending more live time with them.

"Instead of synchronous lessons, I would recommend creating a system where students upload audio or video assignments and you provide feedback (aka asynchronous teaching). This allows the students to record and upload material when it is most convenient for them (and whomever they are living with), and also gives teachers the same flexibility.  -- Genevieve Clarkson, Professor of Tuba and Euphonium, Oklahoma City University

With the right video platform you’ll have students self-record their practice so you can give them specific feedback right at the points where they need the feedback. There are video tools being used in college music schools that where students upload and those uploads are private between teacher and student. Private teachers can use the same tools. You go to a student’s hand-in box, choose their latest upload, and then watch and listen. Teachers stop the video when they want to leave feedback and it’s placed right there. The feedback can be text, audio, or video! Students can really digest the feedback and play over and over from that spot so they can see and hear what you’re talking about.

Maybe get students to upload twice a week. You can go through a student video fairly quickly and leave quality feedback with what they should work on. For most teachers it takes less time overall than delivering the same instruction in person. Then when you do a live lesson, you and the students know exactly what is being worked on.

Tips for asynchronous music teaching:

  1. Keep the recordings pretty short. It’s easier to upload and easier for the student to focus on those little improvements that make such a difference to their playing and singing.
  2. Have the student do the same piece two or three times in a row in the recording. That’s a big boost that you might not have the time to do in a live online lesson.
  3. Then after you’ve given the feedback, a student can actually re-record as a reply to your comment. Students can play a few measures repeatedly as a reply to your feedback comment.
  4. Use a first comment on a student’s video to encourage and to make clear the overall areas you’re working on.
  5. Then use the General Comments area for a plan for the student’s next few practice sessions and into the next live lesson.

Go ahead and sign up for a WeVu site (there are lots of music use cases for a tool like this). It costs you nothing and you can try it with students for a month. Then you’ll pay only a few dollars per student per month. Students can pay for an annual license in your site.

Summary - Our Five Tips for Music Instructors

  1. Take more care with communicating with students and families. Of course you’re already doing that.
  2. Temporarily drop your lesson fees if you can afford it.
  3. Take the time to choose the best synchronous technology for live teaching.
  4. Practice with that technology.
  5. Get a cloud video tool that lets students upload privately and lets you give time-specific feedback.
Please share with colleagues who could use WeVu!