Santiago Belgrano

Online piano lessons

Hi everyone, it’s been a while. I hope you all are staying healthy at home, and you’re not being extremely affected by the COVID-19 situation. It’s definitely a good time for making this post that I’ve been postponing for a while, to help my students’ parents, and some colleagues that also are considering to start to teach online for the first time.

Let me first give you some background on my experience: I studied IT many years ago, and worked for years on coding, web development, and IT in general. I had online lessons with two of the best piano teachers I’ve ever found around this world: John Bloomfield and Jacob Sacks. Finally, as a teacher, I’ve been teaching remotely since I left Argentina. I’ve worked both with beginners and advanced students, kids and adults, jazz, classical and others. And I’m here to tell you: it definitely works. It has been a great experience, both as a student and as a teacher. Of course, it helps when you have teachers such as John and Jacob.

So, I’m going to put some things together for you to make this work, so this quarantine can be a bit more exciting for you and/or your children.

Software

The three options I have used are Skype, FaceTime and Zoom. FaceTime is the most restrictive, since it only works if you have a Mac, an iPhone or an iPad. If you do (I do too), we can get going very easily. Skype is the most universal and well known, it works well on every device and on every operating system. Zoom isn’t the best with Google devices, but it does work great with others. Some people say it’s the best in terms of delay and latency. I find that, as long as you have a good internet connection on both ends, any of the three should work just fine.

To sum up, no matter which one we use, the importance is that we both have a good internet connection.

Gear

To get started, a phone, a tablet or a laptop should be enough.

Phone holder

I use this phone holder by Lamicall, and I think it’s very handy. It’s very flexible, you can put it anywhere and turn the phone easily. It’s $19.99 on Amazon, and you can find other cheaper options.

iPad Tripod Stand

Elitehood’s iPad tripod is also very handy and works great if you’re going to be using a tablet.

And if you want to get fancy as a student, or as a teacher to offer a better quality, we can improve both sound and image. However, new phones and tablets have extraordinary cameras and built-in microphones.

Blue Yeti USB Microphone

This is probably the best option for a USB microphone, most people nowadays are using it for Podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. If you get a Lightning to USB adapter, you can make it work on your phone too.

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920

This is one of the best affordable webcams in the market, and this will make your video quality improve considerably.

Speakers/Headphones

Having a nice set of headphones or speakers can improve the experience considerably. There’s tons of brands and models, but if you’re using the microphone, the speakers, the phone, etc. I would recommend to use some wireless gear, since eventually it might become difficult to move everything around. Bluetooth speakers or headphones, no need for very expensive and professional ones, will make the sound become closer to the real thing, and will definitely be better than the built-in speakers of the device you might be using.

You don’t need any of this to get started. Just the phone, the tablet or the computer will do enough. But if you plan to keep doing this for a while, improving the quality will be nicer, both as a student and as a teacher.

Parents

If your kid is very young your help could be required during the lesson. Sometimes I might need you for switching from book to book, page to page, or just helping with things such as the hand position or the kid’s focus and behavior (or solving any technical issues on the call if anything happens). Most of the times I have the books and the sheet music that my students are working on, but in case that I don’t, I will need you to send me some pictures of the pages your kid is working on, the sheet music of their own compositions or assignments, etc. before starting the class. Some parents have stayed many times holding the camera during the whole class, but I don’t recommend this. Just with a little imagination you can find a place where to put the phone so you don’t need to stay holding it for 30, 45 or 60 minutes.

Teachers

It’s good advice to have the books that your students are working on, or the sheet music. There’s ways to connect through MIDI, or to share your screen if you want to use PDF’s, Finale or Sibelius. I usually send PDF’s before the lesson, so they have time to print or download. There will be things that you can’t do, such as playing four hands piano, but you can always get recordings of the accompaniment and send them to the student, or use apps such as a iReal Pro, or DrumGenius. With some creativity, the lesson can be as nice, complete and rewarding as it is in person.

Feel free to write me if you need any help setting up/starting your online teaching, or if you want any lessons from me. And more than anything, stay home, wash your hands, and look out for your neighbors, the elderly and those who need us the most right now.

Cheers,
Santiago.

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