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Online Lessons, One Year On

This time last year I was scrambling to learn all about teaching online lessons. I needed to get up and running fast, but didn't know where to start. Many music teachers have been offering online lessons for years, but I was not one of them. I didn't see the need and didn't want to take the time to learn how to do it. Wow..... then came March of 2020.

The first thing I learned was to not panic, for it clouds one's ability to think, learn, and retain what one has learned. Of course, I did panic and went through a week of anxiety attacks and desperation. I finally got the courage to get to work on learning how to do this. It was sink or swim. The sheer frustration I endured during this time is hard to describe. By default,I'm more tech savvy than I ever dreamed I'd be. I learned the true meaning of perseverance by failing over and over until eventually I got it.

The second thing was to assure all my piano families this online thing was going to be smooth sailing. Overwhelmingly, they were going through the same tech issues as me. Only, they were now dealing with working from home and having their kids around 24/7, which was probably fun in the beginning....

I signed up for Zoom, FaceTime, Duo, Skype, and a multitude of other online platforms. I let all my students choose which platform they wanted to use. This became a confusing mess because I couldn't keep track of who was on what platform. And, some platforms are more user friendly than others. So, I chose Zoom as the official studio online platform, mainly because of the ease of mirroring my keyboard so the students could see it through a screen and the option to use an onscreen whiteboard. The whiteboard allowed me to place my student's piece of music on the screen and mark it up with my not inexpensive Apple Pen. Once I got started, I found the quality of sound on Zoom for musical instruments is not good at all. Zoom's algorithm prioritizes the spoken word and treats any instrument as an impediment, thus dampening the sound of the piano to the point where, quite often, I would see my student playing, but not hear a thing. Zoom has been trying to fix this, although with limited success. I tried to do my own fix for this problem. I went through a number of external microphones and headsets until I found a mic which worked for me. Apple's laptops are fantastic in every way except their builtin cameras and microphones are antiquated, producing a heavily pixilated screen and a lousy mic. I never would've noticed this if the Pandemic hadn't come along. This necessitated purchasing an external microphone to enhance the sound. d Of course, every external microphone I ordered either didn't fit the input on my MacBook Pro or it would fit my MacBook Pro and not fit the input on my iPad. Thus, I became Amazon's best customer for dongles and cable connectors. I now own every cable connecting device known to mankind as a result of trying to find the right ones.

Then, there was the issue of having to duplicate all my students' music books. I tried having my students hold up their music to the screen so I could take a picture of it, but that was a cumbersome process, both for my students and me. "Up a little more,Billy. No, not that way, the other way. Billy, it's upside down." So, I had the music store ship every single book to me.

Did I mention my difficulty learning how to use Zoom? How to send an instant Zoom Invite or how to schedule a recurring Zoom lesson was especially problematic because there are more ways to do this than I bargained for. Often, half of the online lesson would be just trying to connect with my student, who was just as confused as I.

Eventually, I got through the learning curve and things started to go smoothly. It's all quite easy for me now and I have forgotten the intense frustrations I felt in the early days. Online lessons have been a lifeline for me this year and it turns out I have been able to add quite a few out of state students to my studio because I offer online lessons. Now, if the weather's too risky to travel in, I suggest doing an online lesson so the student doesn't have to travel in severe weather. Nothing will ever take the place of in person lessons, but I'm now able to use online lessons as a selling point to students who might otherwise not be able to get to my studio once a week. A silver lining, indeed!

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