6 Ideas to adapt your private teaching style to online lessons

Private piano teachers are faced with the possibility of a huge shift in operations as we all brace ourselves for the inevitable spread of the novel coronavirus and with people recovering from Covid-19.

Whether dealing with mass quarantine or an occasional student who cannot make it to their regular lesson, it’s best to be prepared with the option to teach online.

Here are some ideas from a studio teacher who normally teaches private lessons in person, on how to adapt this teaching set-up for temporary or occasional online lessons.

1. Email to prepare your families

Prior to the reality of teaching a lesson online, email your clients to let them know your expectation that lessons will continue online even if they cannot in person (or if you’re the one who cannot teach in person).

Professionally, it is reasonable to have an online lesson in place of a regular private lesson in case of inclement weather or slight illness. However, there will still be times when your student will be so ill they will not be able to have even an online lesson. Imagine how you feel when you aren’t well. You wouldn’t feel like hearing or making music, and neither would your student. This is simply to say that online lessons are not a solution to every in-person miss.

Sample emails are included at the end of this post.

2. Know your devices

Have your phone, tablet or laptop ready (you may want two devices). Ask what technology your students have.

If you are like me and are not switching to online teaching but are turning to it as a temporary stopgap, you’ll want to work with the existing technology everyone has at their fingertips and not require immediate upgrading.

Again, this blog post is for teachers who plan to continue to teach students in person regularly but may need to have temporary or occasional online lessons.

  • the primary device is for the audio and video connection
  • a possible secondary device could be for music on a tablet so you and your student can both be looking at the same thing
  • a possible tertiary device could be for the lesson plan (more on this below)

As a last resort, a simple telephone to the ear can work for remote lessons. I have both received and given lessons this way, and it does work in a pinch.

3. Figure out connections

Get familiar with Apple FaceTime and/or Google Hangouts. Most people have Facebook’s iMessage, which has options for audio and video calls. Zoom is an option for teachers who want to get more serious about frequent online teaching (there may be fees for using zoom).

Most people have Facebook’s iMessage which has options for audio and video calls.

Find out how to connect with your students. Know which email or phone number you will use to connect with each client. Create a document of your schedule with the list of your students in the order of their lessons and their connection information.

A note on bandwidth: video calls take a lot of internet bandwidth. During the time you are teaching online you will want both households (the teacher’s and the student’s) to limit internet use. This would not be the time for three people in one home and two in the other to all be streaming movies on separate devices at the same time.

At the start of each lesson, it is best for the teacher to first end the in-progress lesson then initiate the call to the next student to avoid interruptions.

4. Sound

In my experience as a teacher and student of online lessons, the sound is sometimes glitchy. You will want to try ear buds, wireless ear buds or headphones to improve the quality of sound and avoid echoes and feedback loops. Your student may wish to do the same.

Feedback from teachers indicates that because of online delay, duets are not possible. Perhaps this is a time for parents at home who know how to play the piano to learn duets and play along.

Join composer Rebekah Maxner for a two-in-one online studio event! 1) Inspire your students to compose with the “Be a Copycat!” composition workshop! This reveals the biggest trade secret of the greatest composers and inspires your students to try it, too! 2) Then, in the Piano Mini-Fest, your students get to play their favourite piece for feedback and a masterclass! Find out more! >>

5. Lesson notes

Prior to the lesson, ask your student to text or email you a photo of their last lesson’s notes. Since you may have met in person the week before, they’ll likely have the notes, not you. Having the photo will allow you to see the previous lesson at a glance, and choose the pacing and the order of the activities. This is why you may want more than one device at your disposal: one for the video and sound connection and the other to see the photo of the previous week’s lesson.

The lesson notes one student texted me from their dictation book. This enabled me to direct the lesson from our previous one.

As the lesson progresses, you could approach the in-progress lesson’s notes in one of two different ways:

a) ask your student (or their parent) to add the new date, lesson number and current lesson’s notes in their own handwriting. This is actually an interesting way to approach it, because it allows the student/parent to put your suggestions and instructions into their own words. This may help them better remember what you’ve experienced together.

b) type your lesson notes in an email, which you’d both have for the next time.

Either way, you may want to have a separate device for the notes, like your laptop.

6. Intervals, rhythms?

Because online connections can have glitchy sound, you may want to avoid rhythm clapbacks. Instead, if you’d like to have a short skills component, work on intervals. Play them with nice long notes so even if the sound cuts in and out or shifts, your student will be able to hear and name them.

My blog article is meant only as a first step for setting yourself up to teach alternative lessons online. For expert advice on how to teach online, please visit these these highly-recommended piano teachers who have a lot of experience teaching online. For more information, click the bold links.

Carly Walton’s Teach Music Online. Carly and Carol Matz have teamed up with a special package to help teachers make the transition to online teaching.

Bradley Sowash Music. Bradley has taught online for several years and has given workshops on the subject. For more information, contact him by clicking his name above.

Jennifer Foxx of Music Educator Resources has developed a course entitled Getting over the fear of teaching online and video lessons.

Sample emails

The first sample email is simply geared for bad weather:

The second sample email is geared for the current pandemic:

This is a special time when we are all asked to do our part to slow the progress of this global pandemic. I wish you, your family and your students all the best in the weeks and months to come as we all work together for our mutual wellbeing.

Do you like this post and want more? In the side menu click “follow” to get notification of my posts each week in your inbox.

I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤

Rebekah Maxner, composer, blogger, piano teacher. Follow my blog for great tips!

Video of the week

The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone (Elementary) is a sensitive, mature-sounding piece that encourages expressive playing. It is cleverly written so that only one hand plays at a time (except for one spot). It’s from Rock this Town, 11 Elementary piano works, solos and duets. Or, check out the studio-licensed eSheet for The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone!

The Sad Clown Waltzes Alone gives Elementary students opportunity to play expressively.
Here’s an audio clip of Uptown Low Down from Rock the Boat.

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