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Can Piano Lessons be Skyped?

The very title of this blog might send readers feverishly rushing off to other sites. I would have had the same fight/flight response before I heard from two happy Skyping students, one of whom was so pan-allergic that any semblance of a cat or dog hair coming through a vent would have placed him in medical jeopardy. Naturally, in self-defense, he bluntly asked me in a private lesson inquiry, if the neighbors to my right or left had any pets–or if they walked the canines anywhere near the property. I replied that I remembered a dog barking occasionally during my lessons along with the accompanying drone of BART, no less cooing pigeons coming from cages over the fence. That was the final straw–minus a barn. He was back to SKYPING with his East Coast-based teacher, and ingesting music through long distance Internet-driven transmission. One-to-one, in-person lessons in the vicinity were out of the question unless a mobile bubble could be ordered from the nearest University medical center to keep him out of harm’s way. (going to and from lessons)

All kidding aside, since I’ve been You Tubing various tutorials exploring piano technique as well as the Baroque, Classical and Romantic piano repertoire, I had begun to think that I was just a few steps away from coming flesh and blood into a student’s living room. But I hadn’t yet seen or heard blog readers practicing at their individual pianos as important feedback in the two-way learning process. For all intents and purposes, I was “teaching” an invisible audience, if not myself.

One of my Bay area students admitted that she would place an iPad on her music rack in the days between her lessons to refresh and reinforce the content of her Monday session. According to this feisty adult pupil, it was follow-up conveniently transmitted by You Tube, keeping her on track.

With my student’s admission of delight in having this resource at her easy disposal, I started to think about the possibility of SKYPING lessons where a student who lived beyond reasonable travel distance could tune in and have a supplemental lesson. In situations where distance was intercontinental, a pupil might be SKYPED on a more consistent basis. Another option: Arranging for a private You Tube communication between teacher and student only? (not in real time) Surely this would be a tip-toe approach short of going All the Way by SKYPE mobile?

I still felt hesitant about not being close enough to a student to adjust his elbows or wrists to improve singing tone or nurture fluidity of technique, etc. Would my hands be completely tied, aside from placing them squarely on the keyboard. My cheescake smile might be SKYPIFIED, and warehoused to a floating archive without a reciprocal smile of recognition within an acceptable range of inter-personal communication.

The clincher came after I watched a virtuoso pianist in the US teach a student in Asia. It was an artful communication with an advanced student that brought visible and audible improvement in the playing. And the way I “read” it, the teacher’s talent for imparting musical/technical wisdom rose above any media related mode of transmission. (That said, if the SKYPE connection died, or if there was lack of audio synchronicity between the two individuals, or DSL speeds didn’t match up, I could see one great big Internet-triggered Tsunami zigzagging across the screen taking the student and teacher under the waves)

Would that catastrophic possibility discourage me?

Despite real or exaggerated pitfalls, I still launched my journey to learn more. And in this nit-picking process I e-mailed SKYPING You Tubers for advice.


Currently, at the peak of my information gathering expedition, I would gladly welcome input from SKYPERS who have taken piano lessons, or from teachers who have availed themselves of this technology–especially those who’ve used the Music Reader software that allows an instructor to mark up the music before the student’s very eyes) The Magic and marvel of technology!

In an internet-compressed, high-speed delivered set of comments, what are the advantages, disadvantages of this SKYPING activity, and how can it be improved? What student age groups benefit the most? the least?

How did you set up your lesson Skyping and what computer and web cam did you use? Was there a need for a supplemental web cam such as a Logitech for better keyboard viewing angles? (I’m told Macs are incompatible with these, so you have to buy Rocketfish) Good thing the allergic student opted out, in any case. Oops, I forgot that a Rocketfish would not be swishing around my living room tank.

I must be behind the times, or not yet tuned in to SKYPE, HYPE, PADS, PODS or SMARTS.

2 thoughts on “Can Piano Lessons be Skyped?”

  1. nice article/topic!
    Yes or no, depends on what the student wants to achieve. Learning process has many levels. I believe skype/youtube can achieve good levels of learning. I sit in my daughter’s piano lessons. The other day, they were working on the #4 piece in Burgmuller OP 100. I watched her teacher adjust her hands and fingers to play those legato thirds, and how to emphasize the top notes. Her playing was instantly improved. For a 7 yr old, this might be the most effective learning. However, for me, I should be able to learn these over an internet lesson. In addition, an internet lesson can be watched over and over. It serves better than the one-on-one lesson if the student is not an instant learner.
    best, Li


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