, combining LIVE and SKYPED piano lessons, Skype,

Combining LIVE and SKYPED Piano Lessons

Three split screen webcam viewsA FACEBOOK forum contributor at the Art of Piano Pedagogy, urged me to blog about the hybrid piano instructor who inhabits the dual universe of LIVE and web-transmitted lessons.

So having unplugged three web cams last night to make room for a flesh and blood student, I can expand upon my own multifaceted instructional encounters.

Three webcams

two web cam views

To Skype or NOT to Skype is no longer the resonating query of the Millennium. A teacher can explore more than one music-learning cosmos without betraying time-honored tradition. In fact, the FACE to FACE student will augment his/her learning experience by taking some lessons by Skype and having segments instantly recorded (CALL RECORDER) either by split screen or local view. These readily archive as MOV. files and are uploaded as private or unlisted videos. They’re sourced by pupils for practicing tips and reminders. (Going public is an option that needs student permission)
(Disclaimer: I don’t teach raw beginners by SKYPE, and my current population is adult students) Some teachers mentor children on the web, and it can be useful, if the student is at least in the Intermediate level range, and will combine two learning modalities. Others might disagree.

Split screen panoramic

Split screen overhead

Close-up of Overhead webcam placement

Split screen close

The above videotaped resources alleviate the anxiety of students who can’t remember how this or that scale, arpeggio, sonata exposition was explored at the last LIVE lesson. (Within the conventional lesson-dispensing loop, he/she would wait until the next meeting to have approaches revisited)


SKYPE Call RECORDER and technologies make life easier for an Internet-based teacher. Both avoid the inconvenience of dragging out a tripod-mounted camcorder (affording only one keyboard view) and having to laboriously edit footage following lessons. On Skype, one can have THREE cams or even more placed at various keyboard angles (for closeups and panoramic views) and with just a mouse click, these are activated. A down below pedal view transmits an instant tutorial on pedaling legato. Just by clicking RECORD, the instruction is memorialized.

Pedal cam

I’m not knocking FACE-to FACE-lessons, that have a HANDS-on dimension that is not SKYPE compatible. But more disadvantageous is not having the ability to play passages together with a student or to accompany him in duet form.


The Internet time lag does not allow a simulcast, and with some connections or transmissions, the sound could be a lot better, though the audio-scape is improving. (High-speed Internet is a must on both sides of a lesson transaction)

Just the same, why rule out SKYPING lessons in favor of a LIVE interaction when BOTH cosmos can be part of a valuable learning experience.

When students relocate, for example, and want to continue their studies with a cherished teacher, SKYPE sustains their relationship.

I had this very situation with an adult student I’d taught for six years in Fresno, California. When I moved to Berkeley, she was able to continue her studies with me over the web. Brave new technologies made this possible.

A “LIVE” lesson in FRESNO
Marie and Aiden

By SKYPE from my new Berkeley Location to FRESNO (Student’s cat is a constant companion)
Marie and Cat on Skype

Here’s the pupil’s Baldwin Acrosonic piano blown up to large panoramic proportion:

piano closeup Central Valley

The convenience of having lessons over Skype should also be noted. Where lessons are canceled for illness, as an example, a teacher can more easily reschedule a SKYPE lesson at an hour that suits a student who normally commutes to the piano studio. Travel time is cut down considerably by a web transmission, and given hectic schedules of kids and adults, it seems to be a desirable option. Don’t forget bad weather like snowstorms and hurricanes that would nix a LIVE lesson, though a power failure could knock out a web transmission.


At this career juncture, I teach adults only, and my SKYPE Students are mostly working professionals with a crowded job itinerary. Two of them take lessons at 9 and 10 p.m. their time, with a 8-hour time lag between California and London. (It’s prime time for me, following lunch)

Most LIVE piano students could not find a teacher to accommodate such a late hour for instruction.

In addition, pupils who live in remote areas of the country (or world) might not find a qualified piano within traveling distance, so the web provides a learning opportunity that would be otherwise unavailable.

Finally, in a perfect world, LIVE and SKYPED lessons can coexist in harmony, without a battleground of wills.

Here are TWO PARALLEL LESSON examples–one by SKYPE, the other in person.

This adult student from nearby El Cerrito, California takes LIVE and SKYPED piano lessons as convenience permits. She prefers not to have a full view of herself. Others don’t mind more exposure. Skype Call RECORD options can be preset for various views.


This is one of my UK SKYPE students who moved from Berkeley and took his piano with him. I was glad to continue his lessons by web cam. Here we’re working on Legato pedaling.

In the course of this video he compares LIVE to SKYPED piano lessons.


My camera equipment for Mac oscx10.6 (I have a 21 inch screen)
Logitech C910HD1080; Two Logitechs: C615HD1080

To use more than one web cam, download the FREE Many cam version at

If you download the most updated Many cam, 2.038 (not FREE) make sure you have a compatible Mac or PC.

SKYPE CALL RECORD is NOT Free. (Update your SKYPE program before downloading)
You can purchase a BELKIN USB HUB that affords extra webcam connections.

The LIVE studio I left behind before my move to BERKELEY

6 thoughts on “Combining LIVE and SKYPED Piano Lessons”

  1. This is all very interesting Shirley. Thank you for your detailed report. I recently gave a few Skype lessons due to snow storms making it dangerous for students to drive. The students were preparing for performances and felt the lessons were needed. I discovered that the students were much more attentive than their in person lessons. They were serious and worked harder. I am not sure why exactly either. My equipment is not as complex as yours, as I am just getting my feet wet at the moment. I used a 13 inch laptop and very good bluetooth speaker and it worked out. However if I was to continue with more regular Skype lessons, I would have to invest more into my set up. Even though the students only had either small iPods or iPhones, I could see them and could instruct them. The Skype lesson evolved as an unexpected event and I to pull it all together very quickly to remedy the situation. I offered several students, but only two took my offer. Some families were not sure of how to work Skype and decided to wait and learn about it on their own. Others who came for their live lessons were interested in the Skype possibility and will consider it in the future in case there are circumstances that prevent them from getting to their lesson. The whole experiences was new to me as a teacher and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. It is very appreciated.


  2. Thanks for sharing, Fran. I work in the adult piano student universe and realize the challenges Skyping lessons with kids. I find that pupils in the software industry, engineers, et al, take to webcam lessons like ducks in water. So I’m lucky to have them–they are disciplined and detail oriented. Same for those willing to be adventurous regardless of occupation. Retirees seem to be a bit resistant to technology.


    1. I could see your students in the areas you mention as loving Skype lessons. I found that teenagers were very excited with it. Young children had to rely on their parents and so this didn’t happen too quickly across the board. Retirees are not open to it at all. I mentioned to the director at the school where I teach in addition to my home and he was intrigued- even offered the idea to the school for classes due to inclement weather. They are looking into it. As you might have heard we have had numerous snow storms here on the East Coast and it has delayed learning on many fronts. Skype offers possibilities. I appear to be the only music teacher from the school offering it at the moment, in lieu of bad weather. Some parents were happy that there was this choice and very grateful that their children did not have to miss their lesson! These were not raw beginners or very young children. They had been taking lessons for several years. Thanks again Shirley!


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