Skype lessons can be invaluable if one lives at a distance from their teacher. Since 2009 Skype has enabled me to continue studying with my teacher in New York, Edna Golandsky. Through Skype, I can also present my students to Edna for feedback on my teaching, bringing her into my Brisbane studio. When the connection is good, I forget the time difference (and early mornings) and feel like I am in her studio, looking over her shoulder, watching her hands move on the keyboard. Skype also allows me to teach interstate, regional and international students without travel expense and time, whether they be in Kingaroy or Singapore.
Although I find Skype to be a helpful tool, there are undeniable limitations, including restricted vision and imperfect sound quality. Having said that, these elements can vary, seemingly at random, according to the connection. Another drawback is not being able to guide the student through touch, an essential component in learning the Taubman Approach, particularly in the early stages. Despite these disadvantages, Skype can be invaluable. In this article, I will share what I have found to be helpful in navigating Skype lessons, including the necessary equipment and suggestions for lesson preparation.
Equipment and Setup
First, access to high speed internet is essential. Without this, the screen can frequently pixelate or freeze. Second, two cameras are ideal, to facilitate multiple perspectives. In my setup, I have my laptop computer with an inbuilt camera placed on a chair at the side of the piano. Additionally, I have a webcam positioned overhead, attached to a microphone stand with a boom arm (a clip, blu-tac or rubber bands work well). I use a Logitech 720p Webcam Pro 9000, which retails online on Amazon and other sources for between US$50-80 (pictured below).
When this is in place, the overhead and side views during the Skype lesson can be alternated quickly. To do so, click through Skype / Preferences / Audio-Video / camera input. It is only possible to show both views simultaneously when using multiple computers through a conference call, however in my experience the sound and audio quality can suffer considerably. If the majority of the lesson is spent using the overhead view, I then move the laptop to the right of the piano’s music stand, which is more comfortable than turning my body to the right to see the screen.
Suggestions to prepare for lessons:
- Familiarise yourself with the basics of Skype and your technical equipment before your lesson. Make sure the cameras are positioned to facilitate a helpful view; practice changing between screens. A trial call with a friend or colleague can reduce spending valuable lesson time on troubleshooting technical difficulties.
- Both teacher and student need to allow time in their schedules to set up for the Skype lesson, and to return the studio to normal for the next lesson. This time varies for each individual, but with practice, set up does not need to take more than a few minutes.
- Check the time difference, if applicable, to ensure you are punctual. Also make a note of when clocks in the appropriate timezone are changed due to daylight saving or summer time.
- Let your teacher know of the repertoire you wish to study at the lesson with sufficient advance notice. If she does not have the score in her studio library, scan and email the selected pages prior to the lesson, making a note of the composer and page number. Writing in the measure numbers and any particular fingering can also make the lesson more efficient.
- The sound quality is such that lesson time can be better spent targeting questions to specific issues, rather than playing pages at a time, or performing a piece all the way through. To counteract this issue, the student may choose to record themselves performing a piece and uploading the video to YouTube (as a private link) for the teacher to see.
- With your teacher’s permission, use a video or third-party program to record the lesson for later review. Some students recommend Pamela for Skype, or Call Recorder, others use their IPhones or other recording devices.
- PayPal is a convenient method for international students to transfer funds, and cheaper than bank transfers. Allow extra funds, to compensate for the PayPal surcharge the teacher incurs.
Although one-on-one lessons are undoubtedly more effective than Skype in its present form, Skype lessons can still be highly productive and rewarding. Hopefully the suggestions discussed in this article illuminate the process, and encourage some students at a distance to pursue Skype lessons as an option, interspersed with in-person lessons where possible.