When deciding on which lessons format is best, there is no universal solution. Your situation is unique. Many of us simply did not have a choice but to switch to online lessons immediately following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that some time has passed, we have optimistically started to look forward to a time when we will once more have options. This prompts the question: are online music lessons the right choice for me? And are they a viable alternative to in-person instruction?
The origin of distance learning
Although many were not even aware of its existence until recently, remote learning has been around for quite a while. In fact, the very idea has its roots in the 1840s. The teaching community largely acknowledges Sir Isaac Pitman, an English teacher, as its pioneer. He would simply mail assignments to his students, who would, once completed, mail them back to him. And voila, distance learning was born!
Since then, distance, or remote learning has come a long way. Due to recent technological advancements and improved internet speeds, educators finally have the right tools at their disposal. We can use them to teach both private lessons as well as group classes. This makes one wonder (and if you are reading this, chances are that you have given it some thought, too), extraordinary circumstances aside, are online lessons a viable alternative to in-person instruction?
Are online music lessons for me?
In short, it depends. It largely comes down to how prepared the teacher or the school is, as well as what kind of experience and support they can offer. Institutions, particularly colleges and universities, have been relying on remote instruction for decades, and music teachers are no exception. But what about young students, particularly beginners? Turns out that many educators have been conducting online music lessons with students of all ages successfully for years, too. Those of us who were already familiar with them, were fortunately able to adapt quickly. If instructed properly, students can switch to online lessons pretty quickly. After only a few weeks, students as young as 6 years old could join their lessons with minimal supervision.
Still, I have to admit that I was uneasy immediately during the spring of 2020. The number of students that had to switch their routines overnight made me particularly uneasy. However, I am truly astounded about the results that my students were able to achieve. I am not saying that I dislike in-person instruction, on the contrary, but online lessons have proven just as effective. This is truly more than I could have hoped for.
What do other teachers say?
It was interesting to discover that the majority of my colleagues reported similar results. However, just about any lesson format has its drawbacks, too. Online lessons are no exception. Issues range from sound quality and connectivity problems to the inability of physically interacting with our students. The latter probably causes the most issues for string players. Tuning the instrument, for starters, is something that beginners cannot possibly be expected to do by themselves, and parents are not necessarily equipped to deal with it, either.
That being said, as teachers, we often need to adapt to particular situations. When we teach our students the correct posture and hand position, it is often challenging to do so without contact. This is probably the single major adjustment that many music teachers had to make in order to succeed as online teachers.
Clarity is key
I myself am a big fan of a zero-contact approach, which is why I did not have to change my teaching approach considerably. I believe that the right choice of words can trigger the desired reaction. The theory behind it is simple: students can usually recall a word, even when practicing by themselves, while they are essentially not able to replicate the touch of their teacher. Recall, yes, but not feel it the way they did. On the other hand, they can recall and even repeat the word or phrase, which often triggers the same response as it did the first time they heard it. Of course, sometimes there is simply no alternative, but I am also confident that by using detailed verbal instructions, we can make students more attentive and responsive and achieve the same result. Clarity is crucial to conducting online lessons successfully.
Verdict—are online music lessons the right choice for you?
In conclusion, many parents wonder—rightfully so—whether online lessons work, or whether they will work in their particular situation. If the teacher possesses the right training and equipment (which I talk about in this article [link]), online lessons can not only be a viable solution, but one that enables us to conduct our lessons almost identically as we would do when teaching in-home or in our studios. This similar article addresses might help you weigh the pros and cons of online lessons.
Advanced students (high-schoolers and college students), should try to schedule at least a few in-person sessions every month. This way, they will be able to address more advanced topics. Of course, I cannot overemphasize how important it is to wait until we will be able to do so safely. Recitals and ensembles are also an important part of music instruction, and even though most classes and lessons can easily take place online, it is important to talk to your teacher about options to interact with them in-person as well—again, if it is safe to do so. Finally, just as you would do with regular lessons, sign up for a couple of trial lessons, or even a month, just so you can get a clear idea of what online lessons entail.