Your situation is unique, and many of us simply did not have a choice but to switch to online lessons immediately following the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. Now that some time has passed, we have optimistically started to look forward to a time when we will once more have the choice. Are online music lessons a viable alternative to in-person instruction?
The origin of distance learning
Even though many were not even aware of its existence before the COVID pandemic, remote learning has been around for quite a while. In fact, the very idea has its roots in the 1840s, when Sir Isaac Pitman, an English teacher, would mail assignments to his students, who would, once completed, mail them back to him.
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, which we can use to teach 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?
Is it 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 and levels successfully for years, too. Those of us who were already familiar with the technology and dynamic, were fortunately able to adapt quickly and transition to online lessons, and 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 following the lockdown in the spring of 2020, particularly due to the number of students that had to switch their routines overnight. However, I was (and still am) amazed at the overwhelmingly positive attitude of my families, as well as 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, which is 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 (albeit the latter are rather rare nowadays) to the inability of physically interacting with our students—something that string players probably suffer from the most. 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.
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.
Advanced students (high-schoolers and college students), should try to schedule at least a few in-person sessions every month to address more advanced topics such as tone quality—of course, only if it is possible 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.