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Skype Lessons for Advanced Students : A Compromise or a Challenge?

One of the virtues of technology is that you always face a new challenge in your teaching. I never thought teaching online was possible, but seems that the challenge makes you think and try to do your best. When it comes to advanced students, the task is even more difficult: Therefore preparation and goals for each lesson are a must, especially if you have to prepare the student for an audition/competition etc. Such is the case now that I happen to teach a very gifted student from Singapore, and took the challenge. That means: totally  a different way of responsibility.

At first, Skype lessons look very weird, but when you overcome the sort of sterile atmosphere and the sound quality, you start to feel comfortable and imagine that the student sits next to you. The power of imagination…

Of course it is better to have a good camera, speakers, etc, and that you have a table by your piano to talk to the student while you are holding the music. Make sure that the camera shows also your face and your hands by the piano .

Here are some insights that I tell myself while I prepare my next lesson and happy to share: It is a sort of practicing  and preparing. In real lesson you can be more spontaneous  , but in Skype lesson I think that you have to be more prepared before, and that works so far.

Pre-lesson actions

Practice plan: It is always great to have a practice plan , and I ask most of my students to do so, but when your student is far away, the responsibility is even more important: you have to make sure the practicing is organized between the lessons.

Record and send before lesson: In order to overcome the sound problems it is better that the student will record himself and share the file with the teacher before the lesson through google+ or youtube. I find that the recording quality from a mobile phone is even better sometimes. Then, the next step is listening and writing remarks to the student in mail, FB or any other device.

Make sure the bars are numbered  both ways: easier to follow, since each one has a different score.

Agree with the student on the amount of repertoire for next lesson: if the student works for example on five pieces, make sure you agree to work of only three of the repertoire. Unfortunately, in these kind of circumstances there is no place for improvisation.

Always plan ahead. Because of the limits of time and the delay of reaction both sides, plan your lesson carefully, and make sure you are working on a certain repertoire that you and the student agreed before.

Actual Lesson

Less stops and more flow: the student plays a long section and the the teacher talks for certain amount of time. Then  another session of playing and so on. Since there is no way to stop the student by voice while playing, the student should look at the camera once in a while and the teacher can raise hand to stop, for example.

Conversation: it is good after the student had played the Sonata/etude/Variations to have a short conversation , The teacher should explain general things that rely to the piece: style, history, relation to other repertoire etc (exactly like a beginning of a masterclass) and then ask the student questions regarding his performance. After, there is not so much room for that and the flow of playing must be more than talking.

Demonstration: It depends a lot if the camera is on the teachers' piano and hands.

Demonstration in a lesson online  can show mainly tempi, timing of the composition, and some character. Also body movements and use of wrist/fingers/arm can be shown up to a limit – but of course with a verbal explanation.

When the teacher wants to work on sound, it is quite frustrating, but at the same time, remarks about sound and dynamics can belong to the Pre-lesson actions. One can use the pre-lesson actions (as I stated before).

Physical contact: There are discussions nowadays about physical contact between teacher and student in order to demonstrate sound production, body mvts. etc.

In Skype the physical contact is impossible but surely the teacher can make sure that the student is aware of unnecessary mvts in special passages.

Problems that can happen during lesson: Patience is a necessity

Most problems might be network : disconnections, sound, huge delay in information etc.

That means an element of lesson has to appear twice and even three times: that can take more time of course, and the teacher must be patient and repeat some remarks. It is better to take notes while the student plays in order to repeat if necessary.

I imagine if Professors like Neuhaus or Hoffman or Leschetizky had Skype… it is difficult to imagine myself as a student, but since most students today are born into the technology, it is not a big deal for them, and I think it will be one day a regular part of communication, also between teachers (video conferences?) and scholars.


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