In these strange times, musicians as much as anyone else have had to change the way they work and live. Teaching has always been the backstop of the professional musician; a way to supplement your income between gigs. You can’t argue with the financial security of being a private teacher with a full roster of students or being employed by a music service to teach during the week. Sadly, since the Covid-19 outbreak, face-to-face music lessons have been put on hold indefinitely – causing music teachers everywhere to look for alternative means to deliver their lessons.
However, thanks to conferencing programs such as Zoom and Skype, musicians have been given a lifeline for teaching music online and continuing their work. The upshot of this is that it’s now easier than ever to get into online teaching. If you have never considered teaching online, it can be a great way to bring in a bit of extra money as a student, as well as providing excellent subject matter for modules, such as the 3rd year professional project. There are however a few things worth talking about before taking on your first student.
How do you make sure you’re covered for teaching music online?
Before doing any teaching, it would be wise to get a basic DBS check. You can apply for one here. These prove you have no prior criminal convictions and add an extra step of security when setting yourself up as a teacher. It is also worth mentioning the rolling DBS update service. After receiving your DBS certificate, you have 28 days to register for the service and this ensures that you will only ever need one certificate.
Another certificate worth looking into is Safeguarding Children in Education. You can obtain one of these by completing a short online course here.
What equipment do you need?
The basic requirements to teach online are a laptop (or desktop) with a webcam and microphone, the Zoom app installed and a pair of headphones. The reason a pair of headphones is required is to eliminate the possibility of echo and feedback. It also goes without saying you will need your instrument to hand! However, if you feel like pushing the boat out a bit with your production value, it could be worth investing in a separate USB microphone and HD webcam.
Aside from the hardware, you need to have an idea of what to teach people. Of course, this depends greatly on factors such as age and ability, but it’s worth putting some thought into a ‘beginner’ syllabus, and how you would approach teaching your instrument to someone who has never played it before. There are endless lesson resources online if you are stuck for ideas, so do not be afraid to try things out that you have seen in a YouTube video or read in a web article.
Setting up the audio and video
After you have everything you need to get started, you need to think about where to place your microphone and webcam. Chances are if you are playing anything other than the drums you can have both on a desk in front of you. However, setting up for a drum kit can take a bit of creativity.
It is also good to think about where your webcam is pointing. For example, if you are demonstrating something on your instrument, make sure the webcam is pointing at your hands.
A good way to see what your video looks and sounds like in Zoom is to use the ‘record’ feature in the bottom bar of the meeting. You can do this on your own. Just start a new meeting without inviting anyone else, hit record and start talking and playing your instrument. When you are done, end the meeting and Zoom will save a video file. If you watch this back you can see and hear what your student would, so you can alter your microphone volume or webcam placement if needed.
How to configure Zoom for the best audio and video quality
This is where it gets a bit technical as Zoom does not handle instruments particularly well with its default settings. However, you can follow these steps to create the best audio and video quality:
- On the main screen of Zoom, navigate to the top right corner
- Click on the cog (settings) icon
- Go to ‘Audio’, then ‘Advanced’
- Ensure the ‘Enable Original Sound’ from microphone option is ticked. This will stop Zoom from putting your microphone through its filters, which are mainly built for speech
- Set the ‘Suppress Persistent Background Noise’ and ‘Suppress Intermittent Background Noise’ drop-down boxes on the same screen to ‘Disable’. The ‘Echo cancellation’ dropdown box should be left on ‘Auto’
- It is worth asking the student you are teaching if they could also change their ‘Suppress Persistent Background Noise’ and ‘Suppress Intermittent Background Noise’ options to be disabled. They do not need to change anything else
- As for the video, in the same way you accessed the Audio, navigate to the Video section and ensure that ‘Enable HD video’ is checked
There are various ways to increase your online profile. Having your own website is always great, and there are many services out there such as Wix and Squarespace that allow you to create your own without any previous experience.
Posting about your teaching on your social media accounts and asking people to share the posts is a quick way of informing everyone about your online lessons. Finally, there is a great website called Music Teachers that offers a free listing when you register. This provides you with a highly visible search, but for no cost.
I hope these tips have been of some help, and best of luck if you decide to give online teaching a try!