I’m sat in my music studio after teaching and thinking about how the world has changed over these past months.
Five years ago, my amazingly supportive husband suggested I offer online lessons, ‘…then you won’t be limited by location, you can teach the world!’ he said. I’d moved down to Hampshire from Yorkshire and in doing so had to pass on quite a number of dedicated students. I adore teaching and wanted to build up a student base down here. I was dubious of the idea. ‘No, it won’t work… I prefer face to face…’ were some of the excuses I came up with. Who would have predicted that 5 years later, a global pandemic would have me locked in our home and offering the same online lessons I’d refused to entertain?!
So, how did I come a full 360 on my initial negativity? I care about my students, their progress and their lives, I couldn’t just drop them because they can no longer come to the house. And what about my business, if I didn’t change, I wouldn’t have one! So those pupils that were willing to ‘go online’ did and we worked it out together.
The very first lessons were glitchy and done via my smart phone balanced in a cradle above the computer. I was quite nervous to begin with but fives minutes into the lesson, my teacher head took over and we carried on pretty much as normal. As I continued with the online lessons, I quickly realised changes I had to make to my teaching practises. Things like making sure singers had accompaniments ready and that completed theory pages were emailed or texted to me. I changed singing warm ups to negate video lag and altered piano games to work digitally. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of progress students have made, I was worried online lessons would slow them down. This was definitely not the case and we’ve even entered exams and festivals digitally!
The phone solution was not right though and purchasing a proper microphone, headphones and web camera were the next upgrades. These made a massive difference to the quality of video and audio I was giving. I felt more professional too having a ‘proper set up’ rather than grainy lessons via my phone. I’m excited for when students do come back face to face too. My super awesome microphone is so swish, I want to give students a go singing favourite songs on it! I could offer a whole recording experience… ooh there’s another blog.
So lessons were running smoothly, progress being made, I sounded and looked good online but I was uncomfortable! The computer was too far away from the piano for demonstrations and I often ended lessons with a back ache. I decided to move the studio around. No easy feat with the equipment I have in here! But worth it, the backdrop would feel familiar to students who could see me in my office and also the room would hopefully work better for these digital lessons. I’ve attached a picture below. I sit on my rolling stool set to the lowest setting which makes me sit tall (to reach!) but also helps me move easily between the desk and the piano. These are also next to each other now and I have all the music and books I use during lessons to hand. It’s a smooth operation!
And now, 6 months after my first ever online lesson, I feel confident teaching this way. I took on a new student, who I’ve never met in person just last week too. Yes, I’ve had to make changes to the way I teach but the quality in lessons has not been compromised, as was my fear, and if anything has probably improved! I’m forever grateful of the students who were open minded to giving these a go in the first place, without their enthusiasm I don’t think I would have had the confidence to go for it. And to my husband who has made sure our internet is fully resilient so we can both work from home, the kids can stream TV and there’s no delays!
I’ve decided to keep lessons online for now and am looking forward to continuing in this media even when face to face lessons resume for Mel Mastro Music. And yes… I can now teach the world!