In the recording studio, I’ve always relied on a producer to be my extra set of ears and coach--listening to my playing as it sounds to the microphone and giving me objective feedback, encouragement and challenge. Since recording is a process I greatly enjoy, I also like being in the role of producer to help artists realize their vision in the studio.
Recently, I had the privilege and pleasure of working in the studio as producer for pianist Frederic Chiu. Frederic is a consummate artist--not only a virtuoso pianist, but a visionary who thinks about and hears music on a profound level. When Frederic first told me about this project, I was captivated by his vision. It was soon apparent to me how and where this recording should take place. Manifold Recording studio is wonderfully aligned with Frederic’s vision for “Hymns and Dervishes.”
One interesting aspect of these sessions was the fact that they were streamed live online for fans, friends, and colleagues to experience the recording process and be introduced to this unique music. Manifold owner Michael Tiemann created an optimal Ustream setup, switching cameras between Frederic at the piano in the studio room, to the control room where we listened to the recorded takes. The streams are archived here -- you can view them on YouTube and see what was broadcast during the sessions. During breaks, Frederic was even able to respond to some viewer questions and comments during the two days the stream was live.
The opportunity to perform or to teach live online is growing daily. Whether a glimpse into a world-class recording studio/session, taking music lessons online or hearing a concert, live music is happening within our grasp constantly.
Have you had experiences performing or teaching live online? Please share!
Pianist, recording artist, educator and entrepreneur—Philip Amalong is VP of Community and Content of the ZOEN (Zenph Online Education Network).
If you’re like me, in a traditional lesson you or your student write in a physical notebook to spell out the assignment and items of focus for the practice period before the next lesson. With an online lesson, you won’t have this physical notebook. I recommend using Google Docs.
Google docs are a great tool for keeping a running notebook for your students. The historical record of your notes, assessment of the lesson and outline of practice goals is always available for reference and progress tracking, and the student can add their practice log and notes to the doc, creating a running journal.
Basics of Google Docs
1. Select Drive at the top of your Google menu:
This will make an untitled document that you can name by student and time period (e.g. July 2012) or initiative (Solo and Ensemble Preparation) in the document list:
3. You can create a folder (Create>Folder) for each of your students and keep their running document or a series of documents in the folder.
4. Share the document with your student: the blue Share button at the top right of the page allows you to enter a student or student’s parent email address to share the document. Only you and those with whom you share the document will see it.
5. The student can keep a simple practice journal by adding notes with with the Comment feature (similar to Microsoft Word).
Google Drive contains free tools that facilitate communication and collaboration between lessons. You may find many creative ways to use the different tools beyond the docs.
Have some cool things you’ve done with Google Drive? Please share and add your comments below!
Pianist, recording artist, educator and entrepreneur—Philip Amalong is VP of Community and Content for the ZOEN (Zenph Online Education Network).
Call of Duty Black Ops II composer Jack Wall talks with The ZOEN
Call of Duty Black Ops II is a juggernaut. Launched yesterday it is poised to be one of the biggest entertainment releases of all time. We sat down with renowned composer Jack Wall, talked with him about his career and the future of online education. Jack teaches online courses for Berklee College of Music and has experienced online learning himself.
Jack's cred in video game music is legendary (Myst, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 2, etc.), and the competitive process for landing the scoring gig for Call of Duty Black Ops II presented an interesting challenge:
"The first person I called when I got that opportunity was Phil! I had this whacky idea of doing a piano concerto—something really emotional, that could show some musicality, and I thought it was a really interesting and unique idea. And they loved it too—Phil did an amazing, amazing job...and I got the gig!"
His thoughts on online learning and the ZOEN:
"Everything is going through a Renaissance right now-- I’m very, very positive on what the ZOEN is doing---I really dig it. Especially the fact that you can actually play and hear each other [live] over the Internet—that’s a really revelation—that’s something Berklee doesn’t have.
I think it’s the fast-track of learning, I don’t think there’s any wasted space, there's not any wasted time. You get right in there and you learn something really fast and you can just apply it immediately. It’s such an amazing experience."
Full interview coming soon!!
Check out "making of" video of the Call of Duty Black Ops II score, shot at Abbey Road Studio One in London:
The Case for Free Trial Music Lessons
What do lawyers, ice cream shops, chiropractors, car dealers, candy stores, financial services professionals, insurance brokers, real estate agents, satellite radio, software applications and a host of other assorted products and services have in common?
They all offer free trials, samples, or consultations. A session of their time for free (or many sessions in the case of a real estate agent,) a sample of the product, a test drive, an opportunity to experience the therapy...
Music teacher's thoughts on this vary widely. Typically, their reasons for not offering free trial lessons are that the student is "window shopping" or that a free lesson "devalues" their lesson experience. Consider:
Window shopping: The student may very well be looking for the teacher who is the best fit and sampling multiple teachers. From our perspective as teachers, we have a strong personal connection to our work and want students who we think are a good fit.
Devalue Lessons?: If the teacher communicates their fees clearly upfront, the lesson value becomes evident in the free trial lesson, not devalued.
"But my time is too valuable!" That's exactly the point. If you're a music teacher, consider that a twenty or thirty minute free session with a prospective student serves multiple purposes, while obligating neither party:
So think about it--you're worth it. If you want more students and a fulfilling teaching experience by teaching students who you want to teach, consider offering free samples. This is especially true if the delivery medium is unfamiliar and you're working in the still uncharted territory of live online webcam lessons.
I'll bet the lawyers and chiropractors and finance people wish they had a relationship with their clients that allowed them to navigate a world of beauty and craft with the depth of music. Ask the next one that you have as a student. Also, ask them about the efficacy of free.
What are your thoughts and experiences with trial lessons? Please share!
About the Author: Pianist, recording artist, educator and entrepreneur—Philip Amalong is VP of Community and Content for the ZOEN (Zenph Online Education Network).
Verb: Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
Noun: Activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, esp. by children.
I find it interesting to note that when we make music at our instrument, it’s considered “playing.” As musicians, we get to play. Every day. [Singers, I know you don't use the same term, but the idea makes sense for you too, no?]
I was pondering this today as I wrestled to play chords on the guitar—an instrument I’ve never learned. I didn't feel very "playful." But something sparked—I felt like there was something I might like to do with this instrument. Should I find a teacher and take live online lessons? Why not learn another kind of play?
I’m a professional classical pianist. I've had a very playful life so far, you could say. But it occurred to me that it might be fulfilling to find another way to play, a casual “fireside” portable kind of play. Maybe I’d even be able to share some of the other music I love with family and friends (one of my musical “soft spots” is for indie alternative folk pop…or something like that…I’m listening right now, for example, to the new A Fine Frenzy album that came out today.)
By definition, play serves no “practical purpose.” But play pervades nature. And making music is a distinctly human activity. So, one could propose, playing music is highly purposeful because in doing so, we engage in being what we are: human.
Musical instruments are contraptions created to make the sounds we imagine or hear in our heads. Until we master them, they’re unnatural, they hurt our hands (fingertips on the guitar today!), strain our breath, make us self conscious and frustrated, and produce consternating sounds other than what we really want to hear.
Thus we practice. Practicing, come to think of it, is also very human—the effort put forth to hone and perfect our creation of sounds that reveal our human qualities.
So, the next time you play your instrument, consider what a wonderful opportunity it is to embrace something created to help you express what and who you are. Play indeed has purpose. If we practice with passion and gratitude, our instrument will become an extension of us. The more actively we listen, the more deeply we feel, the more we tell a story with every succession of notes, the more music opens the window to our very self, revealing us to ourselves and others.
Teaching a live online lesson requires us to consider some workflow, setup, and communication protocol that is unique to the medium.
Room setup and lighting
Look in the self-view of your video chat application before starting a lesson. You can instruct your student along these same lines:
Start your lesson by looking at and speaking to your student
Consider the physical lesson--the student and you first meet face to face, discuss the past week's goals, practice sessions, challenges, discoveries. If you like to focus a webcam on your hands or instrument and you’re only using one webcam, be sure to start a lesson with this face to face communication and then reposition your webcam as needed.
Advise your student regarding their set up and webcam position and communicate with them as you would at the beginning of any lesson before switching to an instrument-focused view.
This is one reason some teachers use multiple webcams and switch between them with a physical switcher or an on-screen tool. A “communication” camera and a “demonstration” camera can be an effective starting point.
During the Lesson
Communication via webcam has fundamental differences from a physical environment. For example, we can’t simply bend over and point to a place on the page and say “start here” or make pencil marks on the student’s page. Therefore, some things to consider:
Lesson follow up
Establish a communication flow with your student for the period between lessons. This will assure that they don’t abuse your time by over communicating with you electronically about insignificant items, and also that they understand to what extent your channel is open and what kind of response time they should expect.
The live online music lesson format also makes it convenient to schedule mid-week “check ins” or short sessions to make sure that student practice habits are on track. I’ve considered how a highly iterative music learning process might work in previous posts, and I think this is one of the many great benefits that the live online lesson medium offers--the possibility of more frequent feedback and interaction between student and teacher.
Please discuss and comment. What are some ways you as an online teacher optimize the experience, setup, and communication?
You’ve made the leap. Perhaps you’re already teaching your music lessons online (Skype lessons?) or you’ve decided that it’s for you and you’re ready to go. You’ve got your webcam set up and optimized, your studio is looking great, your Internet speed is screaming. Now what?
The title of this post sounds like it may be about how to price your lessons. My intention, however, is for it to be a consideration of how you spend your time and what your priorities are.
Unless you’re simply transferring your physical teaching to online, you need students. Your online teaching studio lives in the virtual world, so despite the “viral” nature of that world, you’re probably not going to be getting student referrals from fellow teachers, through your friends and family network, your Yellow Pages ad or even, believe it or not, from your website. It’s a massive space--full of possibility, but also chock full of great ways to waste your money and valuable time!
You absolutely should have a website, write a blog, frequent the websites rich with music teaching information and resources. But don’t rely on your website to attract significant traffic that will convert into online music students--this doesn’t happen without a large investment of time and money. Professional marketers make a daily habit of studying the ever-changing and latest SEO (Search Engine Optimization), writing and buying effective digital marketing ads, understanding the analytics of search behavior, and optimizing, optimizing optimizing--sometimes many times each day.
Additionally, you’ll want to have great resources for your online teaching--a robust solution for delivering the video/audio, tools that enhance the online learning experience, resources for best practices and a community of professionals who understand and support what you’re doing. Skype is a tool best used for weekend cross-country family get togethers, when all the throttling and inconsistency can be tolerated. You’re a professional though, and you can’t tolerate this for the learning that you want your students to achieve.
My suggestion: focus on what you makes you special and valuable: teaching music! Trolling the Internet and spending hours posting on listservs for answers, dealing with the trial and error of various software solutions, trying various marketing gimmicks...is this really what you want to spend your time doing?
So, you may ask, where does this leave me? How do I find these online students? How do I keep up with the state of the art in delivering online lessons? I’ve outlined a number of tips here, and will continue this series by sharing specific ideas and solutions about how you can build the best online teaching studio that connects you with the students who are the best fit for you.
So maybe you’ve heard about the growing wave of music teachers moving their studios into the virtual world but...you’re not there yet. Perhaps you’ve thought about it. “This online music teaching thing, is it for me? Can I actually do this? Does it really work?”
Is it for me? Can I actually do this?
Fear not. This isn’t rocket science. There are some common technical “must-haves” and other considerations, but most importantly: you’re already a great teacher! Teaching online requires certain rules of etiquette and adaptations, but those who have made the leap find that it’s really quite easy and the benefits can be extraordinary. Here are some things to consider, from basic technical issues to your presence in the digital world:
Do you have adequate high speed Internet?
Kind of an obvious practical one here, but live videochat relies on a good connection (test here) If you’re not “up to speed” with your Internet, it’s not an insurmountable issue.
Consider this: if it’s available in your area and investing in better Internet service is the barrier between you and even one student, the math should answer the question. Another $30 or $40 per month for better Internet service means a student paying you $30 or $40 per week? Sounds like a deal to me. Chances are though, as long as you have broadband you’re probably in pretty good shape already.
Have you used your webcam for Skyping or other video chat applications?
This is your fundamental communication tool--how you and your student see and hear one another. The basic webcam setup for teaching music lessons is really quite accessible. Using a relatively new laptop with a built in webcam, you can deliver music lessons online. Here’s a video where I describe the simple tools and setup for live online music lessons.
Are you active online?
If you’re at home in the Internet environment and spend time building your digital presence by curating a website, writing a blog, posting videos to YouTube, posting in forums...you’re well on your way to being a Virtual Teaching Superstar. The experience and knowledge you gain from promoting yourself and creating content has already built your savvy in the virtual world and marketplace.
Not an Internet star? Again, not a deal breaker. If you have all technical basics for online teaching (you’re already a great music teacher!) but don’t have much of a digital presence, you’ll simply need to take the leap and build that presence around your online studio. In future blogs, we’ll talk more about this--how to market yourself and understand your prospective student in the digital world.
Does it really work?
Most definitely. Thousands of teachers are actively conducting “Skype lessons”, and while there is yet to be a definitive study of the results, there’s a ton of anecdotal evidence that online lessons are highly effective. Concert artists like Jeffrey Biegel and music technology guru Hugh Sung are some high profile examples, and you may find that the piano, guitar or voice teacher down the block has a thriving online studio. I’ve considered the actual advantages of online music lessons over physically present lessons before, both from the teacher and student perspective.
It’s a nascent field for sure--and ripe for you to make a difference and make yourself known. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun!
We’ll look at some more questions in future posts, such as:
Matt Brechbiel, guitarist and teacher, partner at Falls River Music in Raleigh NC offers some insights on his personal journey, his perspective on music students and teaching today, and the future of live online lessons.
1) Please tell us a little about your musical and teaching background.
My background is a little different from a traditional music teacher’s
background, in the respect that I was completely self-taught. I figured it all
out by painstakingly listening to albums, over and over. It all changed one day when I saw this kid who was trying to play a song but was going about it all wrong. I could see his frustration because it just didn’t sound right to him. I asked him if I could show him how to play it. He was ecstatic with the results, so I showed him a few more songs that could be played using the same chords as the first. He looked at me and told me that he had learned more from me in 10 minutes than what he had learned from his guitar teacher in 6 months of lessons. Ding Ding Ding! My inner entrepreneur bell went off.
I started teaching lessons out of my parent's house along with a friend of
mine and we offered hour lessons (½ hour lessons with each of us). Within one year we had 35 students a week with more calling daily. We quickly outgrew my parents’ house, so I went to a local music store and made an arrangement teaching for them. By the next year I was teaching 53 people a week. Remember, this was all before every home owned a computer (wow, I’m dating myself).
What made my teaching approach different than the traditional teacher’s was that I didn’t base my curriculum on typical music books. I customized every lesson to the individual student. I used the songs they liked and wanted to learn as the basis for the music theory. I got them playing first, and they were learning the theory along the way. This approach is more prevalent now, with the popularity of video-sharing and guitar tab sites, but back then, it was totally different. People seemed to like my non-traditional approach and luckily, via word-of-mouth, my student base kept growing.
In 1999, I was offered the opportunity to work on Wall Street, utilizing the
other passion in my life which is technology. I am a total computer geek! While I wasn’t teaching private lessons every week, I took the time that I spent commuting on the train to write my lesson plans and overall approach for teaching guitar. That became a successful e-book called Vital Guitar Theory Vol. 1 (available on Amazon). Wall Street was a great opportunity and my experience in the tech world was irreplaceable. However, after 9/11 and the subsequent market crash, the company I was working for went under and I found myself trying to re-invent myself, utilizing all my knowledge, work experience and, most importantly, my God-given talent as a musician.
Today, I teach out of Falls River Music in Raleigh, NC. I now teach acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, music production, recording, live music, and songwriting. In fact, one of my students (who happens to be 13 years old) just won the 2012 Carolina Music Awards in the Youth Category. She was nominated for the songs we wrote and recorded during her weekly ½ hour lessons.
So, it all comes down to music and technology, two of my favorite things. And with an added dose of entrepreneurship I've managed to teach people how they can coexist together!
2) What is your experience with teaching live online lessons? What do you think are the benefits for teachers? For students? What are the potential and future of online lessons? The challenges?
Sometime in 2005 or 2006, my wife had to participate in a webinar for work. As I watched it with her, that inner bell of mine went off. I thought that with a little bit of tweaking I could use this tool to be able to teach guitar and increase my student base. It was a pretty involved setup using a video camera, a separate mixer and computer for all the audio, some PowerPoint slides, etc., but in no time I was up and teaching guitar via web conferencing software. I took advantage of the time difference and in the morning taught lessons to people who were in Europe, then in the evening to students living in the USA.
The only trouble I encountered was that I was great with technology and
teaching, but I was an absolute beginner in the world of online advertising. For this reason, I know that teaching networks and solutions like the ZOEN will be amazing for teachers. Like every other musician in the world, I don’t have a huge marketing budget to work with. If the marketing and billing aspect is taken care of by The ZOEN, much like how it is done in traditional music schools and teaching studios, the teachers can concentrate on the students and teaching.
For students (and parents), the convenience of live online music lessons is
probably the best feature. In a world of trying to juggle multiple schedules,
being able to have lessons in your own home means a lot to the busy household. The time factor is also great because sites like The ZOEN have teachers everywhere. The teaching schedule can be a lot more flexible. For example, if you’re an adult student who can only squeeze in a lesson later in the evening after you’ve put the kids to bed, you’re sure to find a teacher to accommodate you.
The possibilities are endless, especially with all the technology that is
coming down the pike. The only challenge for teachers that I foresee is getting over the difference of not having the student physically in the room with you. I think it would only take a few lessons to overcome any difficulty in teaching remotely. I would suggest that for the first couple of lessons to teach a current student—someone you are already familiar with. This will allow you to get used to the new platform.
3) Do you think that the massive glut of video learning content is a
challenge to live lessons or complimentary to them?
I love all the videos and guitar tabs that are available, I really do. I wish
they were around when I was learning. With that being said, you get what you pay for. There is no lesson that can give you instant feedback or advice like a live lesson. I can’t count the amount of students who have come to me after having tried, unsuccessfully, to learn solely via pre-recorded video lessons. They may know how to play a song or two, but their technique is non-existent.
"Again, I always get the comment, "I wish I had taken lessons first because I’ve learned more in this half hour than in all the hours spent online.”
Again, I always get the comment, "I wish I had taken lessons first because
I’ve learned more in this half hour than in all the hours spent online.” I
had one adult student who had been teaching himself using only online videos. When I asked him about barre chords he said he had tried for months but just couldn't play them. I asked him to show me. He tried to play a chord, but it came out all muted. I said to him, "Move your left elbow about two inches out." Boom! Out came the chords. He looked at me and said, “Are you kidding me? That’s all it took?" It was something you would never get from just watching a video.
4) When a prospective online student comes to you, what is your approach?
Exactly the same approach I would use if I were teaching them in my studio. I ask them what they want to learn. This allows me to get to know them then dive right into the learning process. I get them to play ASAP—the rest will fall right into place. If they’re an adult and just want to learn songs to relieve stress, then let’s do it. If they’re a younger student, we can use more traditional methods and books to get them ready to further their music education.
5) What are some trends you are noticing among students today?
Younger students are very internet-minded and tech-savvy. They know that
anything they want to know or learn about is available for them on the internet, including how to play guitar, piano, etc. They will constantly test you and question things just because they saw a video of someone else doing it a different way. They are bombarded with information and really are in need of someone to help them sort through all of it and figure it all out.
"...get on the train now because if not, you’re going to be
sitting by yourself at the station."
6) What advice do you have for teachers entering the world of online teaching?
My advice is simple: get on the train now because if not, you’re going to be
sitting by yourself at the station. As people get more and more comfortable with using the internet for communications and videoconferencing (thank you, Skype), their hunger for learning will only become greater. They will look outside of their hometown teachers. Now people who live in remote parts of the world can learn and teach music. All that is needed is an internet connection. Set your own hours and, with a facilitator of live online music lessons like the ZOEN, taking care of marketing and billing is an absolute no-brainer. The possibilities for music instruction are endless.
It’s a bold claim, and intentionally provocative to be sure. But let’s explore the claim in the context of the potential of live online music lessons. In much current thinking, the online lesson is a compromise—a simulation of the face to face lesson that lacks personal contact and effective interpersonal communication. However, research of live online lesson delivery as well as anecdotal evidence from active online teachers’ experiences, shows that the live online paradigm presents opportunities for a better learning experience, and indeed may soon be the “110% solution.”
Because we’re talking about a new paradigm and medium of delivery, the notion of “better” encompasses a number of aspects, both practical and experiential. The practical points include:
+Scheduling flexibility free from travel
+Saving time and money
+Learning/teaching at home
+Learning or teaching while away from home, on vacation or traveling
+Time-zone shifting—filling teaching schedules in hours that are “down” locally
+Retaining favorite students/teachers who move away
+Ability to have quick coachings, audition run-throughs, competition evaluations
+No germs from sick teacher or student who otherwise feel well enough to have a productive lesson
The experiential opportunities are where even more promise lies. Consider the following:
+A study* published in The American Journal of Distance Education in 2010 compared live online lessons with traditional in-person lessons. The following findings are noteworthy: “When on-line lessons were compared to face to face lessons, there was a 28% increase in student playing, a 36% decrease in off-task comments by the instructor, a 28% decrease in teacher playing (modeling), and an increase in student eye contact. In the online lessons, less than 3% of the time was spent on technology issues, although audio and video quality concerns were mentioned.”
+In online lessons we can look at and listen to our students from a variety of angles with distributed webcams, recorded video, MIDI transmitted over the Internet, and video analysis tools. As new technology continues to be
developed, we have tools for objective analysis of accuracy of notes and rhythm, allowing us to focus on technical issues and bringing forth richly communicative musical performances.
Think of major-league sports. If we were learning the techniques and details of football, for example, viewing the modern enhanced television broadcast with digital replay, multiple camera angles, analysis and commentary would certainly instruct us far more quickly than sitting in the stands at a game. (Obviously, if the goal were to play football, we’d have to get out there and do it! Online lessons offer both—the enhanced learning experience as well as the doing.) And with regard to the practical side of “better”—we can experience far more football on the television than we can in the stands, if we consider cost, travel, weather… Sure, there’s no replacing the excitement of being in the stands with the screaming crowd just as there’s no replacing the wonderful experience of music live in a room, but the path to learning is greatly enhanced by a media-rich experience when used well.
+Online lessons allow us to explore a variety of length and frequency of lessons unencumbered by a traditional once-per-week scenario, that in part is an adaptation to the reality of traveling to the teacher’s (or student’s) home or studio. If the feedback loop between teacher and student is more frequent, perhaps shorter periods of time, might a student learn better? How many times have we lamented the bad habits developed in a week of practice, or sought to fill the 30 or 60 minute time slot for an unprepared student? Why not teach by the minute and meet the student multiple shorter times per week?
In my college studio, I had an open door policy most days when I wasn’t scheduled in lessons or coachings or otherwise requiring uninterrupted time. Students would drop in regularly, asking questions or playing through pieces or passages for mid-week feedback and guidance. This regular feedback and interaction I found to be very effective for keeping the students on track and actively engaged in their work, almost as if they were involved in the daily intensity of a summer camp or festival—experiences that we know are invigorating and launch great progress in short periods of time.
+Anecdotally, I’ve talked with a number of teachers who find that young students, and especially those with attention challenges, are taught more effectively online than in person. Children have the ability to focus intently on the computer screen (sometimes much to the parents' chagrin!), and with only the teacher’s hands or face and instrument, the distractions tend to vanish.
While many challenges remain for the dream of the “110% solution,” the path to this ideal is mostly one of technical solutions. Technical solutions can and will be found. Reliable audio and video, rich musical performance analysis tools, kinesthetic analysis, enhanced recall tools, new ways of sharing and interacting with published content (scores and recordings,)—all these solutions have many busy technologists working vigorously to make them reality.
What are your experiences with and thoughts about online lessons?
*Orman, E. K. and Whitaker, J. A. (2010). Time usage during face-to-face and synchronous distance music lessons. American Journal of Distance Education, 24(2), 92-103.
About the Author: Pianist, recording artist, educator and entrepreneur—Philip Amalong is VP of Community and Content and co-founder of the ZOEN (Zenph Online Education Network).
Observer of the world of music, performance, learning and technology. Performer, Producer, Recording Artist, VP Community and Content-Zenph Inc.