Their effectiveness, what to expect, and how to get the most out of them
Since the internet became a thing, fashion-forward educators have leveraged the technology as a new arena for teaching. Add Zoom and COVID, and online learning has become ubiquitous for every age and every subject imaginable. But since the days of dial-up, there have also been skeptics. Debates have raged and studies ensued about the effectiveness and proper use of the online world as a means of learning.
From the beginning, we’ve known that online learning lends itself to some content areas easier than others. One can listen to a history lecture just as well from their patio in their pajamas as they can in a college auditorium (maybe better). But what about something as hands-on, as nuanced as music?
If you’re considering online music lessons for your child, the allure is strong. No need to pack all the kids (and an instrument) in the minivan to trek into town. No struggling to keep the little ones entertained in the small waiting room of a music studio. But will it be worth it? What should you look for to know that your child is getting a quality experience?
This article explores all that and more as we investigate the effectiveness of online music instruction and offer you valuable insights about what to expect and how to get the most out of your child’s experience.
Are online music lessons effective?
What the experts say on music taught virtually
The short and reassuring answer on whether online music lessons are effective is a resounding, “Yes!” Online music instruction allows students anywhere to connect with high-quality instructors, and the distance has not shown itself to be a barrier to learning!
By way of example, two independent studies compared two groups of students, an online learning group and a traditional in-person learning group, and found no significant differences in learning outcomes.
So, parents would be incorrect to assume that in-person music instruction is de facto better. However, there are some unique aspects to online music lessons that are important to understand.
What to expect during an online music lesson
And how the experience differs from in-person lessons
Individual experiences will vary, but here is a general lesson pattern your child should expect. This is very similar to what you would expect for an in-person session. The difference with an online lesson is that you, the parent, are responsible for ensuring the optimal learning environment on your child’s end of the screen (more on this later). So, familiarizing yourself with what a lesson entails will help you support your child in this way.
Introduction and warm-up:
At the beginning of the lesson, the instructor should warmly greet the student and establish a positive learning environment. They may also engage in some brief warm-up exercises to get the student physically and mentally prepared for the lesson.
Review and feedback
Next, the instructor and student review the previous lesson's material, and the student demonstrates what they’ve been practicing between classes. The teacher should address any questions or challenges the student may have encountered and provide constructive feedback on their progress, highlighting areas of improvement and acknowledging strengths.
Lesson content and instruction
Now, student and teacher dive into the new lesson. The instructor presents new concepts, techniques, or musical pieces with plenty of explanation and demonstration .. .
Practice and application
. . . and the student, with guidance, practices the newly introduced material. The instructor should break things down into manageable sections, providing ongoing support, correcting mistakes, and offering suggestions for improvement.
Interaction and engagement
The instructor should maintain an interactive environment, encouraging questions, discussions, and active participation from the student. They may employ various tools for engagement, such as online chat, video sharing, or interactive whiteboards, to enhance the learning experience.
Assessment and goal setting
At this point, the instructor will, again, assess the student's progress and identify areas that require further attention. They may assign exercises or additional practice material to reinforce learning and address specific weaknesses as well as set goals for the next lesson.
Conclusion and closing remarks
Finally, the instructor should provide a summary of the key points covered in the lesson and give any final instructions or recommendations. They may suggest supplementary resources or practice strategies for the student to explore between lessons, and they should conclude with some positive reinforcement and encouragement.
How is this different from an in-person lesson?
As mentioned, most of this process is very similar to an in-person lesson with a few key differences:
You hold the responsibility for the learning environment
Instead of dropping off at a music studio or instructor’s home, you should take steps to ensure your child has the best environment possible in which to learn. Here are a few tips:
Provide a dedicated space—a separate room or part of the room—where no other activities are going on.
Eliminate distractions as much as possible. Think noisy younger siblings, TVs, and open curtains that showcase kids playing outside.
Provide transition time. When you drive to a class, there is a built-in buffer between the lesson and the previous activities of the day. Allow time for your child to transition and prepare for their lesson rather than sitting them down at the last moment.
Technology is king, queen, and everything else!
When it comes to distance learning, technology is vital—even more so for a subject as technical as music. Your child should have:
A reliable device that is not so old, slow, or bogged down as to impede video calls.
Good headphones, if they do not interfere with playing their instrument, or adequate speakers and a quiet space (see above).
A stable internet connection. Danny Ziemann, who began teaching music online during the pandemic, says, “It’s always better to plug your device straight into the Ethernet connection rather than relying on Wi-Fi, which often isn’t reliable.” At the very least, though, make sure there is no competition for bandwidth going on at the time, i.e. no Minecraft and Mozart concurrently!
Access to the instructor’s video conferencing platform of choice and a backup in case of glitches.
The only real limitation to online lessons
The only downside to online music lessons is that there is no opportunity for physical correction. Meaning the instructor lacks the ability to guide the correct angle of the bow or bend of the wrist.
However, this can be overcome successfully. The instructor should provide clear directions, modeling, and repeated examples. The parent should ensure the child has proper lighting and an adequately sized screen in order to see and mimic body position. The student should be directed to pay close attention to form and follow their instructor’s directions precisely. With these few precautions, bad habits in physical form can typically be avoided.
Innovative techniques in online music instruction
Online lessons can offer benefits that face-to-face lessons just can’t
So, there are almost no limitations to online music lessons that cannot be overcome with a bit of tech savviness and forethought. The benefits that online lessons offer over in-person lessons, on the other hand, are many!
Here are just a few innovative techniques that dedicated music instructors are using to make the most of technology for their students. As you compare potential online music instructors, look to see if they incorporate any of these features. Don’t be shy about asking (or even suggesting) if their website isn’t clear.
Zoom as the go-to platform (with a backup just in case)
Todd Reynolds from Amplify explains why Zoom is the best option for online music lessons:
“Zoom is really the only platform that allows true bidirectional communication, as you can turn off its ‘automatically adjust microphone volume’ setting, which normally mutes your microphone when others are speaking,” he says. Zoom’s Original Audio setting prioritises sound over video by disabling the platform’s noise suppression function, designed to filter out extraneous sounds in noisy environments. And in response to requests from major music schools such as Yale and Peabody, in September 2020 Zoom also introduced a High-Fidelity Music Mode, which disables echo cancellation and post-processing, and gives a 48kHz sampling rate. “This function,” notes Reynolds, “is designed specifically for playing music and for studio environments with higher-quality microphones, speakers or audio interfaces.”
Screen sharing allows teacher and student to look at the same piece of sheet music, music notation software, or other visual aids at the same time. Diagrams, charts, or virtual keyboards can be shared with ease to enhance understanding and engagement.
Cloud storage possibilities
Using a shared folder in a storage cloud allows easy access for everyone to digital sheet music, lesson notes, and homework assignments. Parents can pop in to read how their child did in their last lesson and leave a comment if they have questions. Students will never again escape practicing because they misplaced their assignment sheets. Printing another is but a click away.
Play backing tracks and accompaniment
With the technology already in place, it is simple for online instructors to provide students with pre-recorded backing tracks or accompaniments to play along with. Pausing and jumping forward or backward in the piece are as easy as hitting a button.
Video platform recording features allow students (with the instructor’s permission) to record the session and re-watch it later. Alternatively, instructors can ask students to record themselves playing a piece, after some independent practice, and submit it for review and feedback. The instructor can, then, provide detailed comments and suggestions in either written form or via audio recording.
Online Music Resources
Keeping everything related to music instruction in an organized digital space allows for easy sharing of online resources like tutorials, exercises, and supplemental websites. These resources can supplement learning and provide additional practice opportunities. Links can be shared and stored in the cloud for convenient access.
Online Music Games and Quizzes
Speaking of online resources, instructors can incorporate fun and interactive music games, quizzes, or flashcards into the lessons or as homework assignments. These activities can reinforce music theory, note recognition, ear training, and other essential skills while amping the fun and engagement factor.
The use of online technology not only allows a more diverse group of students to gain access to high-quality instructors, but it can also engage them in collaborative projects such as virtual ensemble performances or composition assignments. Students can even record their parts individually, which the instructor can then combine into a final performance.
The last thing your young musician should be doing is practicing something incorrectly. So, an instructor who provides ongoing support, answers questions, and offers guidance when needed outside of lesson times is critical. An in-person instructor may say to reach out if your child has questions, but that doesn’t offer the open line of communication that an online platform does. With the chat feature already at their fingertips, a student is more likely to ask for help when they need it and to receive a prompt reply.
The bottom line on online music instruction
Online lessons are very much the same as in-person lessons when it comes to effectiveness, engagement, and lesson format. Yet, they also have unique considerations. You’ll need to quiet down the household rather than fill up the minivan with gas.
Still on the fence about online music lessons? Why not test-drive the experience for free?
Maestro Music is an online music academy exclusively for homeschoolers. We match students with professional, friendly instructors who will help them with every musical goal, big to small. All of our instructors are professional musicians with a passion for helping the next generation of musicians.