Tag Archives: Piano Teaching Online

Piano Teaching Week #13 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

This is our 13th week and the next to the last online piano lessons of the 2019-2020 school year, due to the stay at home order of the Coronavirus epidemic. We are all so grateful that we had the technology to switch to online lessons. And Everyone, students, teachers, and parents have learned so many new skills in order to create successful online lessons.  I’m sure this is part of the real fatigue we are all feeling, not just with music lessons, but with online school and work in general.  Our screen time is up to 12 hours a day.  We are starting to move around more outside but still in small groups and with physical distancing and masks on at all time.  A few students are coming into the studio this week to create their final video recordings for the year…but only one at a time, no parents or siblings, students wait in the car to be called, we each work at a piano at opposite sides of the room, no hugs, no contact, and students work in the studio only for 20 minutes.  We do not know what the new school year will bring in Fall 2020…how much we will be back in the studio?  How much do we continue online?  Will we stagger students…one day in the studio, the next day online or every other student on a plan A and plan B schedule alternating back and forth between in studio and online?  Only time will tell.  Massachusetts numbers are falling and continue to look good.  Yet the spouse of one of my adult students, is being tested for Covid-19 as I write.

One thing for certain:  we have all learned a lot and many of the teaching techniques adjusted for online learning will now become part of our piano teaching toolbox forever!  Here are my favorite new tools gleaned from online teaching:

Alphabet Letter blocks: this really helps to confirm what we are hearing while naming notes!  It can be hard to differentiate between a “C” and a “D” or an “E” when there is a fuzzy internet connection.  These also make for good naming keys of the piano games while using an overhead video recorder on the piano keys!  These are big and easy to read from screen to screen.

Japanese colored Wasabi Tape!  This tape lifts off the piano keys without leaving a mark and comes in bright colors.  This is perfect for marking whole and half steps and other intervals on the piano when using an overhead view of the piano keyboard during scale work, theory lessons or when visually correcting a note reading error on the physical piano keys.

Ear Training Games:  Online video lessons are the perfect time to increase ear training…and fair is fair…students get to turn the tables on teachers too!

Understanding Measure numbers:  When we started online lessons, understanding how to read and count measure numbers was crucial!  We take this for granted, but students by and large did not understand how to count measure numbers when they only saw blocked non-sequential numbers that jumped from 5 to 10 to 17…etc.

Marco Polo!:   I play, then the student plays and echoes exactly what I play.  This gets even more fun as I randomly choose harder and harder sections of a piece. Then we play the reverse…students choose a random section and I have to repeat them exactly!

The Racer!:  Patterned after an old roller coaster amusement park ride from Kennywood Park in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. We alternate measures of a piece; I play the first measure of a student’s piece, then the student follows without break, to play the second measure, etc.  We continue alternating measures until the piece is smooth.  Then we repeat but with the student going first.  This really helps students to look ahead and preparing ahead of playing!

Emoticons and Giffy’s!  Once students learned how to open up their chat boxes, they taught me how to search for emojis, emoticons and mini videos.  We used these endlessly with delight, creating all kinds of games and use of these for sticker awards!  We would run through their memory lists by my finding an emoji that matched a title of a piece and they had to guess what I was referring to!  Or I would use these to describe in a picture an adjustment to their dynamics or touch or expression.  Or use emoticon alphabet letters when mixing up section work in learning music!  Students would in turn send me emoticons to show they were proud of their work or sad that the lesson was ending.

Learning the Student’s Home Environment!  We had the chance to adjust bench heights, recommend piano tuning, encourage upgrading from X stand two octave keyboards to better instruments, lighting, having pencils ready, metronomes nearby or on apps, meeting the parents more often and having time to talk about how everyone was doing as a family.  And of course, meeting every animal member of the family and knowing the family pet by name!  My students’ pets from guinea pigs, to cats and dogs, salamanders, rabbits and chickens usually made an appearance at every lesson!







Teaching Piano Online Week #4 (COVID-19).

Crashing Down:  Teaching’s been good.  But after the exhilaration of getting everything set up in the studio; everyone setup online; platform names logged in; music organized by day of the week and student by student, there are THOSE days.  The internet is so clogged from usage that connect-ability is interrupted.  Looking at pixelated faces for even 5 minutes is dizzying enough but sounds get warbled too.  Often pianos sound tinny or electrified even when the student is playing on an acoustic piano.  One discovery:  if a student is using their cell phone to skype or Facetime with you and it is sitting on their piano…ask them to wrap a hand towel around the phone.  It makes all the difference in the world. 
Students are starting to appear weepy and tired. This is the week that all school districts handed out homework over the internet and started on-line classes. For many young ones,  Seeing all of their work at once was overwhelming, while parents are already stressed from trying to keep up with their jobs online.  Kaylee’s eyes were red when she sat down at her keyboard at 6:00 pm in the evening.  The crabby hour for many of us. Kaylee had been chipping away at 4th-grade homework most of the day.  Fortunately, Kaylee was only three pieces away from earning her next 30 list prize.  We went into her Disney pre-time book.  First up, The Siamese Cat song from the movie “The Lady and the Tramp.”  I have much respect for Peggy Lee, one of the first women composers to break the gender gap composing for Walt Disney Pictures. Students often chose this simple piece of harmonic thirds as their first piece to start in the book.  No sweat for Kaylee. Sight-read right through it.  I used my newly found screen sharing abilities so that we watched the original scene of the song with the devilish Siamese Twin cats together, virtually!  That made it possible for Kaylee to get a renewed sense of joy. She quickly and accurately added two more pieces to her 30-list and selected a turquoise ring from my prize box.  I will put It into my Little Free Library house that stands in front of my house, next to the sidewalk.  Normally filled with extra music for the community, this stand now services the ability for me to pass out new piano practice notebooks, incentive prizes and special music to my own students.  And they sometimes leave me special bags on occasion…pumpkin muffins or chocolate chip cookies!
Students are learning not only how to read and mark measure numbers but also to count octaves so that we can each agree that the G above high C is assuredly G 5.  We’ve never quite had to number the octaves when working together in the same room.  Progress is good…but I need to remind myself of that daily.  I have set up a private YouTube station for my students’ videos, and they are sending in polished recorded pieces all the time now.  But I know exactly what my students and parents are feeling.  After breakfast this morning, I ended up back in bed, just to read for a little bit.  I woke up 3 hours later…at 12:30 pm …just in time for lunch and a full afternoon of teaching.  Josh was afraid I must be getting sick.  But apparently, I just needed some away time from all the screens and the insidious worry that nags at us much of the time.  Yesterday, I had my iPad leaning against my laptop for a Facetime lesson with a student.  For some reason, I cannot Facetime from my computer. Only my phone or iPad.  I wanted to type out a text to a student on the iPad, but inadvertently was typing from my laptop.  Took me several minutes to figure out why my typing wasn’t appearing in the text!  I definitely needed that long morning nap.  And this experience has helped me to be extra understanding when working with students and families online.  One huge plus: I get to meet all of my student’s pets! Meet Sadie the Cat! Hugs to all this Easter and Passover week.

Piano Teaching Week #2 Online! (amidst COVID-19).

March 22 -28, 2020.   Now that everyone has been set up with their online platforms and have figured out the best placement for their smartphones or iPad or laptop computers, we were able to start our lessons much quicker this week.  We all had to come up with creative solutions to place our devices so that we could see both each other and our keyboards.  My video camera is placed up high on the mantel of a fireplace in the studio, held in place with a gummy stick product similar to playdoh.  Some students used removable painter’s tape to wrap their phones to a nearby lamp pole!  One family came up with the solution for their laptop….by placing a small 5 step metal ladder by the piano…the next to the highest rung was just the perfect height! 

We begin each lesson with students showing me where they wrote down their practice times in their piano notebook.  Now each week, I can start to challenge them to raise their practice time to 150 minutes, which surprises everyone that this is only 30 minutes a day for 5 days.  One of my students takes Sunday off from practicing because this is the day, they dedicate to family two-mile runs, bicycle trips and backyard planks to stay in shape since all team sports have been canceled and we are all mandated to staying either indoors or outside away from others.  During lessons, we are now experimenting with split screens!  I have learned, from one of my tech savvy students of course, how each of us can watch a YouTube video at the same time and still see each other.  Professional music groups are filling our inboxes and spirits with samples of symphonies and chamber pieces played virtually from their own living rooms.  One of the first of these to appear is the Colorado Symphony playing a virtual chamber version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy of the last movement of his last symphony, #9.  Many of my students play this theme and have it memorized for their memory lists.  For each of these students, we were able to watch this uplifting 5-minute video of musicians playing physically separated in their individual living rooms but musically together with sophisticated recording equipment.  It was wonderful.  Inspired by this experiment, I also set up a private YouTube Listening channel for the studio and downloaded a video for each student for them to watch…usually a video of a piece they are currently learning so that they could understand that their music is important because other pianists play them too.  

So far, everyone is healthy and practicing social distancing.  Some of my families are very fearful; they have parents with asthma or grandparents who have compromised health issues. We don’t know anyone yet who has had to be hospitalized although the numbers around us are growing. One family spent the week working to extricate an Aunt and Uncle and cousins from a sabbatical in Spain.  They made it back, healthy but under quarantine now in North Carolina.  Families are doing their best to celebrate birthdays at home without friends and family and school mates.  It helps, all around, for me to see my families and I’ve been told that my students look forward to their weekly lessons.  It is difficult to stay on time…I’m running at least a half late by the end of a teaching afternoon.  It’s not just that teaching online is harder; but we all need to check in with each other.  Parents share their worries; yet we are all so grateful our musical life continues as normal in an otherwise very abnormal time.