Can You Really Learn An Instrument Online? 2 Students and a Teacher Share Their Virtual Music Journeys

More people than ever are discovering how to learn an instrument online. It’s been quite the adjustment for those used to playing with others in a shared space, or learning from an instructor via one-on-one lessons.

Naturally, there are plenty of challenges to distanced music learning, but there are also some unexpected benefits.

We spoke with two music students and one music instructor about their experiences with online music lessons.

Matt | Bass Player Studying Jazz at University of Colorado Boulder

Ensembles

“Since it’s more difficult to rehearse in person, in my Jazz Pedagogy class, for instance, we’ve been having large Zoom hang outs where students can play for each other over the computer. Some music students are roommates, so we can even hear duos and trios, and everyone can listen and comment.

“We have also had faculty or guest artists host some of these sessions. They usually set the tone by discussing their own experiences, or some aspect of music that they’re particularly knowledgeable about, and relating it to that day’s agenda.”

One-On-Ones

“My bass lessons have been one-on-one Zoom sessions with my bass instructor. I usually bring in one or two tunes I’ve learned that week and we workshop it.

“In traditional classes, my instructor would play bass along with me, but now I play along with a metronome, play-alongs. or the original recordings, and my instructor gives me feedback on my technique, offers ideas on how to improve, and suggests creative ways to learn, practice, and think critically about what I’m working on.”

Lectures

“Online classes have actually forced teachers to be more creative with how they teach lectures. Before COVID-19, I think teachers had gotten used to doing the same things the same way for every class. But since most classes are now remote, teachers are doing things like bringing in guest lecturers and holding group discussions and virtual get togethers.

“These discussions, which never happened pre-COVID, are a great way to check in with everyone in the program. 

“The online experience also makes it easier for large groups of people to listen and talk back and forth. Zoom tools like virtual hand raising and the chat feature really help when you’re trying to hold an open forum for 40 to 60 people. It’s easy to hear everyone, it’s easy to communicate with everyone, and if you’re presenting a topic using the shared screens and shared audio, it makes it easy to share sheet music and songs without having a huge setup or physical print outs. 

“In a way, learning music online has made students connect more, but in a different way.”

Lillian | 3rd Year Voice Student at Tacoma Community College 

General Chamber Choir

“When campus was open, our general chamber choir class would get together for an hour every Monday through Thursday. The teacher would hand out that day’s sheet music and we’d warm up our voices, stretch, then learn and rehearse our songs. It was around 30 to 40 students, and we typically gathered in the auditorium.

“Now, rather than meet and rehearse in person, we’ve been recording our own vocals for the particular song we’re learning, as well as recording a vocal range check, so the teacher has an idea of which vocal part to place us at for the song. 

“This has actually been really helpful, because recording yourself and playing it back can make a huge difference in not only your technical work, but also your confidence. If you’re one of those people who thinks they’re God’s gift to man, it’s possible you might hear yourself on a recording and think, “Oh god, do I really sound like that?”

“On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you’re not as confident, and you play yourself back, you might say, “Wow, I actually sound really good!” I do hope to see recording and playback used more if/when we return to our pre-lockdown routines.

“And while we can’t sing with each other, at the end of the quarter we’re going to record individual videos of our vocal parts, and our choir director is going to splice them together into a virtual choir concert. Prior to the pandemic, most people hadn’t thought about creating virtual choirs, but now I think we’re going to see it become much more common for people from across the world to come together and sing.”

One-On-Ones

“Before COVID, I would take private one-on-one voice lessons for an hour every Wednesday. The teaching style for one-on-ones is much more strict. Class time was typically reserved for preparing for performances and fine-tuning problem areas. Outside of class, I was expected to practice my pieces and rehearse with our accompanist. 

“I would also get together with the other Wednesday voice students once a week to show off what we’d learned and comment on everyone else’s performance. It was always a space one would feel welcome in. 

“Thankfully, my lessons haven’t changed quite as much since going virtual. The main difference is that instead of my instructor playing the piano along with my singing, I’m now using pre-recorded audio tracks. And rather than my instructor simply telling me to do xyz with my voice, there’s a little bit more of a call-and-response aspect than there used to be.

“I was also able to get together with the Wednesday students virtually last quarter. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Tech Issues

“Whether it’s someone’s internet being on the fritz or someone else’s microphone producing poor sound quality, it seems like there’s always something going wrong, which is really difficult.

“We don’t much ‘sing’ with other people anymore. The closest we’ve gotten to singing together is with one person starting a round and the rest of us, on mute, coming in on the second part of the round. So in a sense, I suppose we’re singing ‘with’ them, but we’re not singing with them, if you understand what I mean.”

Alisha | Private Guitar Instructor in Alberta

Lesson Format

“I teach one-on-one guitar lessons, as well as some piano and ukulele lessons.

“When I teach in person, a 30 minute guitar lesson generally goes as follows:

  • 10 minutes working on note reading
  • 10 minutes working on chord progressions
  • 10 minutes working on a song of the student’s choice, which involves a mixture of note reading and tabs or chords

“Switching to online lessons was kind of weird, mostly because I had to mentally adjust to Zoom calls instead of seeing my students in person. I tried to keep the lesson format the same: 10 to 15 minutes on note reading, 10 to 15 minutes on chords.”

“In a way, learning music online has made students connect more, but in a different way.”

Student Reactions

“Every student had a different reaction after moving from in-person to online lessons. Some were still excited, and eager to show me what they had been working on. Others were frustrated that I couldn’t show them things on the guitar as easily. Then there were the students, particularly the younger ones, who would start to mess around or not pay attention during lessons. Those behaviours cleared up after a quick conversation.

“There were also students who just didn’t want to use Zoom, and decided to wait until the studio reopened to continue their lessons. Most students were understanding of the circumstances.”

Adjusting My Teaching Style

“Even though I tried to keep the same lesson format as I did when I taught in person, the mechanics of teaching did change somewhat. For example, I often had to get my students to move their webcam to their guitar’s fretboard so I could get a visual on what they were playing.

“If the student was playing an electric guitar without an amplifier, it was impossible for me to hear it, so I had to either see exactly what they were doing, or ask them to describe what they were doing by saying the note names out loud.

“There was even a lesson where my student couldn’t figure out how to turn their camera on, so I taught via audio only. 

“I’m finally back to teaching in person again, but if Covid-19 numbers rise in Alberta, I would happily teach online again.”

For Customized Help with College

You don’t have to be studying an instrument to benefit from virtual one-on-ones.

1-on-1 tutoring is a flexible, convenient, and highly effective way to help you excel in your chosen field. And for the music students out there, Wyzant has an outstanding selection of tutors specializing in nearly every instrument you can think of.

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