The wonders of technology. Since the time Apple released iChat AV (now FaceTime) to the public, I have offered face-to-face, audio and visual fiddling and violin instruction by offering online lessons over the internet! Initially, it worked, but not all that well. However, because of improved technology and over fifteen years experience learning to use it, this method of face-to-face, or even knee-to-knee instructional delivery, I can now effectively teach Texas Style fiddle and other forms fiddle music world-wide.
Waiting for the Speed of Light!
Online lessons introduce students and teachers alike to the dreaded ‘delay’ from waiting for the electronic signals to switch their way across cyberspace. We have all seen this effect when watching some television reporter in some far flung location wait for the question to arrive from the anchor desk, followed by more waiting while the response slogs its way back across the universe. Usually, the folks at the anchor desk and the reporter in the field seem most uncomfortable dealing with the dead air.
As more teachers venture their way into offering online lessons, they struggle with the need to learn to handle this very same lag time while maintaining a high quality of instruction.
At first, I too struggled with the issues surrounding the delays, or the lag time, or the dead air. After considerable effort, I learned to overcome which ever label you care to use. Doing so was difficult, but well worth the effort. Consequently, playing together is tricky on my end, but not on the student’s end. Even though the delays are very real, don’t let them deter you.
The Experience of Others!
Recently, I came across a question from a music teacher addressing this issue in an online forum; he asked, “For those who teach via Skype, how are you dealing with delays when both parties begin playing?“
Responses from other teachers are all over the map as they search for answers:
“There is a noise cancelling feature that’s built into Skype. If the student wants to play along, I start playing and they join in, and they can hear both my playing and theirs. I can’t hear them play though, so I make sure to make them play it alone once they’ve done a few rounds with me. It’d be great if there were another option without the noise cancelling….“
Followed by, “Thanks, but yes, I wish it worked better.”
And, “Someone (here I think) had mentioned alternatives to using skype, that would allow two people to play together in real time. Can anyone help me out?”
Some teachers offer alternatives, “You want to play along with them? Sheesh. Now you’re just being greedy… : ) I send them mp3s of what I want them to play along with and then listen and make comments. Same with guitar tracks. We do mostly call and response when it comes to teaching phrasing though.”
Others use the same alternative, “That’s what I do too.”
And finally, one teachers conclusion, “Not being able to play together is the only drawback.”
Thankfully, I can honestly respond, “Unless you, the teacher, have taught yourself to handle the lag time, which I have!
Hardware and Software!
The equipment and technology are neither expensive nor difficult to learn to use. Video cameras start at about $30.00 and go up to as much as you care to spend. Although we find the instruction works well with low-end cameras, please remember, the better your camera, the better we can see you. Microphones include those built into your computer, those that come with the video camera, and those purchased specifically for this purpose. Like the camera, the better the microphone, the better we can hear you.
You must have a cable or DSL connection. Sorry, but dial up connections are not fast enough. Needing a fast connection does not mean you have to be at your house. I have several students who drive to a different site to borrow a computer that has the faster connection. Some students even use the computer lab at a local grade school.
Most of the time, we use Skype to make the actual video and audio connection between us. Other similar delivery systems include Oovoo and others like it, or, if you have a Mac we can both use FaceTime. Any of these are very easy to use, so do not worry about the learning curve with the technology. And remember, I can help you.
The entire process is much easier than it sounds. You can contact me for additional information by using the form, “For Private Questions & Information!”, found in the sidebar at the top of this page.
Currently, a partial list of my online students includes residents of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, California, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and several others.