Updated: Apr 1, 2020
There’s an expression I enjoy that goes something like, “There’s two types of idiots, one that thinks everything old is good, and one that thinks everything new is good.” I’m not here to call anyone an idiot, but I bet many of us can imagine both, and have probably been both at various points. Trying to minimize our biases towards either position, while carefully considering both, can have a significant impact on our learning, teaching, and music education overall.
Those with prolonged involvement in this area have seen it steadily improve, with little reason to think that will stop being the case. Over the last couple years, I have enjoyed the benefits of online classes in my music education masters work at Western University, studied recording and engineering on the website Nail the Mix, and had many hours of study with the amazing New York vocal teacher Melissa Cross. Recognizing the value of these kinds of experiences has played a large role in my continued journey with online music education. Simply, if I increasingly gain so much from the medium, it should continue to do the same for my teaching.
A lot of writing and discussion on this topic already exists, however I still feel too much of the conversation is comparing online to “in person”. While this is a natural comparison to make, I believe there are some less obvious and discussed advantages to online music education.
To get them out of the way, some of the more obvious and commonly discussed benefits include:
Teach and study from different geographical locations
Save on travel and time
Potentially have a more convenient or expanded schedule for both parties
Conveniently record classes for further use by either party
No space limitations or cost of renting an additional studio, lecture hall, etc. (cost effective for everyone)
Here are some of the advantages I feel are currently underappreciated:
Many teachers have instant access to more of their resources and equipment. If you commute to a studio space or homes to teach, online can mean being able to access your full collection of gear (instruments, library, home studio, gigging gear, etc.) A student of mine this week said, “Oh, this is way better!” as I screenshared and sent links and resources. Sending my own lesson pdfs, online resources, audio tracks, etc. is now instantaneous, organized, and easily accessible simultaneously by both parties. It forces organization (one of the biggest issues with many of my students) by keeping all of this on our Zoom chat. When teaching in person, I take notes about what I’ve worked on with students, however just looking at our Zoom chat, I can get a quick reminder, or even more detailed information, in addition to what I’ve written down about the lesson.
Students listening to themselves through a microphone and headphones may be the clearest they’ve ever heard themselves. This can be quieter than many shared lesson rooms (especially with noise cancelling/sound isolating headphones). They are also setup to easily record their playing in or out of the lesson, and will benefit from the higher resolution audio. This is especially great for vocal students or guitar students who typically avoid listening back to themselves (“I don’t like listening to myself”).
It may also be the best and clearest they’ve heard you. Yes, there can be some audio issues, but I’ve received many comments, “You sound like a podcaster!”, “I can hear your guitar so clearly.” While this is subject to different variables, it continues to improve alongside technology. Many lesson spaces are not in acoustically optimal, especially for learning purposes.
I specialize in teaching contemporary styles like pop, rock, and jazz. Being able to record yourself, at least at demo quality is a huge asset. Being able to screen share your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation like Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, etc.) is amazing for teaching songwriting and production. I recently had a student show me a song they wrote, and I was able to take part of it and show them how I would arrange it, steps they can follow on their own DAW. While I’ve done this in person, it’s way more hassle, I’m more limited, and it’s harder for the other person to follow along. There are some of great audio production/mixing websites dedicated solely to this if you interested in improving that side of your craft.
It changes focus for the better. The host of a soccer podcast I listen to jokingly said to his now all online panel (something like), “Now I actually have to pay attention to you guys.” I don’t necessarily know why this is (although I have some thoughts!), but I certainly notice it. Not sharing the same physical space seems to emphasis a connection through sound and sight.
I believe there’s more advantages to discuss, including many related specifically to contemporary genres (such as electronic and amplified instruments, microphones, and recording), which I will address in an upcoming post.