Online Lessons (information and resources)
A few short words of advice on practical preparations you can make that will help to make the online lesson experience run smoothly. Even if you cannot do all of these things, small changes can lead to a much improved audio / visual experience. I should declare that I am no expert (!) and have just been learning as I go along and I am thankful to all the online resouces and information that is available some of which I have listed at the very end of this page.
- check there is no strong lighting behind you. A window (even without bright sunlight) can completely wash away details for the viewer, particularly the white keys on the piano. Blinds can help or try moving the camera position if this is possible. Similarly, check that there is enough ambient light in the room so you can be seen. In short, check what works best in your room and take a test video recording ... that's broadly speaking what I will see.
- Position the camera in advance so that the piano keys can be seen. There are tablet & phone stands and clamped tablet & phone holders that help a lot (links below). You may need to buy a microphone stand and mounting bracket for some phone / tablet holders, which is useful to have as you then have most freedom and versatility - leads permiting. Don't forget the humble music stand can serve as a laptop table and also you can use rubber bands to hold a phone in place for Lamicall stand or similar (see photo below)- remember, the camera lens wont pick up the rubber bands unless they are actually covering the camera lens.
- Generally the onbard cameras on phones, tablets and laptops are reasonable enough. Things do improve of course if you add an external webcam. These are in short supply at the moment (Covid-19) so don't worry if you are struggling to get hold of one, but ultimately the external cameras do offer better picture quality - if you're using a reasonable camera that is! (see below recommendations). For some platforms, having a second camera can mean you can offer a second camera angle (clearer view of the keyboards or pedals perhaps) but that's a more advanced option for those just wanting a good basic set up
- Here are some links for "visuals" products. I'm not endorsing these specific products but they give you an idea of "kit solutions".
- Microhpone Stand : https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B005I57GMM/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
- Mobile Phone Holder: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07DWV67PJ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_image_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
- Music Stand: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B002GCMNIC/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
- Webcam (please note this Logictech C920 was on sale at Argos at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown for around £85) : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Logitech-960-000764-Webcam-C920-BLACK/dp/B006JH8T3S/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=logitech+C920&qid=1587205246&s=musical-instruments&sr=8-2
I find that one of the biggest obstacles with sound is getting students to appreciate that what I hear is not what they hear. I have made my setup so that you will get a good audio experience (provided your internet connection is reliable). If you are able to do something similar then I will hear your playing all the more authentically. The first thing that I found helps enormously is to use headphones. If you are a parent and you want to hear your child's lesson you can get a headphone splitter so that 2 headphones can plug into one socket (see links below). Some people like to hear themselves "live / acoustically" when they play (understandably) so you can always take headphones on and off or use just one ear or preferably get some open backed headphones which don't seal the ear in, in the same way (see link below). As far as bluetooth headphones go, of course, these should work but in my experience, the less there is to go wrong (like needing to be charged / poor signal etc) the better.... so personally I prefer wired headphones. Next there's the all important microphone for capturing the sound of your piano. I am not an expert on microhpones at all but a general rule seems to be not to get a condenser mic. or a clip on mic. designed for making podcasts or recording speach. A USB mic connection generally means you'll have something you can just plug into your USB socket on your laptop. With Apple iphones and ipads (no USB socket) as far as I can work out, there are adaptors that enable you to plug in a 3.5mm jack cable from a microphone into your phone/ipad. I use a Blue Yeti microhpone with a Macbook Air and I am very satisfied. As is the case with all these products, you can go up in price and quality but sometimes with sophistication comes complications and the need for more detailed knowledge. Positioning the microphone is another important consideration. Generally, don't place the mic. on the piano itself but about 1.5 meters away and "facing" the piano. I have found that if the mic. is near to me, on the left when I am playing, it picks up the piano really well and also my speaking. In the next seciton there is advice for setting your computer /tablet/iphone so that you get the most out of the signal that your microphone sends via your interface (Zoom / Skype etc)..... the "sound settings" are really important.
Open Backed Headphones (cheaper end of the market): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Samson-SR850-Professional-Reference-Headphones/dp/B002LBSEQS/ref=sr_1_1?crid=15T1L3H6GNKKS&dchild=1&keywords=open+backed+headphones&qid=1587206005&sprefix=open+backed%2Caps%2C150&sr=8-1
Headphone Splitter (2 into 1): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Headphone-Splitter-Syncwire-Extension-Earphone-One-Male-Two-Female/dp/B07431YDWM/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=1ZD2UBYCJHUOT&dchild=1&keywords=headphones+splitter+2+way&qid=1587208460&sprefix=headphones+split%2Caps%2C138&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUFZV0NVM0xNMjZYRk8mZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTA1OTM4MDExQ1BSMUJVMVBYNElQJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTA2MTAwMTRPSThPTzNONVFaWTYmd2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9hdGYmYWN0aW9uPWNsaWNrUmVkaXJlY3QmZG9Ob3RMb2dDbGljaz10cnVl
Blue Yeti USB Microphone: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blue-Microphones-Yeti-Microphone-Silver/dp/B002VA464S/ref=sr_1_4?crid=5WCVDXCCUPVT&dchild=1&keywords=blue+yeti+microphone&qid=1587208581&sprefix=blue+yet%2Caps%2C144&sr=8-4
Social Network Platforms and Settings
For lessons, my first preference is Zoom since at the moment (April 2020) it seems to have the best audio settings options and versitility. With that comes some complexity, so it takes a while to get the hang of it all. I do also use Skype and FaceTime (Apple) which provided the connection / reception is good then it's workable. A good connection is vital for all platforms. I now use a very long ethernet cable which connects my laptop directly to my router (broadband) - so far no interference or disruption from competing devices or neighbours signals, electrics etc. - I highly recommend. Learning to use all the ins and outs of the various network platforms is too involved to go into here, but there are some great tutorials online. Zoom is much in favour at the moment so just a reminder that there are some simple things you can do in audio setting that will help. In settings (top right "cog" button) go to audio. Here, if you are using an external microphone, check it is selected. Uncheck "automatically adjust microphone volume" and set a good midrange volume for your set up. Click on "advanced" and uncheck both the "Suppress Persistent Background" and "Suppress Intermittent Background" noise buttons. Most important of all is to tick the "Show in-meeting option to Enable Original Sound from microphone". As I am not an expert in all this myself I'll refrain from saying more but I have attached below some links to tutorials I have found useful. Wishing you well with you set up and learning curves!
(a really comprehensive look at your options)
(Zoom Settings Tutorial)
(more Zoom tuorial advice .... please note, the audio settings are now available on iphones and ipads as of mid April)