Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Teach Music Lessons Online to Children & Adults

An interesting conversation recommended to all music teachers

In this video, Robert and his sister Coren talk about teaching music online to both children and adults. What are the challenges and the solutions for it?

Released on September 2, 2020

    
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert Estrin:
welcome to livingpianos.com, I'm Robert Estrin and today's show is extremely timely with everything that's going on, how to approach teaching music lessons online. There are many challenges, and of course I deal with piano and a lot of you are proud pianists as well. And this applies to all music teachers and the particular challenges of dealing with younger students is really important. And it's an interesting thing, is that everybody's going online now. We're all kind of interfacing with video chat.

And one of the great things is that people realize now that they're not restricted to just their neighborhood teacher. Now, the world is at your fingertips and we have a very special guest. So I'm incredibly pleased to bring today somebody who has been teaching since she was a young teenager, it's been the whole crux of her career, along with performing and composing all sorts of things. My sister Coren Estrone minor. I want to welcome Coren to everybody. Hello Coren.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Hi Bob. It's really good to see you, although I wish we could be in person.

Robert Estrin:
This is pretty good, actually.

Coren Estrin Mino:
This is amazing. This is so fun.

Robert Estrin:
I know. The technology, I don't know about you, but I've been doing virtual visits with more people in the last couple of months that I've done in the rest of my life combined.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes, this is true. I'm visiting with a lot of people I haven't seen in a really long time.

Robert Estrin:
So it's kind of opening everybody's consciousness and we're going to talk about the unique challenges, first of all, of how to even do it, because there are probably people out there are figuring out, how the heck do you deal with all this technology? And I remember when I first started doing this, I just had a friend that I wanted to do a video chat with, and I'm pretty adept at technology. My friend happened to be a computer teacher and we were struggling for 10 or 15 minutes to get any of the platforms to work. Because it's a funny thing, sometimes everything just works seamlessly and other times, nothing seems to work. So I don't know, tell me about what your experiences have been because you've been teaching in person for forever. And what have been the challenges for you in getting set up in this whole new world online?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Well, in a nutshell, everything. I am not completely computer illiterate by any stretch, but this was really new for me and I was really struggling my first, I'd say two weeks of doing this in March. Terrible sound, just terrible glitches, sound cutting out, a delay between the visual and the audio. I mean, there were so many problems and just really terrible sound quality. So I was complaining about this to my son, Brian, who helped me enormously. And he told me some things I needed to do to improve my setup.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Then main thing he told me were these headphones with the microphone. One of the things that was happening to me my first couple of weeks, I was losing my voice because all of us, when we are video chatting, if we don't have a certain kind of headphone, we don't realize we're shouting. There's a psychological distancing from your device. You feel like you're far away from people. And so you tend to shout and I was getting very hoarse because if you're giving 12 to 15 piano lessons a day and you're shouting all day long, your voice doesn't hold up. And mine certainly didn't. So this headphone-

Robert Estrin:
Well, interestingly, I found the same thing just because at first when I was doing the video lessons and video chatting, I was particularly with the lessons, I just used my iPad. I have a real nice iPad Pro the big screen, it worked great, the audio and the video's good on it. But in order to get the keys in, the iPad had to be far enough away. And so I have to be shouting and it was really exhausting until I figured out how to incorporate it into my studio. I know you had talked about the internet and trying to get that squared away. What was your solution for that?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Okay, well, that's a really good question too. Brian recommended that I get an extra router, which is an Orbi, it's called, and that improved the sound. And then I upgraded my internet service as well, and all of that made huge improvements. There was no longer the little delay between audio and visual, that got rid of that right away. And the sound quality, one of the things that kept happening was I was getting a bubbly sound. It almost sounded like my piano was under water and that disappeared completely. The one thing that I will never have any control over of course is what my students are using, what their internet is, what device they're doing their piano lessons on. So I have at least improved my situation as much as I can without putting thousands of dollars into it. So that's where I'm at.

Robert Estrin:
There's some other tips that people should be aware of. And that is these video chats are not meant for music and they optimize it for voice. And they're all kinds of little settings of what they call noise reduction of different types. And if you have those enabled, which they are by default, when you first put it on, when you play anything quiet, the notes kind of get really weird. And so I think it's important for people to understand that there are settings in Zoom and in Skype and in some of the other platforms. We're using Zoom right now for everybody. And one nice thing about Zoom is that you can record your call, just like we're doing. And that's how we're able to share this with you. And we disabled the noise reduction on both ends so that we can play music with no problems, and that's really essential when you're giving lessons, isn't it?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there are some entertaining things that happen on their end, I'll hear their dog barking or somebody's chatting in the next room. And that actually is a bit of a problem. My headphones pick up ambient noise almost as loud as the noise I really want to hear, which is my students talking or playing the piano. So I did send out a message to everybody to please try to keep the noise level down in their homes while the piano lesson is going on.

Robert Estrin:
Now I know you teach a wide range of students from beginners to advance, adults, but teaching younger children online, I'm wondering how you engage them on... They're looking on a screen, maybe some of them are even on phones and how do you do that? I mean, what's some methodology or what challenges have you found and any solutions if any, to trying to work that way?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yeah, that is actually a huge issue. And anybody who's teaching children online, any subject, and right now the school teachers are probably experiencing this to some degree as well. It's not easy to engage children remotely. The biggest solution to that, the best solution to that of course, is to have a parent sitting in the lesson with the child-

Robert Estrin:
It's got to be the right parent though, of course.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Well, I've had good luck. The one little issue that comes up with parents sometimes is a parent wants to jump in and answer a question. If the child doesn't answer right away, they'll just jump in and tell the child the answer, that's a natural response. Most parents though, they let me conduct the lesson and I will say, "Could you please point to measure three?" And they'll do that. So the child knows where we are. That's the biggest problem, a child not understanding. If I say we're on line two, measure three, they don't respond to that. They don't understand that. Their default is if I stop them to look at a little correction, their default is, beginning, I'm back at the beginning now. And of course-

Robert Estrin:
That's a timeless problems with students anyway, I have a video on that subject.

Coren Estrin Mino:
There we go. So you know what I'm talking about? Yeah. So it's very hard for me to convey where we are in the music. One of the most important facets of my teaching has had to disappear. I play duets with my students, especially the young ones all day long, and not being able to play duets has been very challenging because it's one of the best ways to get young students to sense pulse in music-

Robert Estrin:
Also great for sight reading.

Coren Estrin Mino:
... oh yeah. And dynamics, or even a music that they had prepared that they are not sight reading, they actually have learned. By my playing a duet with them, I can a little bit exaggerate the dynamics and say, "Copy what I'm doing." And so they understand how loud is loud, how soft is soft. And I can't do that now. So I've had to rely on some ingenuity, I guess, in trying to get kids to do things. And plus I have to always make sure that what they're doing is what I'm hearing. The electronics make dynamics, tone, balance, very difficult to hear sometimes, especially if they are on devices that are not current or not great to begin with. Phones are not necessarily bad. If they have a brand new iPhone, for example, I'm going to get good sound from that.

Robert Estrin:
Right. In terms of the transmission, it's just that it's hard for them to see if you're trying to show them anything on a small screen, I would imagine.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Exactly. Well, I don't do a lot of that. Sometimes I will pick up a book. I'll show you what I'll do, let me grab a book here for you. So sometimes I'll pick up a book and I'll say, "Here, this is what I'm talking about right here." I'll resort to that. I, for a while, had thought of getting a little handheld camera, but my son informed me that even though for people who are way more tech savvy than I, they could go back and forth between the computer and the little camera easily. For me, that was just a step that, it would have been too time consuming to do that quickly in a lesson.

Robert Estrin:
Another thing you can do with some of these platforms like Zoom is screen-sharing. So if you have something up on your computer screen, instead of seeing you, they'll see what you're seeing on the computer, and that could be one way of sharing.

Coren Estrin Mino:
That's a great idea. I'm mostly with my students using FaceTime. Everyone seems, almost all my students have Apple products, and I'm using some Skype and just a couple students are using Zoom.

Robert Estrin:
Right. Well, I think that Skype and FaceTime actually have the best video quality, but Zoom is very flexible as you can see, that's why we're using it.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Right. Exactly. So those have been some of my challenges. I did send home a note to parents, to please purchase a tripod for their devices. I'm getting very tired of phones falling off stacks of books or a phone being on the edge of the piano. And so whatever end of the piano the phone is on, I'm either hearing way too much bass or way too much treble. So a little bit of distance from the keyboard would make it so that I can hear a little bit truer sound. And also the visual. I don't like when I can see the keys, but I can't see my student's face. That's very uncomfortable for me. And a lot of the little phones, that's kind of what's happening. And I don't like that.

Robert Estrin:
Right. I'm with you there. And just for everybody out there, are you still accepting students in case people are interested, we could put your email address for people. I know that you always have a packed schedule because you've been teaching for, I mean, when did you start teaching, trying to figure the math, so of course that'll give away your age, right?

Coren Estrin Mino:
I have been teaching since I was 13. That's when I-

Robert Estrin:
13? Wow.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes. Yeah. I started taking students at 13 and our dad started giving me students when I was about 15. So, and then... Yeah. And then when I went to college, you inherited my students.

Robert Estrin:
That's right. And that's when I started assisting dad, and that's what got both of us into it from such a young age.

Coren Estrin Mino:
That's right. And I did the same thing with my children. And I know you did the same thing with yours. My children started teaching when they were very, very young, so that I think we carried that through very nicely.

Robert Estrin:
So we're carrying the torch for future generations. And any of you out there, by the way, if you have questions about the technology, you're welcome to email me because I'm really into the technology, as you can see with all this fancy stuff I've got going on here. I can tell you what I'm doing and help any of you who are teachers or on the other end, students who are trying to figure how to do all of this. We're happy to help you, and we're here for everybody. I want to thank Coren for joining us. And it's been a pleasure visiting with you virtually-

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes, it has been.

Robert Estrin:
See, it was a good experience

Coren Estrin Mino:
Thank you and by the way, to answer your question, yes, I am accepting students, particularly adults, because they can come in the morning, a lot of them. So yes, so I am more than happy to speak with anybody who is interested.

Robert Estrin:
And by the way, Coren has had many students go on to illustrious, professional careers, teachers, concert pianists, all of that. And she's really good with a wide range of students. So if you have any questions, address them to me and we'll help any of you, whatever you're trying to do with your music. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is livingpianos.com, your online piano resource. Thanks so much for joining us here today. And if you liked this video, ring that bell and we'll see you next time. Bye Coren.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Bye Bob. Thank you.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Graeme Costin * VSM MEMBER * on September 2, 2020 @4:31 pm PST
Because of COVID-19 restrictions our community choir has been rehearsing via Zoom - not as good as being in the same room (variable time delays!) but not totally unworkable.
1) When the choir mistress tried to show us some timings by clapping, we heard the first clap but then her clapping was muted because of Zoom's noise reduction - until we disabled the setting "Suppress Intermittent Background Noise".
2) The choir mistress could share music on her screen in an app that played the music and turned the music pages where needed - worked nicely!
reply
Robert - host, on September 3, 2020 @11:21 am PST
Generally, streaming services such as Zoom, FaceTime and Skype don't work very well because of the audio delay. There is technology that overcomes this problem: https://www.jamkazam.com/. However, it might be difficult to get everyone in the choir to use it!
Graeme Costin * VSM MEMBER * on September 3, 2020 @4:17 pm PST
Thank you for the info; I'll investigate it.
Marta Gonzalez-Hipps * VSM MEMBER * on September 2, 2020 @6:13 am PST
Thank you so much for this video.
I've been struggling with options for online lessons.
The accessories you suggested are a good starting point.
I will look into purchasing them.
reply
Robert - host, on September 2, 2020 @11:25 am PST
I hope things go well for you in this new model of teaching music!
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