Three ways to offer music lessons online

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Giving online music lessons[This article was written by Claire Cunningham and Chris Ott of Lessonface.com.]

Teaching music lessons can be a great way to both spend more time with your instrument and generate primary or supplemental income. With the migration of music lessons online in recent years, just as digital distribution expanded how consumers access music, digital integration has delivered new, convenient ways for music teachers and students to connect in the online space. Today, just as musicians are more easily able to spread recordings online, they are likewise more easily able to share skills, expertise, and personal experiences with potential students around the world via the internet.

To a big extent, how you approach online music teaching depends on your level of digital savvy, your schedule, and what you want to achieve. By piecing together free resources, or using a platform built specifically to facilitate online music education, you can effectively spread your musical knowledge to students all over the country or the world.

This article covers the technical aspects of three different methods for delivering music lessons online: (1) offering live lessons over webcam, (2) creating tutorial videos, and (3) designing software apps. This article does not deeply consider pedagogy (i.e., what you teach), administration (i.e., scheduling, monetization methods), or marketing of music lessons, aspects that are also very important but fall outside the scope of this piece. For now, we’ll save those aspects for another potential article in the future.

1. Live lessons over webcam

Level of tech savvy needed: Low

Live video lessons are becoming steadily more popular; and it’s not uncommon to see musicians advertising them on personal homepages. There are multiple free video options: Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts are a few popular ones. Google offers a free calendar, and payments can be arranged via PayPal. Depending on your background and expertise, you may want to consider joining a live lesson ecosystem like Lessonface, which provides certain services like videoconferencing, payment, and calendaring services among others, to help select teachers to facilitate and offer online music lessons.

The Tech (you only need a few things, and you may already have them all):

* A somewhat recent computer or tablet – anything from the past three years likely should be fine, and some older computers are fine, too.

* A webcam and microphone – most computers and tablets now have them built in, or you can buy a nice external camera with mic for around $45.

* Reliable broadband connection – you should be able to get by on 500 kbps upload and download speeds, though the better your connection, the better the experience will be for you and your student. Don’t go off what your internet provider says your speed is; it’s easy to do a quick test using an online tool like the one at speedtest.net.

* Additional “nice-to-have” equipment that generally is not required – you likely have headphones handy anyway, and they can be an easy way to avoid echoing in some cases, if it occurs. External microphones like those made by Phoenix can solve audio issues in some cases, but they are expensive and may be needed on both ends of the exchange. These are not necessary, though, so if you don’t already have them on hand, I’d suggest at least waiting to see if you have any sound issues before investing in them.

A final tip in doing live lessons – shut down any programs running in the background for the duration of your videoconference. Doing this helps more than you would think in improving the overall quality.

2. Creating video tutorials (e.g., YouTube videos)

Level of tech savvy needed: Medium

YouTube (and other video-hosting websites) can be a great way to broadcast music lessons to the world. Posting recorded tutorials can be a great way for musicians who have expertise, but prefer recording to live interaction, to share skills and build a following. With enough followers, which can be gathered in many cases by creating high-quality lessons, you may be able to monetize your videos. Be sure to wear a thick skin when posting videos, though, because YouTube and similar sites can be breeding grounds for ridiculous comments.

The Tech

* Recording – Using a video camera, your webcam, or even your phone or tablet, you can record web-quality video and audio. Most DSLR cameras also have a video mode that often will shoot professional and crisp-looking video (though the audio component may not work as well).

* Effects – You can use software such as ManyCam to access different video treatments, such as using multiple cameras in your video stream, backgrounds & filters, and text.

* Editing – Most computers come loaded with video editing software such as Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie. There are also online versions available such as YouTube Editor, WeVideo, and Magisto.

* Sharing – Instead of just posting videos onto YouTube willy-nilly, it can be helpful to create a curated channel of your videos for people to follow. Subscribers to your channel will see everything you post to the channel. For example, have a look at the Lessonface YouTube channel.

* Going social – Making the video is just part of the process. Once it’s posted, you can share your video using social media and/or embed it on other websites. Unsure how to embed a video?

3. Designing programs or apps

Level of tech savvy necessary: High

The mobile platform has become ubiquitous, and developing high quality apps can be a great way to share content through distributors such as the Apple App Store and Google Play. Apps allow you to spread your specific pedagogy and design creativity to soaring heights, and they provide endless options for the level of interactivity in user experience.

The Tech

* Development – chances are if you’re strongly considering making apps that you have some coding or developer experience. If you don’t but you’re still interested and want to pick up the skill, learn more about Apple Xcode and the Google Play Developer Console.

* Outsourcing – if you’re not interested in coding the app yourself, you can find tons of studios that will handle the technology and let you focus on curriculum/pedagogy. Developer talent isn’t cheap, though, so make sure that you’ve considered how much you think you will make from selling the app.

* Monetization – there are three main ways of monetizing your app: charging for the app, in-app purchases, and advertising. Charging for the app is pretty straightforward: you determine the price that people will pay in order to download it. Another option is embedding in-app purchases (like in Candy Crush) in a free app, which allows people to unlock content within a free app by paying for it as they decide to use it. Finally, if you want to distribute your content completely for free but still make a little scratch, you can offer advertisers space within your app for banners, buttons, and other marketing tools.

* Distribution – so you’ve made that killer app, and you now need to distribute it. If your app is for iOS (iPhone), you’ll need to submit it for review to the Apple App Store. The Android platform offers less restrictions for distribution but there is a $25 registration fee for the Google Developer Console.

Now is an exciting time to be teaching music – there have never been more ways to reach students! We encourage you to get out there and find the best medium for you given your skills, schedule, interests, and goals.

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About the Authors: Claire Cunningham is one of the founders of Lessonface, a growing ecosystem of top-caliber teachers offering live lessons via videoconference. Chris Ott is an experienced educator and administrator who provides support with the operations of Lessonface. Between them, Claire and Chris have a great deal of experience focusing on the intersection of education and technology, particularly related to music lessons.

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