Setting Up For Success - Getting the Most out of Remote Music Lessons

Remote Lessons are the most popular format for music instruction these days for obvious reasons. While it may sound difficult, taking lessons over videoconference can be a simple and smooth experience as long as you have the right space and a decent internet connection. Here's what you can do to prepare yourself for the best remote lesson experience.

Find Your Perfect Space

Your home lesson space should try to recreate the typical lesson environment as much as possible.

Sit it a quiet, well lit area, preferably with a light source in front of you rather than behind you. Bright lights behind you can make it difficult for your instructor to see your hands on video. Start up Zoom and get your video going so you can experiment with closing or opening curtains and turning lights on and off to see what gives you the best lighting. Play your instrument a little, make sure both of your hands are in view of the camera so your instructor can watch and critique your technique.

Try to sit on a sturdy chair without arms. Chair arms are a big hindrance to holding a guitar or ukulele properly! Soft beds and couches are less than ideal, and rolling office chairs with arms are should be avoided at all costs. A folding chair or typical dining room chair typically works wonderfully. 

Arrange yourself in a way where you can see the computer screen and your books/music folder from your seat without moving. Books and music folders should be propped up on a music stand rather than laying on a flat surface. Looking down to read sheet music puts significant strain on the neck and is not recommended. If you don't own a music stand, I recommend something with a fixed base and a solid back like this one on Amazon. You may be tempted to get a wire fold-up music stand, as they are cheaper, but they are not very sturdy when it comes to holding books and 3-ring binders, and are prone to falling over. You'll be glad you spent the extra few dollars, I promise.

A footstool is encouraged for students whose feet do not reach the floor. This stool can be under the right foot only, or under both feet for small children.

Have your instrument tuned up shortly before the lesson begins. We don't want to spend our valuable lesson time tuning if we don't have to! Make use of a clip-on tuner like a Snark. If you can't find your tuner, an app will suffice. Check the Student Portal for suggested apps! If you're having trouble, use the Tuning Reference Video to make sure you're in the ballpark, then fine tune from there using your tuner.


Computer Tips

If you don't already have it, download Zoom and make a few test calls to get familiar with the interface before the first lesson. Make sure you have a strong WIFI connection, if not, consider moving closer to your home's router or installing a range extender. If you are near the router, consider getting a wired connection for the best possible speeds.

Due to the relatively high demands of videoconferencing, a desktop or laptop computer is encouraged over a tablet or smartphone if possible. For peak computing performance, close all unnecessary apps and programs on your device during the call. 

If your internet speed is less than optimal you should discourage family members from taking too much bandwidth by streaming video or making their own video calls during the lesson. Netflix will still be there when you're done!

Since zoom is primarily designed for videoconferencing, it tries to eliminate what it considers "noise" to keep sound levels appropriate for conversation. This can lead to Zoom adjusting your microphone as soon as you start playing your instrument. To avoid this, go to the audio settings of zoom and make sure it's set to "Low." It will be set to "auto" by default. If you have a powerful computer, you may consider enabling "high fidelity music mode," which will tell Zoom you intend to play music and to create the best possible audio sound.

Your device's built-in camera will do just fine, but if you want an upgrade, there are many affordable options for webcams online, some of which include microphones as well. I use a popular, but somewhat pricey, wide-angle Logitech C920 and am very happy with it.


After The Lesson



Print out all materials that your instructor sends you so you can practice without the distractions of the computer screen. Be sure to make use of any supplementary materials such as videos, audio tracks, or online music games that your instructor gives you. Ideally, students of all ages would be able to access these materials on their own, to facilitate practice without having to necessarily get parental involvement.

No matter what instrument you study or who you ultimately decide to study with, I hope that you find these tips useful. If you are unsure about online lessons, I hope this list encourages you to give it a try! For more information about guitar and ukulele lessons through the Milwaukie School of Guitar - visit the FAQ, send an email, or use the contact form today!