Reader discretion is advised.
I feel ashamed. I feel sad and I feel the worst possible piano teacher on Earth — Not that I am not, but that’s another story.
This online lessons charade has taken me by storm — I feel I am currently at my most pompous and self-important mood, living in a most melodramatic stage of my bumpy educational career.
I haaate online lessons — In case you haven’t noticed, read my previous article…
However, here am I, talking about online piano lessons, following their caprices to the letter, and do them with a massive (albeit fake) smile on my fat face. So massive is my fake smile, that if casting for the movie Batman Begins was to take place today, I sure would be snatching the part of the Joker in a jiffy.
But, once again, I digressed…
So, let me talk about online pianistic equipment. Who would have thought after more that than ten years, I would write another article on pianistic equipment, but this time on the online pianistic equipment — The lowest of the low.
So, here is what I use and what I generally suggest you, the piano teacher, should aim to have in your studio to make this online journey less painful:
- A Good Microphone: A microphone of excellent quality will convey your instructions more clearly to the student. As of the early February 2021, you will be probably having your online lessons with one of the major communication platforms, such as zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc., And that means, you are connecting your microphone to a laptop, or a desktop computer or, (hopefully not) a mobile device, such as a tablet or mobile phone. An external microphone will “offload” the CPU (central processor) of your computer and allow it to work optimally. Here, you need to remember that internal recording sound-cards are not optimised to record with high fidelity. This is the job of an “external” sound card that has been specifically designed to reproduce and receive sound to the highest of qualities — I would strongly recommend that you invest in an external recording device/microphone. For example, an external USB microphone that connects directly to your device, or an external sound card with an extra microphone that it also connects to your device — I use the zoom H6. It is perfect for online lessons. You can do almost anything with it. You can record your playing, you can use it as a sound card and connect to it microphones though XLR, and you can record your live concert to the highest standard. The H6 is also great in the field, in filming, for interviewing and simply on every imaginable live-performance situation. I strongly recommend it.
- And talking about computers, you need a Good Computer/Device to make the most of your wonderful microphone. There are zillions of laptops, desktops and tablets around, but only a fraction of them are capable for prime-time. I am not an expert and I couldn’t suggest which is the best computer that will flow naturally with your equipment today, but I go with the flow and I am currently using a MacBook Air. Very good choice and works perfectly well with all cables and bits and pieces. Ideally, however, you would have a desktop computer connected to big external monitor and avoid the laptops and the mobile devices altogether.
- A Good Camera: A good camera would compliment the audial side of your studio setup, allowing the students to see in clarity your illustrations. I currently use a Canon M50 DSLR camera connected to my laptop. The advantage of having a DSLR camera, as opposed to a web-camera, is that it can zoom in & out on your fingers, and it can produce HD video that has unparalleled quality compared to any present-day webcam used by consumers. Plus, again, it disengages the internal webcam of your laptop, which is basic, and suited for less demanding applications.
- A Good Set of Headphones/Monitors: If you are working with subtle sound nuances though the medium of the internet, you are not in luck, I’m afraid — you would need to hear the piano clearly. Dogs barking, birds chirping and cars passing by do not help in this respect. Through my use of both studio monitors and headphones over the years, I have come to realise that both fit-for-purpose. However, I am currently using the Marshall Major 2 Headphones since I live in a city and the noises of the passing vehicles can be distracting. So, unfortunately, I cannot use my studio monitors and need the headphone ear-pads to seal my ears as much as possible in order to hear my students through their often mediocre recording setups.
Other secondary equipment you might need to compliment the above list:
- Α camera tripod to adjust the shooting angles of your playing with greater flexibility.
- A secondary camera to show your fingers from above (placed right above the lid to show your demonstrations up-close). A second camera can also act as a means of simply making your footage more arresting and less rigid — I use my iPhone or my Nikon D340.
- A second microphone placed in close proximity to the piano for even higher sound fidelity — In that case, you might opt for a “lavalier” microphone (I use the Rode SmartLav+) on your sternum, so your voice is not picked up too much by the piano mic. For the piano I often use a pair of AKG Perception 100 mics when things get savvy…
- Good Lighting: Since the available light is not always sufficient, I would use a spotlight with varied colour temperatures so you can adjust it depending on the season and part of the day — that is, however, when you have windows in your studio, because if you don’t, your lighting conditions cannot be affected, anyway.
- Quality cables!
That’s all for now. This I believe is a most basic setup a decent professional piano studio should have.
Now, what about the students and their equipment? Who knows — I care about their equipment and constantly make suggestions, of course, but then again, it’s their life.
Most of the students’ parents prefer to buy a Mercedes and have lessons through their android phone, so good luck to them!
Copyright © 1st of March 2019 by Nikos Kokkinis