Quick Start Guide for Online Lessons

Last Updated on 2024-06-11 | Originally Posted on 2023-02-01
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This a slimmed-down version of the online lesson guide that I wrote during the early days of Covid isolation in 2020. I’ve included all of the pertinent information from that article while trying to make it more readable with clear headings and feature blocks.

The video below is NOT a substitute for the article, but rather a video guide by my mentor, Nicola Cantan, to give you some ideas for placing your device correctly before the lesson begins. You might be surprised that you can improvise your device set up quickly among your furniture and accessories!

Device Placement Video

My mentor, Nicola Cantan, made this device placement video on YouTube. If you want to see her introduction and the lighting choices segment, go to the beginning of the video.

FaceTime or Zoom

My preferred app for online lessons is FaceTime. However, if you don’t have an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, MacBook), we can use Zoom. If the church is closed for lessons, we’ll go online from my home to yours. However, even if lessons are offered in person, I can always provide an online lesson.

Please let me know whether you want to use Zoom or FaceTime. If you choose FaceTime, I’ll connect with the email or phone number you provide me. If you choose Zoom, I’ll send you a meeting ID and passcode.

Laptop, Tablet, or Phone?

The bigger, the better! Larger devices typically have better built-in video, audio, and battery life. In addition, a laptop can be connected directly via cable to your router for a much faster connection than you’ll get with WiFi.

Please charge your device before the lesson. If you use a phone, it’s going to be tricky to have a charging cable attached during the lesson unless you rotate it to landscape position.

Device Holder

Although I use an expensive K&M microphone stand and tablet holder for my online teaching, you can do this much cheaper using a metal music stand. If you need one, I’d recommend spending the $50 for this Manhasset Music Stand to hold your device.

If $10 better matches your budget, get a small device holder than can be placed on a side or fold-up table. Even though it’s small, it can hold any phone and small tablets. I use mine when I’m teaching online to keep my phone stable.

Device Placement

If you don’t have a microphone, music, or device stand, you can use a small table built up with books as a makeshift stand. If you’re using a phone, rotate it 90 degrees to put it in landscape mode. This mode is the default orientation for a laptop or tablet. The camera angle below is excellent, but I’d prefer the placement closer to the piano.

man playing piano in park
Man playing piano in park. Courtesy Needpix.com


Your built-in microphone is sufficient for an occasional lesson. If you take online lessons often or regularly, though, you might want to consider an external microphone. I purchased this Fifine microphone for use in regular online lessons during Covid, and it made some difference.

However, it’s not something I can wholeheartedly recommend, unless you notice that the recorded sound with your device is poor. Make sure that the microphone connector works your device, or you’ll have to buy an adapter to make it work.


If you have at least 10 Mbps of bandwidth, download and upload, that’s typically good enough. You can test this using Google Internet Speed Test or the old standard Speedtest by Ookla. The best we can do is to optimize our connection to the Internet. Even if each end’s connection is strong, there can be too much traffic in between that causes issues.

If your bandwidth is not strong, please ask others in your household not to stream video or play online video games during your lesson. However, less data intensive activities like email, web browsing and scrolling social media might be a good compromise to offer!

Technical Tips to Optimize Your Device for Faster Wi-Fi
  • Turn off background app refresh. It also helps prolong your device’s charge.
  • Free up storage space to enable optimal buffering
  • Reboot your device periodically
  • Clear the cache regularly. However, this means having to enter your passwords again.

Be Prepared

Experience tells me to include this short paragraph, mainly for my younger students. Please go to the bathroom before your lesson, put your water bottle next to (but not on) the piano, and have a pencil on the music desk to make notes in your music.

In Conclusion

You probably have all that you need for online lessons. However, it does take a bit of set up time before the lesson, so get your device charged and do a test using your own camera. It’s worth the effort, else we’ll spend valuable minutes refocusing your camera from your ceiling to a view like the one in the photo above!

See you online!