Quick Start Guide for Online Lessons

Last Updated on 2023-03-05 | Originally Posted on 2023-02-01
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This a slim-down of my original online lesson guide that I wrote during the early days of Covid isolation in the spring of 2020. Please read the original article if you want more information on optimizing your connection or to see a variety of equipment you can buy to make online lessons a better experience.

Please watch Nicola’s short video in the feature block below if you do nothing else.

FaceTime or Zoom

My default app for online lessons is FaceTime. If you don’t have an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, MacBook), let’s use Zoom. Please remind me ASAP if you want a Zoom connection so I can set it up in advance of my first lesson. Zoom has a 40-minute time limit for free accounts that FaceTime doesn’t have.

Device Choice

If you have a choice, 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. Finally, if you use a device on battery support, make sure to charge it enough to last through the entire lesson.

Device Holder

Although I use a very expensive solution for my teaching that includes a K&M microphone stand and device holder, you can do this much cheaper. If you’re willing to spend about $50, buy this Manhasset music stand that can hold your device. It can also hold several extra music scores when not used for lessons.

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 all but the largest tablets. I use mine when I’m teaching online to keep my phone stable.

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.

    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


    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.

    Since I’m the only one in my household, I don’t have other users on other devices draining bandwidth streaming video or playing online video games. If your connection is weak, please ask other folks in your household to delay those high-bandwidth activities. Web browsing or scrolling social media is less of a problem.

    Be Prepared

    This short paragraph is dedicated mainly to my younger students. Please go to the bathroom before your lesson, put your water bottle next to the piano, and have a pencil on the music rack to make notes in your music. Enough said!

    In Conclusion

    You have all that you need for online lessons. However, if you’re interested in a more detailed guide to your online setup, please read my original online lesson guide. My goal is to minimize how many ceilings I see to ensure we don’t waste time. See you online!

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