Virtual teaching has gone from a niche area of music lessons, to becoming essential for nearly all private teachers. I never thought I wanted to teach virtually as it felt limiting; and like many people, was forced into it in the Spring of 2020 and now I wish I had gone virtual sooner.
There are many programs one can use for virtual lessons. I have run the gamut with Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Google Duo, and I’m sure some others I can’t recall. After over a year of virtual lessons I primarily use Zoom, and a second program called OBS(Open Broadcaster Software). Both are free to use for you and your students and I am going to go over how I set them up to create an engaging and useful environment.
For reference, I use Zoom on a Mac and am using version 5.4.9. *Important to note: Zoom tends to update their program often which is great, but also can create inconsistencies in a guide like this.*
All of the major video conference programs are fairly self explanatory. You create an account and either call out or someone else calls in. One thing I enjoy about Zoom is the ability to set it up like it is a physical studio room. I have a paid “Pro” account which allows me to stay on a single call for a full day of lessons, but I am also able to set my own conference room number. My students type in my number which stays the same every week and wait in the waiting room in zoom. I then let students in at the time of their lesson and we are all set to go. This paid account allows for a very streamlined ease of use for my students. No passwords are needed as I am in control of who comes and goes. If you have multiple students in a row throughout the day, I recommend getting a “Pro” account to make the whole process more streamlined.
The important part with zoom is to adjust the sound settings. Of all conference programs zoom does the best job at filtering out sounds that are not the voice, however this is the last thing you want in a music lesson.
In the settings (often called Preferences) you’ll want to adjust the audio settings. The main one is “Show in-meeting option to ‘Enable Original Sound’ from Microphone.” The other three that appear are nice but not necessary. This setting is worded completely backwards. Instead of saying “Remove background filters” they call it “Enable original sound.” Now when you are in a call you will see a box in the top-left of the screen that says “Turn on original sound.” Every meeting you start you will want to hit that button. Two important things to note. The first is that you MUST have headphones. If there is no background sound being cut out you can get some bad feedback and echos. I prefer bone-conduction headphones as they keep my ears open. The other thing to note is that this makes your personal sound better for the student. The student must do the same thing. For my more advanced and older students, I walk them through this process. For my younger students I’m not as worried and have gained the skill, after many virtual lessons, of being able to know what the student sounds like by their bow and fingers.
Zoom works great for virtual teaching, but I wanted my virtual lesson to be as engaging or even more so than in person. That is where OBS comes in.
OBS is a program originally made for live-streaming. It is free for Windows, Mac and Linux. There is a slight learning curve to understand your way around it, but 99% of what OBS can do we don’t need to worry about. For references I will be using version 26.1.2.
So what is special about OBS? You can connect multiple cameras/images/texts to one screen.
Under the screen area there are a few columns:
Scenes: This would be different set ups you can switch between. I have three scenes.
- My main one with the front webcam on me. I have added text on top if I want to type out a student’s homework.
- Violin-cam. I have a webcam connected to an angled microphone stand that sits above my desk. This scene uses my above webcam and also has my laptop camera showing so I am still able to engage with the students.
- My iPad display. This display will mainly be my iPad or desktop. I again still have my front/laptop camera on so students still feel like they are engaging directly with me and not behind a wall of music or powerpoint slide.
Sources: This is the list of anything you may have in the scene. Clicking the plus sign and then “VIdeo Capture Device” you will find any webcam that is plugged in, an iPad, or iPhone (I don’t know about android but I’m assuming it could work in a similar fashion). The only main ones I use are “VIdeo capture device,” “Window Capture” for computer screen, and “Text”
The last thing to do is hit “Start Virtual Camera” on the right (This button was added in the newest version of OBS) and with it enabled you will see OBS as a selectable camera in Zoom, Skype, etc. The only program I have seen that blocks this “Virtual Camera” is Facetime.
All of this is free to use. I have the Pro Zoom account and painted the back wall of my office with Chromakey green paint. This allows me to “key out” the background so it seems as if I am directly on the pieces of music displayed on my iPad, or I just have my old studio background so students feel more comfortable with the consistency.
Technology is always changing and as much as I want to say I know exactly what I am doing, it was a lot of trial and error. I can say I am very happy with the outcome. My studio expanded during lockdown almost doubling in size, I have had many of my students say they prefer virtual, and plan to continue with it even as I am opening up in-person lessons.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like assistance setting up your virtual studio.