Gear recommendations for video chat lessons
Video chat works great for piano lessons!
You need a reasonably fast internet connection, a web camera, and a speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks. (If you can stream Netflix to a TV, then your connection is probably fast enough.)
There are many possible combinations of gear that would work. Below are some recommendations and setup tips. Send me a message if you have any questions.
1. Speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks
The most important features of a good playback speaker are:
- Sufficient loudness that your piano doesn’t drown it out.
- Good bass response.
Speakers on laptops, smartphones, and tablets won’t work – they’re too small. Likewise for super-small Bluetooth speakers.
Here are some Bluetooth speakers I recommend. Prices are accurate at the time of writing (March, 2020) but are of course subject to change.
Smallest and least expensive is the Ultimate Ears Boom 2 ($80 in the “Phantom” color). One of my students uses it, and it sounds good. I suspect that larger models from Ultimate Ears are probably good too.
Caveat: This student plays a digital piano, and digital pianos are much quieter than acoustic pianos. The Boom 2 is probably loud enough to work with an acoustic piano, but I can’t say for sure.
For a larger portable, consider the JBL Xtreme 2 waterproof Bluetooth speaker ($250 ), rated the best-sounding portable at The Wirecutter.
If you don’t need it to be portable or waterproof, consider the Monoprice Soundstage3 ($220), The Wirecutter’s runner-up for best home Bluetooth speaker.
If you’re new to Bluetooth speakers, you connect to them from another device – smart phone, tablet, or computer. It’s fast and easy. If you’re uncomfortable with technology, I’m happy to help get you going.
A home stereo system with good-sized speakers could also work well.
2. Web camera
Ideally, use a web cam on a laptop or desktop computer (such as an iMac or PC) and connect the computer to your network with an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi. This would provide the best quality video and sound.
Otherwise, cameras on smart phones and tablets should be fine.
Whenever possible, use a separate device for web chat from the one connected to your Bluetooth speaker. For example, if you use a smart phone to control a Bluetooth speaker, use a tablet, laptop, or desktop for video chat.
Regarding wired connections:
- Ethernet cables are inexpensive; here’s a 20 ft. one for under $5.00, and many other lengths are available.
- Connect one end to one of the ports labeled “LAN” (not “WAN”) on your wireless router and the other to your computer.
- If you own a recent Apple laptop, you’ll need an Ethernet adapter or a hub. Here’s Apple’s Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter ($29).
A separate USB web cam like the Logitech C920s ($70) is better than the cameras built into laptops, iMacs, and displays, but is not required.
3. Setting up
Place the video camera device (laptop, display, tablet or phone) on a side table, chair, shelf, music stand, etc. at a right angle to either end of the keyboard, as shown below. The goal is to have both your face and your hands on the keys visible.
If needed, the device can be raised on boxes or books. Holders are available to mount web cams and mobile devices on tripods and microphone stands, if you have one (and if you don’t, inexpensive ones are readily available.)
Smaller playback speakers like the Boom 2 can be placed on the music stand (“1” in the diagram), while larger speakers can be placed at the other end of the keyboard (“2” in the diagram) on a chair, shelf, stand, etc.