Bob Karty

Video Lesson Tips

These recommendations come from many hours of online teaching experience, starting before the pandemic.

The short version:

  1. A laptop or desktop computer works much better for Zoom than a phone, tablet, or Chromebook.
  2. Connect to your network with an Ethernet cable instead of WiFi. (See below re: Ethernet adapters if your device lacks a port.) WiFi can work, but a wired connection is much better. (Jump to Internet details.)
  3. Set up in a quiet space. Place your computer or web camera at one end of your keyboard as in the photo below.
  4. Use a speaker separate from your computer for playing back accompaniment tracks: a boom box, wireless speaker (Bluetooth, Sonos, etc, controlled by a phone or tablet), or a stereo receiver and speakers. (Jump to Speaker details.)
  5. Get a USB mic. See recommendations below. (Jump to Mic details.)
  6. Set up Zoom as described below. (Jump to Zoom Settings.)

Make sure everything is running smoothly before your lesson or class begins.

Details

For successful online lessons, you need:

  • reasonably fast internet service, preferably with an Ethernet connection
  • a speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks
  • a web camera – preferably separate from your computer
  • a USB microphone – optional, but highly recommended

Use a laptop or desktop computer for Zoom instead of a phone, tablet, or Chromebook. The mobile and Chrome versions of Zoom lack important features we need for music lessons, and phone and tablet screens are too small.

Internet service

If you have fiber internet, congratulations – you’re good to go!

If you don’t have fiber and it’s available in your area, get it if at all possible! You’ll be glad you did.

Cable internet is usually sufficient for online lessons, but many plans have slow upload speed, which causes dropouts and poor sound and video quality on my end.

Please check your upload speed at speedtest.net. It should be at least 4 Mbps.

If others in your household will be doing video chat, online gaming, or other bandwidth-intensive activities at the same time as your lesson, you need faster than 4 Mbps upload, or you should schedule your lesson when others aren’t online.

Connect to your router with an Ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi.

I highly recommend you connect to your network with an Ethernet cable.

WiFi connections are inherently unstable for video conferencing. The result is choppy video and audio on my end, making it much more difficult for me to help you!

Ethernet cables are inexpensive; here you can get a 20 ft. one with a lifetime warranty for under $5.00, and many other lengths are available.

If your router is far away from the computer, it’s worth the effort to run a long cable. If a cable running across the room or down the hall is a nuisance, disconnect it after the lesson, coil it up, and store it near the router.

Connect one end of the cable to a “LAN” port on your router and the other to your computer.

If your computer lacks an Ethernet port, you’ll need an adapter. I found the D-Link DUB-E250 USB-C to Ethernet adapter ($20) to be plug-and-play with macOS 12 (Monterey), and I’m pretty sure that’s also true for macOS 11 (Big Sur). For earlier versions of macOS, and for Windows, download and install the driver at D-Link’s site, and if that doesn’t work, check this page, which should have the latest versions.

Speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks

Accompaniment tracks are essential practice tools for studying jazz and Latin music.

You need a speaker loud enough to hear over your playing and with sufficient bass response that you can hear the bass player.

For video lessons, your speaker should be separate from your computer system.

Speakers on laptops, smartphones, and tablets are too small, as are pocket-size Bluetooth speakers.

A home stereo system works well. If you don’t have one, or if it’s not in the room where you’ll be taking lessons, consider getting a wireless speaker.

Wireless speakers are controlled by apps on your phone, tablet, or computer. Some connect via Bluetooth, while others connect via WiFi.

Here are some recommendations. Prices are accurate at the time of this update, April 2022, but are subject to change.

The Sonos One ($220) or Sonos One SL ($200, without voice control) are compact but the sound quality is excellent. They work on your WiFi network. Sonos apps are available for both computers and mobile devices.

These speakers also include Apple’s Air Play 2, so you can stream audio from any Apple computer, iPad, or iPhone from the last several years.

They’re small enough to easily move from room to room, but they’re not marketed as “portable” because they aren’t battery-powered. Two of my students use the Sonos One (and I have a pair in my kitchen).

Bluetooth speakers:

Smallest is the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 ($130-150). Two of my students used a Boom 2 (the previous version), and it sounded good. Larger models from Ultimate Ears are probably fine too.

For a larger portable, consider the JBL Xtreme 2 waterproof Bluetooth speaker ($199-250 ), rated the best-sounding portable at The Wirecutter.

If you don’t need a speaker to be portable or waterproof, consider the Monoprice Soundstage3 ($199), The Wirecutter’s runner-up for best home Bluetooth speaker.

Visit The Wirecutter web site for reviews of portable Bluetooth speakers here and home Bluetooth speakers here.

If you’re new to all this tech stuff, I’m happy to help you set it up.

Web camera

Web cameras provide better quality video than built-in cameras in laptops, iMacs, etc. And they’re easy to move into position so I can see both your hands on the keyboard and your face (see the photo below in “Setting Up”).

The Logitech C920s ($70) is a popular USB web cam.

If using a Logitech web cam, get the Logitech Webcam Settings app and disable auto-focus.

Microphone

An external microphone is optional but highly recommended. The sound quality will be much better that of the built-in mic in your computer or mobile device.

If you already have a microphone and audio interface, use them!

USB mics are easy to use: Simply plug the USB cable into your computer and select the mic as an input in Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.

Consider the Blue Yeti, rated as best USB microphone by The Wirecutter.

Note for Yeti users: Since the Yeti has a headphone jack, sometimes Zoom automatically selects it as a “speaker”. If you don’t hear sound from your computer speakers, check Zoom audio settings and if necessary change the speaker back to your computer speakers.

A smaller and cheaper option is The Wirecutter’s “budget pick”, the Amazon Basics Desktop Mini Condenser Mic.

You’ll need an adapter to connect USB mics to iOS devices, newer Apple laptops, and most Android devices. Check device compatibility before purchasing. General info on connecting the Yeti to iOS and Android devices is here.

Lighting

Ideally, have a light behind your web cam (not behind you), slightly off to one side.

Avoid lighting from directly above you and from behind you if possible. Light from above casts shadows on your face, giving you raccoon eyes; light from behind you can reduce the camera’s exposure so I only see your silhouette. If there’s a window behind you with curtains, shades, or blinds, close them.

Setting up

The photo below shows an excellent setup for video lessons (courtesy of student Marilyn O.).

Play-along tracks and apps are stored on the iPad, which connects to the speaker via WiFi.

Note that the laptop is placed at a right angle to the piano and is propped up on books.

The speaker should face the microphone. (Don’t place it behind the mic, or I won’t be able to hear it.)

The web cam (mounted on a music stand) and the USB mic are connected to the laptop.

Photo of suggested gear setup for video music lessons
Click for larger version.

Zoom Settings – Version 5.12 and later

These instructions are for the Zoom desktop app for Mac and Windows.

Note that in Zoom’s version numbering system, 5.12 is later than 5.6 (think of 12 being larger than 6). Confusing, I know – that’s not how we learned numbers in math class!

First, open Zoom’s “Settings” window.

If you’re not logged into your Zoom account:

In macOS, click on zoom.us in the menu bar and select “Preferences…”

In Windows, right-click on the Zoom icon in the system tray in the lower right part of your screen and select “Settings” from the pop-up menu.

Zoom settings menu item in macOS
Zoom settings – Mac
Zoom settings – Windows

If you are logged into your Zoom account, you can also open “Settings” by clicking on the gear icon in the upper right as shown in the screen shot below.

Zoom home window

Click on “Audio” to access audio settings, as shown below.

How to open Zoom Audio Settings

Un-check the box “Automatically adjust microphone volume.”

Set “Suppress background noise” to “Low”.

Check the box “Show in-meeting option to enable “Original Sound.””

See the screen shot below.

Screen shot of the Audio Settings window in Zoom version 5.12
The top of the Audio Settings window should look like this.

Optional: If you connect via Ethernet and have a reasonably fast upload speed, check the box for “High fidelity music mode”. If you have an Ethernet connection, fast upload speed and stereo speakers, you can also check the box “Stereo Audio”.

Make sure that “Echo cancelation” is checked.

Scroll down and check the box “Automatically join computer audio when joining a meeting.” See screen shot below.

Now click “Advanced” at the bottom of the audio settings window to go to advanced audio settings.

Echo Cancellation should be set to “auto.”

Zoom Advanced Audio Settings window
Echo cancellation should be set to “auto.”

In the meeting

After joining a meeting, click on the words “Original Sound: Off” in the upper left of the main window, as shown below.

Annotated screen shot of the main window of Zoom version 5.12

It should now say “Original Sound: On”.

When “Original Sound” is on, some of Zoom’s audio processing is disabled, which is what we want for music lessons.

If you need to check audio or video settings during the meeting, you can easily reach those windows by clicking on the up-facing wedges as shown in the screen shot above.