Video lesson tips
For successful lessons via video chat, you need the following:
- reasonably fast internet service
- a speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks
- a web camera
- a USB microphone – optional, but helpful
Below are some gear recommendations and setup tips. Send me a message if you have any questions.
For best results, you need an internet connection with fast upload speeds and fast download speeds. Cable internet plans typically have fast downloads but slow uploads. Get the plan with the fastest upload speed you can afford. If fiber internet is available in your area, get it. Fiber upload and download speeds are the same, and the increased upload bandwidth makes a huge difference for video conferencing.
Use a wired (Ethernet) connection instead of Wi-Fi. This is very important! Wired connections give far better audio and video quality and stability.
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. Even if your router is far away from the lesson location, it’s worth the effort to run a long cable. You can disconnect it between lessons if it’s a nuisance.
Connect one end of the cable to one of the ports labeled “LAN” 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).
Ethernet adapters are available for mobile devices too. For iOS devices, it’s a bit kludgey:
If you also need USB ports for other uses, like a USB microphone, Anker makes a USB 3 hub that includes an Ethernet port; this can be used instead of the USB-to-Ethernet adapter.
For Android devices and newer iPads with a USB-C port, get a USB-C-to-Ethernet adapter.
2. Speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks
For playing back accompaniment tracks, it’s best to use a speaker that’s not connected to your computer.
It should have:
- sufficient loudness that your piano doesn’t drown it out.
- good bass response. You must be able to hear the bass player!
Speakers on laptops, smartphones, and tablets are too small. So are pocket-size Bluetooth speakers.
Here are some Bluetooth speakers I recommend. Prices are accurate at the time of writing (March, 2020) but are subject to change.
Smallest is the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 ($150). One of my students uses a Boom 2 (the previous version), and it sounds quite good. Larger models from Ultimate Ears are probably fine too. If you’re on a tight budget, consider the Boom 2 if you can still find it.
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 your speaker 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, they are typically controlled via an app on another device – a smart phone, tablet, or computer. The device “pairs” with (connects to) the speaker, and audio is streamed (sent wirelessly) from the phone or tablet to the speaker.
A home stereo system with good-sized speakers could also work well.
If you’re uncomfortable with technology, I’m happy to help you get started.
3. Web camera
Ideally, use a web cam on a laptop or desktop computer (such as an iMac or a PC) instead of a mobile device.
A separate USB web cam like the Logitech C920s ($70) has better image quality than built-in web cams, and the cable is long enough for optimal placement.
Otherwise, cameras on smart phones and tablets can work if you have no other options.
An external microphone is optional, but highly recommended because it will provide much better sound than the mics built into computers, displays, and mobile devices. Clearer sound makes my job easier, and anyone else you chat with will notice the difference.
If you already have a microphone and audio interface, use them!
Otherwise, a USB mic is easy to use: Simply plug it into your computer and select it as an input in Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.
A smaller and less costly 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.
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.
6. Setting up
Place the video camera device on a side table, chair, shelf, music stand, etc. at a right angle to one end of the keyboard, as shown below. It’s best if I can see both your face and your hands.
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. (Inexpensive mic stands and tripods are available that would be fine for this purpose.)
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.
7. Zoom Settings
In the Zoom desktop app (Mac and Windows), go to “Settings” by clicking on the gear icon beneath your profile picture (or initials, if you don’t have a profile picture) in the upper right.
Click on “Audio”, then un-check the box “Automatically adjust microphone volume.”
Zoom Version 5.2 and later
Check the box “Automatically join computer audio when joining a meeting.”
Verify that “Suppress background noise” is set to “Low”, which is the default setting.
Click “Advanced” at the bottom of the window. Check the box “Show in-meeting option to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone.”
If you have a fast internet connection (with high upload and download speeds) and a fast computer, check “high fidelity music mode.”
Earlier versions of Zoom
Check the box “Join audio by computer when joining a meeting.”
Click on “Advanced” at the bottom right, and then disable the first two options in “Audio Processing” (“Suppress Persistent Background Noise” and “Suppress Intermittent Background Noise”).
Verify that “Echo Cancellation” is set to “Auto.”