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 – preferably separate from your computer
- 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, your upload speed should be at least 5 Mbps. If others in your household will be using the internet at the same time, it should be faster. Check your speed at speedtest.net, but first read about wired connections below. 4 Mbps should suffice if you’re the only one online.
If fiber internet is available in your area, get it. Fiber upload and download speeds are the same, and the increased upload bandwidth allows for higher quality audio and video.
Use a wired (Ethernet) connection instead of Wi-Fi. While it’s possible to do lessons via WiFi, wired connections provide much better audio and video quality.
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. If it’s a nuisance, disconnect it from your computer, coil it up, and store it near the router between lessons.
Connect one end of the cable to a “LAN” port 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 for mobile devices
Ethernet adapters are available for mobile devices too. For iOS devices, it’s a bit kludgey:
If you need USB ports for other uses in addition to Ethernet, 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 (November, 2020) but are subject to change.
Smallest is the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 ($130-150). 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 ($199-250 ), rated the best-sounding portable at The Wirecutter.
If you don’t need your speaker to be portable or waterproof, consider the Monoprice Soundstage3 ($199), The Wirecutter’s runner-up for best home Bluetooth speaker.
If you’re new to Bluetooth speakers: you stream audio to them from a smart phone, tablet, or computer via a Bluetooth wireless connection. If you’re new to this technology, I’m happy to help you get started.
A home stereo system with good-sized speakers could also work well.
3. Web camera
For best results, please use a USB web cam like the Logitech C920s ($70) if your budget allows. These cams have sometimes been in short supply during the pandemic. Check Amazon, Best Buy, Adorama Camera, etc, and ignore the price gougers.
An external web camera can be placed so that I can see both your hands on the keyboard and your face.
With a laptop, that position would be too far back for you to see the screen comfortably and the built-in speakers might not be loud enough.
Also, web cameras built into laptops, iMacs, and computer displays are generally low-quality (resulting in a grainy and/or blurry image). Likewise for the front-facing cameras on iPhones, iPads, etc.
If you have no other options, web cams built into your computer or mobile device can work. However, it’s best to run Zoom on a desktop or laptop instead of a mobile device; the desktop app has better audio features.
An external microphone is optional, but I highly recommend using one because the sound quality will be much better than from the built-in mic in your computer or mobile device.
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
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 via Bluetooth to the speaker.
Note that the laptop is set 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. A separate web cam is optional, but it’s easy to move into a good position where I can see your both your hands on the keyboard and your face.
7. Zoom Settings – Version 5.2 and later
In the Zoom desktop app (Mac and Windows), go to “Settings” by clicking on the gear icon in the upper right as shown in the screen shot below.
Click on “Audio” to access audio settings, as shown below.
Un-check the box “Automatically adjust microphone volume.”
Check the box “Automatically join computer audio when joining a meeting.”
Set “Suppress background noise” to “Low”.
See screen shot below.
Now click “Advanced” at the bottom of the audio settings window to go to advanced audio settings.
In advanced audio settings, check the box “Show in-meeting option to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone.”
If using an Ethernet connection, check the box for “High fidelity music mode”.
See screen shot below.
In the meeting
After joining a meeting, click on “Turn on original sound” in the upper left corner of the main window, as shown below. This removes some of Zoom’s sound processing, which is optimized for talking but isn’t good for music lessons. After clicking, it will change to “Turn off original sound.” This means that original sound is on, which is what we want.