Video lesson tips
Video chat works great for piano lessons!
Here’s what you need (in addition to a piano or keyboard):
- a reasonably fast internet connection (If you’re able to stream Netflix to a TV, your connection is probably fast enough.)
- a web camera
- a speaker for playing back accompaniment tracks
- a USB microphone – optional, but helpful
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. You must be able to hear the bass player!
Speakers on laptops, smartphones, and tablets won’t work – they’re too small. Likewise for pocket-size 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. Larger models from Ultimate Ears are probably good too.
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, you control them using an app on another device – a 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 provides the best quality video and sound as well as the most stable connection.
Otherwise, cameras on smart phones and tablets work well.
Whenever possible, use a separate device for web chat from the one connected to your Bluetooth speaker. For example, if you use a phone to control the 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).
- Ethernet adapters are available for mobile devices too. For iOS devices, it’s a bit kludgey: you need a lighting-to-USB adapter and a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. (If you also need USB ports for other uses, 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 with a USB-C port, there are USB-C-to-Ethernet adapters.
- Wired connections are better than Wi-Fi for music lessons because they’re much more stable. And the way data is transmitted behind the scenes is better suited to video chat. Hiccups or timing delays which are acceptable (and sometimes not even noticeable) in routine conversation are problematic for music lessons. Wired connections are also more secure. Even if you only use the wired connection once a week, it’s worth the effort.
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 on a side table, chair, shelf, music stand, etc. at a right angle to either 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.
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.
An external microphone is optional, but recommended. It’ll make my job easier, and anyone else you chat with over the internet will notice how much clearer you sound!
Built-in microphones in computers, mobile devices, and web-cams are OK for casual conversation, but not great for music.
If you already have a microphone and audio interface, use them!
Otherwise, a USB mic is easy to use: You just plug it into your computer and select it as an input in Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.
A caveat: the Yeti is fairly large. That doesn’t bother one of my colleagues who uses it for voice and keyboard when teaching, but it also comes in a smaller version, the Yeti Nano.
A smaller and less costly option is The Wirecutter’s “budget pick”, the Amazon Basics Desktop Mini Condenser Mic.
You will 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.
6. 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.”
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”).
Leave “Echo Cancellation” set to “Auto.”