Optional Equipment for Teaching Music Online

First off, we recommend doing a few online lessons with your basic set up before investing in additional equipment. We have seen no evidence that teachers with more sophisticated equipment get more students or keep students longer than those with the basics. Built in mics and cameras are quite good these days, and there is probably benefit to keeping it simple versus spending time in a lesson trying to tweak equipment. However, depending on the subject you're teaching, and your enthusiasm for electronics, you may find you want to step up your game.

External Webcams and Multi-Cam Set Ups

External webcams may provide a better picture than your camera built into your computer, and allow for a simple multi-cam set up, which is beneficial with larger instruments, especially the piano.

This short video compares three different webcams: an iMac's internal camera and two external webcams, and was recorded via Lessonface/Zoom, for a more accurate portrayal of the video quality that your student would be experiencing on their side.

This is renowned jazz pianist and educator Danny Mixon playing the blues scale after a recent lesson taught from the Lessonface studio (taken and used with permission), and a short shot of our practice log for the document cam. 

All three cameras were connected to the iMac simultaneously via USB. We should do another similar video with the cameras showing the exact same scene for better comparisons, but still, you can see that the two external webcams do seem to capture better color and overall image, even after traveling the internet a bit. This session was not using the Original Sound settings, which would likely have better caught the low notes at the end of the second segment. Read more about how to optimize your sound settings here.

As alluded to above, your self view on your own computer or tablet may appear misleadingly sharp, as that streams directly from your own camera without traveling the internet, so, is not usually an accurate portrayal of the actual video stream of you that the student will be seeing. 

If you connect multiple cameras to the computer you're using for your lessons, it's simple to switch cameras once you're in the Zoom video conference setting using the keyboard shortcut Alt+N to switch, or via camera settings on the Zoom control bar.

The over-the-keys view is beneficial to piano students. We do recommend switching back to the side view when you're talking for any length of time, it can feel a bit awkward to be interacting entirely with a disembodied voice-and-hands. With a little practice the keyboard shortcuts for switching between views can become easy.

We achieved this over-the-keys view with a USB extension cable, one of these stands, and this Sennheiser webcam, as demonstrated in the behind-the-scenes clip to right, where Mr. Mixon proves for once and all it is possible make scales swing. It would be easy to flip the camera so it shows the keys at the top of the screen, too, depending on your preference. 

You can also join with two devices, like your computer and a phone, and provide two different video streams simultaneously, without any switching, by logging into your session from both devices. The Lessonface sessions can accommodate more than two streams, though do be aware that multiple streams may start to be more distracting than helpful. Make sure you either don't join one of the devices to the audio, or mute one of the audio sources—otherwise you'll get echo. Joining a test session with a secondary device can also provide a better idea of how your primary video looks from another person's point of view.

If you wanted to join for an over-the-keys or other secondary view using your phone, you could try a phone holder like this one, and let us know how it goes. 

document webcam shown in action with online music lessonsDocument cameras are neat if you are a person who likes to write and share notes on paper rather than using the whiteboarding capabilities within Zoom, also a great option! This one is plug-and-play, and seems to work well, shown in the photo with the Lessonface practice log. (Note that the video of oneself on screen is mirrored, but is flipped to display properly to your counterpart in the lesson). 

We recommend testing any of this before getting into a lesson with a student.

Headphones

Being a musician, and a person in the modern world, you probably have at least three sets of headphones tucked into various jackets and bags around your house already. If you are on an instrument where wearing headphones doesn't feel like an encumberance, we recommend putting a pair on. In most situations, a decent set of headphones will make a positive difference.

While audio quality is good through streaming video in most situations, unless you have a sound studio or live in the country, there is likely to be a lot of ambient noise that you will be contending with in the lesson. Headphones do a great deal to help you focus on the interaction, which is always a good thing. Also, if you found that your built-in webcam wasn't good, or your computer didn't have one, and you end up needing an external webcam, that can cause additional issue with echoes, and headphones will cut those right out.

Make sure you get ones with a long enough cord to move around a little bit so you don't find yourself constrained in the session.

We use these Sennheiser headphones, which do a great job, were not very expensive, and which have a lovely long cord.

Microphones​

Due to the popularity of podcasts and YouTube channels, there is a large selection of decent plug-and-play USB mics at quite reasonable prices. A USB condenser mic such as this one, as opposed to a dynamic mic (the regular ones we normally see being used on stages), can be used as a room mic, meaning you can be further away from it without losing much volume. This helps when using the same mic for your instrument and your voice. We also recommend the Phoenix Duet, which is good for duplex sound, and which we use in the Lessonface headquarters.

After all of these peripherals are assembled, you may find you need a USB hub.

Setting It Up

You can make any audio or video input and output adjustments by going to the settings page on the Zoom app. Choose the device you want to use from the list that appears there. If it appears to already be chosen you could try clicking something else and clicking it again. If it still doesn't seem to work, try a complete reboot. (Rebooting is a pain but fixes any problems 99% of the time.) The system should default to the chosen device for subsequent sessions. If you want to test it out you can set up a session with us or create a trial account as a student and sign up for a trial lesson. We have a longer article about how to optimize your sound settings here.

If you have other suggestions, ideas, or great set-ups you have discovered, please add them in the comments!

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