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  • Writer's pictureNic Chaffee

Best Practices for Online Lessons

Students and parents,

Good morning. I hope you all are doing well and adapting as best as you can to the strange world we now find ourselves living in. Most importantly, I hope you are all staying healthy and safe. Now that we are one week into online lessons, I wanted to share with you some thoughts and observations.

First of all, I’ve been very impressed with how well you have adapted to the online lesson format. We’ve all had very productive lessons, and the level of focus from students during our 45-minute sessions has been excellent. In some ways, perhaps because we are "locked in" to a screen, the focus levels seem even higher than in-person. Although there are certain things we can’t do online, such as play together or sync to a metronome, there are other practice techniques that I’ve been employing that work really well in this format. I've always felt that the best thing I can teach is simply "how to practice," and online lessons are a good opportunity to focus on that, since you're at home in your own practice room with all your own equipment. 

Thanks to all of you for your adaptability. With no end immediately in sight to this global crisis, here are some ideas for best practices as we move forward with online lessons:

  • Camera & Lighting: Place the camera close to eye-level so that I can see your face as you play. If the camera is several feet below, pointed up, it’s difficult for me to see your embouchure as you play. Additionally, make sure that the light source illuminates your face, and is not behind your head turning your into a silhouette. 

  • Microphone: In most cases, the built-in mic on your device works fine. Make sure to adjust the mic input level in Skype so that the mic is not overloading when you play the trumpet. Also, it sounds best if you point your bell at a 45 degree angle away from the mic. Assuming your mic is situated beside the camera, that also helps me to see your fingerings. (Note: If you have access to an external mic, those are a definite step-up from the built-in mic. If you’re interested in making a purchase, the Blue Yeti USB microphone is a great choice, but I’m sure just about anything out there would be a step-up from the built-in mic.)

  • Headphones: Headphones are helpful to hear me clearly - especially if the built-in speakers on your device are not very loud. If you choose to use headphones, I recommend leaving one ear slightly open so you can still hear your own sound clearly. (In my studio, I use the big monitor speakers to listen to you guys, so it’s plenty loud on my end!)

  • Metronome & Tuner: The one significant drawback to Skype lessons is the slight lag time. This isn’t significant enough to notice during conversation, but it does mean that we can’t sync to a singular metronome or play together. Since a metronome is a required tool for all students to practice with, please have your own metronome handy. That way, if we need to use a metronome, you can quickly turn it on for yourself. Same thing goes for a tuner; if we need to check pitch on some notes, have your tuner ready. (For many of you, both devices are simply apps on your phone. That’s great... as long as you aren’t also using your phone to run Skype or FaceTime!)

  • Background Blur: The background blur feature in Skype makes it difficult to see your fingers, as they often get blurred. So, please turn that feature off for lessons.

Once again, I thank you all for rolling with the punches and adapting to these changes. If you have any feedback to me, please share it. I want to make this experience as beneficial to you as possible. Last, but not least, have fun practicing a little extra as you fill your quarantined days with useful, productive activities! 

Thanks, Nic

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