The challenges (and benefits) of virtual piano lessons during the pandemic – The Oakland Post

Rebecca Happel, applied music teacher and piano teacher at the Oakland UniversityShe led a piano lesson via Zoom. She counted while her student played, but the student was constantly a second or two behind her because of the slight delay in sound.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, piano teachers and students had to adapt to new safety protocols. Classes look different than they did before the pandemic — and for many, classes relieve stress.

Before COVID-19 concerns, many piano lessons consisted of a teacher and a student in the same room. In some cases, such as OU’s studios, two pianos stand side by side, with the keyboards flush-joined, allowing the pair to play together.

Post COVID-19, OU’s music classes went virtual and students were no longer able to use the studios. Happel explains the difficulties of conducting private lessons over Zoom – figuring out how to maintain consistency of sound was and is a challenge.

“There were so many tricks to keeping the sound consistent because I think Zoom’s default setting is to balance the sound,” says Happel. “What happens when you play the piano is that the moment you play sound, the sound disappears via Zoom and so there had to be these hacks to tweak and select certain things, different types of microphones to prevent that and allow that sound to pass through.”

Camera perspectives at Zoom were another obstacle to piano lessons. In the classroom, the teacher can see the student’s whole body to correct posture and movement, but via zoom, the teacher can usually only see the keyboard or just a portion of it.

“Sometimes when the student chooses to take their lesson in one of our practice rooms, there isn’t enough space between the wall and the keyboard to see the entire keyboard – let alone the entire student, so we couldn’t see what’s happening with the pedal , or when I was trying to figure out if someone knew their music by heart, I couldn’t see their face, so I couldn’t tell if they were looking at their score or not,” says Happel.

The internet connection also presented a challenge and caused lag in audio over Zoom. Therefore, in studio classes where multiple students joined the professor, they adapted to pre-record their performance for the class to listen to and comment on together.

When the university returned to face-to-face classes, the studios were retrofitted with roll-up plexiglass frames between two pianos. While the students and teachers could then see each other, they became discourage them from being in the vicinity.

OU’s piano practice rooms are in the same hallway, and the soundproofing is not ideal between rooms, according to Happel. However, the noise can increase a student’s concentration and also allows them to be surrounded by other pianists to whom they can ask questions if necessary.

“It was different for every student,” says Happel. “I know students who absolutely thrived. They were at home and more comfortable with their home piano. They seem to be getting more work done, which I guess we all weren’t expecting […] It was a lot more time but I think some people also found it demotivating because an aspect of the competition was gone […] But like I said, some people found that liberating — they just crouched down and thought, “What else am I supposed to do? I’m just going to practice.’”

the Rochester Conservatory of Music (RCM), a community music school offering private and group classes for 12 different instruments for students of all ages, has also been entirely virtual for most of the pandemic.

“One of our takeaways from the virtual classroom experience is that it will now remain a permanent option at Rochester Conservatory,” owner and Director of RCM Kay Ellen Wilkins says. “If a student doesn’t feel well enough to come to a class, we can easily go online – we can teach on snow days, eliminating the need for makeup classes due to bad weather.”

RCM had similar issues with patchy WiFi and difficulty hearing nuances in music and harsh sound quality, but still navigated through virtual lessons.

“The students made progress, they had a creative outlet at a very stressful time, and it was a joy to see their bright faces through the screen each week,” says Wilkins.

The creative outlet acted as a relief for many students increased stressors from COVID-19. The Center for Studies in Human Stress found that playing the piano reduced cortisol – the stress hormone – more than other creative artistic activities.

the study completes: “[…] Music performance showed the same effect as listening to music. With all the stresses of modern society, school music education has a new purpose: improving mental health […] Music facilitates expression, communication and relationships in a non-verbal context.”

According to Wilkins, the RCM did not see an increase in new students in the first year of the pandemic, and parents said their students had lost their students because of overwhelming changes such as: working from home, going to school from home and staying isolated.

However, in the second year of the pandemic, requests from new students – particularly for face-to-face classes – increased and currently RCM has returned to the normal rate of new student requests.

“One area that seems to be on the rise is the growth in our adult students,” says Wilkins. “Perhaps the pandemic has caused many adults who have changed jobs due to the pandemic – I’ve heard many companies are working more days virtually from home – to realize that now is the time to do something what they always wanted to do . Music is a great outlet for students of all ages.”

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