The online or virtual lesson experience offers different challenges from the previously more common in person lesson. For one thing, it is important to stay engaged with the student, which is the responsibility of the teacher.
I have enjoyed learning more about the experience of the virtual music lessons by doing lots of them recently. My own class of students provides me with more than thirty lessons each week. I find that I need to be fully prepared in advance of each lesson. When the stay at home order came from the governor’s office, I realized that I would be teaching from home instead of at The Cappelli Institute of Music in Oak Park IL. I set up a long, heavy banquet table, normally stored in the basement, near the beautiful Mason & Hamlin piano in the living room. Much of the music I would previously have had on the bookshelf of my studio is now arranged on the table in mostly alphabetical rows, to assist in choosing music needed for each day’s and each hour’s lessons. Other books and pieces that might be used are grouped by genre.
Young students can be a little hard to engage and are likely to be distracted. I have learned to watch their hands carefully to see if they reach for the computer mouse or the screen of their iPad or phone, as it usually means choosing emoji’s, offering up a surprise background (a Zoom trick) or checking texts and pausing the screen.
Dead time in the lesson is just that—deadly! When a student is done playing, helpful conversation should commence immediately, before the mind wanders.
I always offer historical context for music that I teach. Yesterday, while speaking about Copland and his beautiful scoring of Thornton Wilder’s stage play, “Our Town,” I tried to interest my student in the time in America (around 1944) when this play takes place. It was so different from the present and the sound of the work reflects that. Her mother thanked me after the lesson, saying that she appreciated the effort to engage her daughters (three of them) in more than just the notes of the assignment.
All music is interesting; it is soothing, mentally and emotionally stimulating, and healing, especially now during such a difficult and isolating time. How fortunate we are that we can stay engaged through music! The world changes constantly and we should bring historical context to all the music that we teach.