How to successfully give and get online voice lessons
Pictured above: Singing teacher, Jill Carnay of Jill Carnay Voice
December 5, 2014
Ever since online video chatting became a viable option for most, I’ve been advocating for Internet based singing lessons. It makes sense that singers should have access to the best teachers and coaches, no matter their location. That being said, I have a bit of a confession. I never really liked teaching them. I found the communication awkward, the audio delay annoying, and the quality of the sound to be prohibitive in terms of offering really solid information. I didn’t really push it and have kept most of my business limited to in-person experience, quietly mentioning Skype etc. on the side. Until recently…
“What changed?” you ask? Three things.
First, I had a conversation with a guitar instructor who has been having much success with his teaching and doing a lot of travel, much of which was international. Because of Skype, this guy was somehow managing to maintain his teaching load from exotic locale. Honestly, I got a little jealous. How great to be able to go where you need to go and still be available to your clients. I decided I really wanted to see if I could make this a possibility for me as well.
Second, I had a mother contact me from out west asking if I would be willing to work with her 12 year-old son via Skype. He had expressed a desire to work with a male teacher during his voice changed. As there are none in their area, they happened across my website and contacted me. Truth be told, I’m a sucker for pretty much anyone who has the desire to sing, but preteen and teen male singers have a special place in my teaching heart. I know what it is to need encouragement as a singer during that time of your life. So, with some trepidation about the Skype component, I agreed. At first, It was pretty awkward. He had a beautiful voice, but we struggled to communicate well. I talked way too much and he gave me one-word responses. After our first session I was ready to throw in the towel, but I decided to give it one more go. During our next session, I recorded the video and audio so I could dissect exactly what was and wasn’t working about the experience. I learned so much from watching the video! After spending time analyzing and experimenting with the technical logistics and then digging into our most successful bits of communication, I felt like I had new insights into how to give this young guy the best online voice lesson experience I could. I’m happy to say, we’ve been working together now for quite a while and I can’t believe his progress!
Third, I started taking Skype lessons myself. Last year I began working with a teacher in New York from whom I wanted to learn more. As my location is in Chicago and my travels to NYC are somewhat sporadic, she kindly agreed to work with me online. This isn’t something she does much of either, but I’m so grateful she was open to the possibility. Having worked with her both in person and via Skype, I feel confident that what I take away through my online lessons is just as valuable as that which I am able to glean in person. In addition, being an online voice student has allowed me to better understand the experience from the perspective of a learner.
In light these three things, I’ve come up with some tips for successful online (Skype, Google Hangout, FaceTime) singing lessons that I hope are helpful for both singers and teachers. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Here’s the deal, whether you’re techy or not, in the case of online lessons your technology is the medium. If you’re working with good technology, you’ll be more likely to have a good session. If you’re working with less than, it will probably be less than. Good technology is more accessible and inexpensive than ever, so none of what you need should be a huge stretch. In fact, you might even have most of it already.
Internet connection: As a general rule, if you want the best video chat experience, plug your computer directly into the wall. You’ll get the lowest quality when you try to use a cellular network. That being said, most of us are on Wifi, so what can be helpful is to understand the bandwidth available to you via Wifi. Skype lays out what is necessary for different types of video chat and at Cnet, you can actually measure your own bandwidth.
Camera: Good news about cameras! If you have a computer or tablet purchased within the last 5 years, your camera is more than good enough. If your computer dates back further, you might want to consider investing in an inexpensive USB camera to up your game. Here is a list of the top rated webcams from 2014. A good camera can really make the experience but it’s not quite as important as our next tech component.
Microphone: Similar to the cameras, most laptops, tablets, & phones now have pretty great mics built in. BUT, this is about singing. How your voice is transmitted to the listener can be a deal breaker if it is not clear. If you’re going to invest anywhere… do it here! There are a number of great USB external mics that are great for online video, but also could be used for recording endeavors. Many of my clients have chosen the Blue Yeti and I have to say it yields great results for a good price.
Headphones: When doing a video session, it is tempting to just use your computer or tablet’s built in speakers, and it is in fact possible. But, based on my experience, headphones provide a far superior session for the teacher and singer. When not using headphones, your microphone will pick up sound from the computer’s speakers, which will increase delay and echo. To me, this is one of the most annoying parts of video… waiting! But, if you are on high speed Internet, you have a decent camera, a great mic and some headphones there will be virtually no delay! I’ve actually accompanied students in real time as they sang along via Skype. Your headphones can be as simple as ear buds, but like everything else, if you invest in something a bit nicer it will pay off. For singing and recording, I made a big investment in Quincy Jones Signature Reference Premium Class headphones. They allow me to clearly hear myself from outside the headphone as well as in. Most of my clients use their Mac ear buds and have a fine experience.
Additional Apps: Remember earlier when I said I recorded my session to analyze it and do it better? To me, this is one of the coolest possibilities in the online voice lesson. It’s as simple as downloading software, and hitting record when you start your session. The benefit is being able to go back, listen, watch and improve! Video in the studio during in-person sessions can be hard and students often record audio using their smart phones. This opportunity can be far superior and transformational in the learning process.
Ok, so let’s say you’ve got all your technology lined up and you’re feeling good about your future with online voice lessons! That’s enough, right? Not quite. I believe communication is an art. I also, believe that video communication is a unique art and one I didn’t used to be very good at. Through much trial and error, I’ve come up with some helpful hints that can improve how the teacher and client communicate.
Don’t be afraid of the obvious: It might seem mundane, but it is vital that before your session gets up and rolling you make sure the other person can hear and see you clearly. For some reason, people are often embarrassed to ask these sorts of questions, but just because things look and sound good on your end doesn’t mean it does on the other. Sometimes the only way to find out is ask. Further, be very specific about what you need. If the person is too close to the camera, ask them to move back. If their sound is too quiet, ask them to move toward the mic. The more specific you can be, the better your session will be.
Slow down: In general, video communication is slower than in person. Even with a great mic, camera and high speed Internet, there will be a delay in response. It is essential that you are patient with this as it is the nature of technology and also our brains as they respond to a person through this medium. Video is a filter and although it’s pretty good, don’t rush it. Trust that if you move and speak more slowly, the other person will be able to better respond.
Ask more questions: In teaching, I try and ask a lot of questions no matter what. In teaching online, I’ve learned that I have to ask a whole lot more. It seems that my perceptions are often good, but having my client articulate more is not only helpful in their learning, but also in establishing a connection via video. This is especially the case if I’m working with someone whom I have never met in person. For a successful voice lesson to take place, the teacher and student must establish some level of trust and bond. This can be slower and more difficult via video, but the best way I’ve been able to achieve this is to ask a few too many questions. The more we share verbally, the more we can connect and learn.
One other thing: Don’t do other stuff on your computer during your session. Maximize your video screen and leave your email, chats, shopping etc. alone! It can be so tempting to just quick peak at your gmail, or quick respond to the text your boyfriend sent… but if you wouldn’t do it in front of the person (and I hope you wouldn’t) don’t do it on your computer while you’re video chatting with them.
Also, if you’d like to try and Skype lesson of your own, just schedule a session with me or Missy through the the “schedule a session” link at the top of the page. Make sure to choose “Skype” from the pull down menu as you book.