Thursday, January 12, 2012

Virtual Lessons Via Webcams

Here's an interesting article from the NY Times that you might enjoy:

Or,  here's the print version:

With Enough Bandwidth, Many Join the Band

When Dr. John McClure, a pathologist in Edina, Minn., was pondering his wish list several years ago, he added something a little out of the ordinary: learn to play the bagpipes. But his goal seemed like a long shot after a friend who had been teaching him moved away.
Now he is getting lessons from a top-tier teacher — Jori Chisholm, whose résumé includes a first-place award at the 2010 Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland. Mr. Chisholm lives in Seattle, but distance is no longer a problem — Dr. McClure now takes lessons over Skype.
They even squeeze in a lesson sometimes when Dr. McClure, 50, is at work, though he keeps the noise down by using a practice chanter, essentially a pipe without a bag. “I’ve been on call, waiting for a specimen from the O.R., and I’ll do a lesson with Jori,” Dr. McClure said.
Skype and other videochat programs have transformed the simple phone call, but the technology is venturing into a new frontier: it is upending and democratizing the world of music lessons.
Students who used to limit the pool of potential teachers to those within a 20-mile radius from their homes now take lessons from teachers — some with world-class credentials — on other coasts or continents. The list of benefits is long: Players of niche instruments now have more access to teachers. Parents can simply send their child down the hall for lessons rather than driving them. And teachers now have a new way to build their business.
“I’ve seen videos of individuals teaching students all over the world,” said Gary Ingle, chief executive of the Music Teachers National Association. “There will be people who would never take a music lesson unless it’s done online. As music teachers, we should be willing to meet students where they are.”
There is no data on the number of video music lessons, and many people certainly will prefer face-to-face lessons. But many music teachers said in interviews that they were conducting more lessons over broadband connections.
Jeffrey Thomas, who has taught in music stores near Seattle for 22 years, now teaches guitar, bass and ukulele to 30 students over Skype and other webcam programs. If he gets 10 more students, he said, he will teach entirely from home, saving the money he now pays to rent studio space. “If you have a lesson at 4, and traffic won’t let you make it until 4:10, you just lost 10 minutes,” Mr. Thomas said. “Having to get to this location to be in a lesson is now obsolete. There’s no need for it.”
Parents are also driving the shift to webcam music lessons. After Susan Patterson grew tired of taking her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, 45 minutes each way for violin lessons, she e-mailed 15 violin teachers with Web sites.
“There were some that were not advertising for Skype, but I proposed it to them,” said Mrs. Patterson, who was homeschooling her three children in Jane Lew, W. Va., before a recent move to Boykins, Va. “Out of the 15, 5 were willing and able to do the lessons.”
“It’s accessibility with quality,” she said.
Videochat has created new opportunities for older students, too. Ken Tucker, 67, a retired lawyer in Simsbury, Conn., figured he might have a hard time finding someone to teach him the bagpipes. “It used to be an adult learner couldn’t get a teacher, because people didn’t want to bother with someone who didn’t have a future,” he said. Now he has a lesson every Wednesday morning with Donald F. Lindsay, a professional piper in Petersburgh, N.Y., who also has a few students in their late 70s, including a 79-year-old student in Islip, N.Y.
The convenience of online learning means fewer missed lessons, said Nick Antonaccio, the owner of Rockfactory, a 10-room music studio in Newtown, Pa., that has 200 students, 25 of whom do some lessons remotely.
“People who do online lessons end up doing a more consistent lesson schedule,” he said. “They don’t have to fight snowstorms. They don’t have to take an hour a day to get to us. Other things don’t conflict, like baseball games.” And most lessons are recorded so students can play them back while practicing, Mr. Antonaccio said.
However, many parents remain wary of laptop lessons. Their chief reservation is that teachers can’t manipulate a student’s fingers to fine-tune the subtleties of playing a string instrument. “A lot of people don’t trust that the experience is the same,” said Mr. Antonaccio, who’s offered online lessons in violin, piano, and guitar since 2004. Even so, he said, “We have had kids that have grown up and learned to play entirely on camera.”
Lessons over the home computer can create headaches of their own, though. Joey Potuzak, 17, a guitarist in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., occasionally yelled at his family because the webcam connection required so much bandwidth. “I’d tell everyone in my house, ‘I’m having a guitar lesson. Everyone off the computers!’ ” Mr. Potuzak said. “They were annoyed.” His family has since upgraded the Internet connection in their home.
Music teachers are finding that video lessons offer them some more stability for a profession that is known for its ups and downs. Laurel Thomsen, a violin and viola instructor, held on to all of her Skype students when she moved recently from Monterey, Calif., to Santa Cruz. “Less and less are in-person people, and more and more are Skype people contacting me,” she said.
Video is also creating new opportunities for tech-savvy teachers to build a business in this struggling economy. This year, after Matt Dahlberg, 22, a student at Edmonds Community College known as the Jumping Flea, graduates, he hopes he will be able to support himself and his fiancée, a nursing student, mostly by teaching ukulele via Skype.
“I’m constantly turning people down, because I can’t give as many lessons as I’d like to give because I’m still in school,” said Mr. Dahlberg, whose nickname is the literal translation of ukulele, a Hawaiian word.
He has 18 students, ranging in age from 6 to 50-something, including Karen Siebert, 57, a software developer from Cedar Grove, N.J., who discovered Mr. Dahlberg on YouTube, where thousands of people have viewed his videos, including his cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
“He’s a baby, but he plays phenomenal,” Ms. Siebert said.


What do you think? Have you taken a lesson this way before? Do you teach virtually or have you considered advertising for virtual students?

I'm interested in hearing about your thoughts and experiences!

Oboe and out,

-The Oboist

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Performing and Doing Your Best

Here's a link you might find interesting:

Joshua Bell on Messing Up His First Violin Competition

Sometimes it's healthy to know that even very fine musicians make mistakes like the rest of us.

What is more important is how we deal with those mistakes.  Bravo to Bell for telling his story!

At some points in my life I've felt nervous when performing simply because I was afraid to make mistakes
in front of an audience. The simple act of one mistake could derail me mentally for the rest of the piece and
 compound errors. After lots of performing and even more thinking about this,  I realized I was putting
fear of mistakes above the joy/responsibility to communicate great music. I  think I'd now be most
nervous if  I didn't have anything to SAY with my music.  This has completely changed how I practice
 and study scores.  Once I KNOW I have something to express,  then I'm focused on that and try my best
 to share my music with an audience and ENJOY,  truely ENJOY performing.

Some questions I use to help me learn a piece come from France's Clark's Tests of Interpretation.
Elaine Douvas, the wonderful oboist/pedagogue from Juilliard and The Met Opera Orchestra gave
me these when I studied with her.  My students regularly get grilled on these questions too---in their
weekly lesson sheets I ask if they'd answered each of the questions. Some students see this as a useless
routine,  getting in the way of learning the notes,  but just learning the notes isn't the point of our
studies AT ALL!  Studying the structure, meaning, and expressive elements of a piece are the keys to
 understanding a work and being able to communicate it to an audience.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself concerning musical expression, adapted from
 Elaine Douvas and Frances Clark’s Tests of Interpretation.

Overall, what is the character of this piece?
What do I want to express?
Where is the highpoint of the entire piece?
Do I sufficiently prepare for it and give it the suspense and effect that it requires?
Where is the highpoint of each phrase?
 If I can’t feel the highpoint of the phrase, do I sing suitable words to it in
an effort to capture its message?
  Does everything that I do sound authoritative?
Do I begin each phrase clearly, cleanly, and expressively?
 Do I let each phrase end sufficiently before beginning another?

 Is the long rhythmic pulse of the piece set at the beginning and held steadily throughout?
 Do I avoid making overly exaggerated ritards? Do I revitalize the tempo immediately after a ritard?
If playing the accompaniment, does it give true, basic vitality to the composition?
Do I give full value to all the final beats in the measure or do I hurry into the
next measure, thereby impairing the pulse?
Is there a tremendous difference between my fortissimos and pianissimos
with infinite gradations between the extremes?
Do my crescendos start softly enough and my acccelerandos deliberately enough?
Do all of my notes have a singing quality? Especially in the upper notes?
Do I give repeated notes and sequences careful treatment?
Is there something of interest going on at all times?
If I stop playing the melody, do I make something of the accompaniment?

I hope these questions help you too!

Oboe and out,