Learning instruments online: how well does it work??

The Internet can help learn an instrument. It cannot replace a teacher

Lots of time at home: Since the pandemic began, this is the new normal. This poses new challenges for hobby musicians, but also opens up opportunities. Making music at a distance is the new thing, with online lessons, learning videos, or even online platforms. "I’ve had a student living in Switzerland for over ten years who I’ve never met in real life," reports Konstantin Gutmann, founder of an online music school. The pandemic has made many more students aware of this way of learning.

"We already started with our online lessons in 2011. At the time, many people were skeptical about this and asked how it could be done. But it works and the internet and the technologies for it are getting better and better."All you need to teach instruments remotely is a computer with a webcam and a stable Internet connection via LAN cable. Via video conferencing software the weekly lessons then take place. It’s important to place the camera or the learner facing the camera correctly, says Gutmann. That way you can track how the instrument is held and if the note is hit correctly.

Delay becomes a problem when making music together

Theoretically, online lessons work with all instruments. According to Gutmann, however, there are instruments where you need to get a little closer to the webcam so that your hands are in the right place and therefore easily visible. A big drawback is the acoustic delay, which makes it virtually impossible to play or sing together. "I solve that by doing a lot of backtracks," Gutmann says. "I record a lot and then I send it as MP3 to my students. They can then play together with this recording of mine."

Musicologist Matthias Krebs, on the other hand, knows that in the pandemic, many musicians, brass bands and amateur choirs have had good experiences with the Jamulus or Sonobus platforms. There, people can make music together at a distance with little delay because less data is exchanged by not using video. "Unlike Zoom or WhatsApp, local servers can be set up, which significantly improves data exchange," says Krebs. "Additionally, Jamulus and co are just optimized for sound and sound transmission."

Online instruction was little used in the music field before the pandemic

Since the pandemic began, many amateur musicians have embraced digital technologies out of necessity, in addition to professional musicians and music educators. "Even less tech-savvy people have found ways to learn how to use these platforms, such as through Internet tutorials or topic-focused Zoom meetings, and what additional equipment is helpful to harness this virtual space for singing or making music," says Krebs. For many educators, this experience has been an impetus to further utilize these resources and methods. For example, before the pandemic, there were relatively few instrument teachers who had experience with online lessons.

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"Platforms like Jamulus are already more than ten years old, but in the past most people didn’t care, because you were just used to meeting at a certain place at a certain time, i.e. in a classroom or rehearsal room," Krebs describes. Now some musicians use the online possibilities, "for example, to spontaneously make an additional rehearsal or when long journeys make regular meetings difficult".

Besides that, there is also the possibility to learn an instrument by watching Youtube videos. The spectrum of different approaches is large. With the piano, it’s relatively easy to visualize in videos which keys need to be pressed. There are also exciting visualizations for ukulele, drums or singing. Krebs, however, cautions that many students have a hard time understanding the physical aspect of making music. The own music teacher could respond to it quite differently. "He can give feedback on the learner’s playing and also model problem-based options on how to better execute playing movements."

Music lessons on site have some advantages

Even though new teaching methods are constantly being developed in the online sector, it is of course something completely different when you can meet in person during lessons, explains Katrin Bock, pedagogue and program manager at Lugert Musikverlag: "In teaching processes, it helps a lot when the teacher can see a direct reaction from the student."

According to Bock, some teachers have become Youtubers for their students: "They sit down at home and explain in 45 minutes how the quarter notes work. Of course, it’s different when you see your own music teacher in a video than when it’s a YouTube video of a stranger." (Eva Boller, dpa)

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