How to Teach Music Lessons Online to Children & Adults: with Robert and Coren Estrin

Piano Lessons / interview / How to Teach Music Lessons Online to Children & Adults: with Robert and Coren Estrin

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s topic is about how to approach teaching music lessons online. There are many challenges. I deal with piano, and a lot of you are pianists as well. But this applies to all music teachers and the particular challenges of dealing with younger students is really important. It’s an interesting thing that everybody’s going online now. We’re all interfacing with video chat! One of the great things is that people realize now that they’re not restricted to just their neighborhood teacher. Now, the world is at your fingertips.

Teaching music online, particularly to young children presents uni

Conveying hand position, relaxed shoulders, and even how people sit at the piano can be tough when teaching remotely. Parents can help tremendously in this regard. In addition, kids’ emotions can be a bit fragile at the moment since everything has changed in their lives. It’s important to keep things fun and positive.

Like so many musicians, my daughter Jenny had a packed schedule of performances with orchestras cancelled indefinitely. Fortunately, teaching is one area musicians can still be engaged in. However, it requires an understanding of how to deal with a new medium.

We have a very special guest. I’m incredibly pleased to bring today somebody who has been teaching since she was a teenager. It’s been the whole crux of her career along with performing and composing, my sister Coren Estrin Mino. Hello Coren!

Coren Estrin Mino:
Hi, Bob. It’s really good to see you, although I wish we could be in person.

Robert Estrin:
This is pretty good, actually.

Coren Estrin Mino:
This is amazing. This is so fun.

Robert Estrin:
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing virtual visits with more people in the last couple of months than I’ve done in the rest of my life combined.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes, this is true. I’m visiting with a lot of people I haven’t seen in a really long time.

Robert Estrin:
It’s opening everybody’s consciousness. We’re going to talk about the unique challenges of teaching music lessons online, because there are people out there trying to figure out how to deal with all this technology. I remember when I first started doing this, I had a friend who I wanted to do a video chat with. I’m pretty adept at technology and my friend happens to be a computer teacher. Even we were struggling for 10 or 15 minutes to get any of the platforms to work! It’s a funny thing, sometimes everything just works seamlessly and other times, nothing seems to work. Tell me about what your experiences have been. Afterall, you’ve been teaching in person for so long.

What have been the challenges for you in getting set up in this whole new world online?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Well, in a nutshell, everything! I am not computer illiterate by any stretch, but this was really new for me and I was really struggling my first two weeks of doing this in March. Terrible sound, just terrible glitches, sound cutting out, a delay between the visual and the audio. There were so many problems! So I was complaining about this to my son, Brian, who helped me enormously. He told me some things I needed to do to improve my setup. The main thing he told me about were these headphones with the microphone. One of the things that was happening to me my first couple of weeks, I was losing my voice because all of us, when we are video chatting, if our headphones don’t have our own voice in them, we don’t realize we’re shouting. There’s a psychological distancing from your device. You feel like you’re far away from people. So you tend to shout. I was getting very hoarse, because if you’re giving 12 to 15 piano lessons a day and you’re shouting all day long, your voice doesn’t hold up. And mine certainly didn’t.

Robert Estrin:
I found the same thing at first when I was doing video lessons. I just used my iPad. I have a nice iPad Pro with a big screen which works great. The audio and the video are fine. But in order to get the piano keys in the shot, the iPad had to be far enough away. So, I had to be shouting. It was really exhausting until I figured out how to incorporate streaming into my studio.

You had talked to me about your issues with the internet. What was your solution for that?

Coren Estrin Mino:
That’s a really good question. Brian recommended that I get an extra router, which is made by a company called, Orbi. That improved the sound. Then, I upgraded my internet service as well. Those changes made huge improvements. There was no longer a delay between audio and visual. One of the things that kept happening was a bubbly sound. It almost sounded like my piano was underwater, and that disappeared completely. The one thing that I will never have any control over is what my students are using, what their internet is, what device they’re doing their piano lessons on. So I have at least improved my situation as much as I can without putting thousands of dollars into it.

Robert Estrin:
There are some other tips that people should be aware of. These video chat platforms are not meant for music. They are optimized for spoken voice. There are all kinds of settings for noise reduction of different types. If you have those enabled, which they are by default, when you first start chatting, when you play anything quiet, the notes sound really weird. I think it’s important for people to understand that there are settings in Zoom and in Skype and in some of the other platforms. We’re using Zoom right now for everybody. And one nice thing about Zoom is that you can record your call, just like we’re doing. That’s how we’re able to share this with you.

We disabled the noise reduction on both ends so that we can play music with no problems. That’s really essential when you’re giving lessons, isn’t it?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yeah, absolutely. There are some entertaining things that happen on their end, I’ll hear their dogs barking or somebody chatting in the next room. And that actually is a bit of a problem. My headphones pick up ambient noise almost as loud as the sounds I really want to hear, which is my students talking or playing the piano. So, I sent out a message to everybody to please try to keep the noise level down in their homes while the piano lessons are going on.

Robert Estrin:
Now, I know you teach a wide range of students from beginners to advanced adults, but teaching younger children online, I’m wondering how you engage them. They’re looking on a screen, maybe some of them are even on phones. How do you deal with that?

What methodology is there for keeping children engaged remotely?

Coren Estrin Mino:
That is actually a huge issue. Anybody who’s teaching children online, any subject, knows it’s not easy to engage children remotely. The best solution for that is to have a parent sitting in the room with the child.

Robert Estrin:
It’s got to be the right parent though, of course.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Well, I’ve had good luck. The one little issue that comes up with parents sometimes is a parent wants to jump in and answer a question. If the child doesn’t answer right away, they’ll just jump in and tell the child the answer. That’s a natural response. Most parents though let me conduct the lesson and I will say, “Could you please point to measure three?” And they’ll do that. So the child knows where we are. That’s the biggest problem, a child not understanding. If I say we’re on line two, measure three, they don’t respond to that. They don’t understand that. If I stop them to look at a little correction, their default is to start again from the beginning.

Robert Estrin:
That’s a timeless problem with students anyway. I have a video on that subject!

Coren Estrin Mino:
So, you know what I’m talking about. It’s very hard for me to convey where we are in the music. One of the most important facets of my teaching has had to disappear. I play duets with my students, especially the young ones.

Not being able to play duets with my students has been very challenging because it’s one of the best ways to get young students to sense pulse in music.

Robert Estrin:
Also great for sight reading.

Coren Estrin Mino:
And dynamics, or even a music that they have prepared that they are not sight reading, pieces they have actually learned. By me playing a duet with them, I can exaggerate the dynamics a little bit and say, “Copy what I’m doing.” So, they understand how loud is loud, how soft is soft. And I can’t do that now. So, I’ve had to rely on some ingenuity, I guess, in trying to get kids to do things. Plus, I have to always make sure that what they’re doing is what I’m hearing. The electronics make dynamics, tone, and balance very difficult to hear sometimes, especially if they are on devices that are old or not great to begin with. Phones are not necessarily bad. If they have a brand new iPhone, for example, I’m going to get good sound from that.

Robert Estrin:
Right. In terms of the transmission.

I would imagine it’s hard for them to see if you’re trying to show them anything on a small screen.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Exactly. Well, I don’t do a lot of that. Sometimes I will pick up a book and I’ll say, “This is what I’m talking about right here.” I’ll resort to pointing to the place in the score. For a while I had thought of getting a little handheld camera, but my son informed me that even though for people who are way more tech savvy than I, they could go back and forth between the computer and the little camera easily. For me, that was just a step that would have been too time consuming to do quickly in a lesson.

Robert Estrin:
Another thing you can do with some of these platforms like Zoom is screen-sharing. So if you have something up on your computer screen, instead of seeing you, they’ll see what you’re seeing on the computer, and that could be one way of sharing.

Coren Estrin Mino:
That’s a great idea. I’m mostly with my students using FaceTime. Almost all my students have Apple products. I’m also using some Skype and a couple students are using Zoom.

Robert Estrin:
Right. I think that Skype and FaceTime actually have the best video quality, but Zoom is very flexible.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Exactly. So those have been some of my challenges. I did send home a note to parents, to please purchase a tripod for their devices. I’m getting very tired of phones falling off stacks of books or a phone being on the edge of the piano. Whatever end of the piano the phone is on, I’m either hearing way too much bass or way too much treble. So, a little bit of distance from the keyboard makes it so that I can hear a truer sound as well as being better visually. I don’t like when I can see the keys, but I can’t see my student’s face. That’s very uncomfortable for me. With a lot of the phones that’s what’s happening. And I don’t like that.

Robert Estrin:
I’m with you there.

For everybody out there, are you still accepting students?

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes, I am accepting students, particularly adults, because they can come in the morning. So, yes, so I am more than happy to speak with anybody who is interested.

Robert Estrin:
I know that you always have a packed schedule because you’ve been teaching for so long. When did you start teaching?

Coren Estrin Mino:
I have been teaching since I was 13.

Robert Estrin:
13? Wow!

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes. I started taking students at 13 and our dad started giving me students when I was about 15. Then when I went to college, you inherited my students.

Robert Estrin:
That’s right. And that’s when I started assisting dad. That’s what got both of us into it from such a young age.

Coren Estrin Mino:
That’s right. I did the same thing with my children. And I know you did the same thing with yours. My children started teaching when they were very, very young, so I think we carried that through very nicely.

Robert Estrin:
So, we’re carrying the torch for future generations! If any of you out there have questions about the technology, you’re welcome to email me. I can tell you what I’m doing and help any of you who are teachers or students trying to figure out how to do all of this. We’re happy to help you, and we’re here for everybody. I want to thank Coren for joining us. And it’s been a pleasure visiting with you virtually.

Coren Estrin Mino:
Yes, it has been.

Robert Estrin:
Coren has had many students go on to illustrious, professional careers as teachers and concert pianists. She’s really good with a wide range of students. So, if you have any questions, address them to me and we’ll help any of you, whatever you’re trying to do with your music! Again, I’m Robert Estrin and this is LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource. Thanks so much for joining us here today. We’ll see you next time.

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Robert@LivingPianos.com
949-244-3729

Coren Mino Estrin
corenmino@msn.com