Why Online Only?

Transitioning to an Online Only Piano Studio

From the 22nd of July 2022, my teaching practice is transitioning from a hybrid teaching environment, where students could learn in-person or online as needs and pandemic dictated, to an ‘online only’ Studio. The transition will proceed over the course of several years in order to keep faith with my existing students and to honor the implicit commitment I've made to those already on my waiting list. This is a decision I have come to after much consideration over the last year or so and I thought I would outline here my rationale for this shift for those who are interested.

Studio Perfectly Tailored for High Quality Online Learning

When Covid first looked like it was becoming a problem back in early 2020 I made the decision early to embrace teaching online and invested heavily in technology to make the experience for my students the best it could be. I can’t control what they use at their end of the Skype call, but I can make sure that the lessons delivered from my Studio are of the highest quality. In order to achieve this goal, over the last two years I have made significant investments in TV production level gear (cameras, mixers, microphones etc.) as well as other equipment, some manufactured specifically for my Studio. You can see some of this in use in my introduction to online learning video.

It’s the Way of the Future

At the time, I was pivoting to provide continuity of tuition during the expected lockdown, and expected that most of my students would revert to in-person lessons as soon as it was safe to do so. Many did, but a reasonable number liked the flexibility and benefits of online learning, and having made the change, continued with online lessons.

However, it’s clear that Covid-19 (or other similar viruses) are here to stay, and we will be faced with periodic waves of infection and community outbreaks. While I take a lot of precautions to reduce the risks associated with in-person lessons, delivering lessons online is the only way I can eliminate the risk of unintended transmission. Online only also provides certainty about how tuition will be provided from week to week, as it’s not dependent on infection rates or Government settings.

Once the transition to ‘online only’ is complete, it will also be a more seamless experience for the students, as the disruption that currently occurs at ‘cross over’ times will be largely eliminated, as will the additional health and safety measures in place for in-person lessons.

Ever expanding opportunities are arising through online learning, and in addition to learning piano, students who want to sit performance and theory exams through the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, can now do that with greater flexibility and entirely digitally. I firmly believe it will become an increasingly important and widespread means of education, and recreation, for both children and adults alike. I’ve always tried to be at the leading edge as an education provider and this is just a continuation of that approach to my teaching.

It actually works!

One of my biggest concerns when I first started teaching online was how I was going to be able to successfully address and correct any problems with technique a student might have. After all, this is the primary criticism of online learning; the inability to physically touch and manipulate a student to help guide them through any technical difficulties.

I’m very pleased to report that, after several years of teaching online, I have not noticed any difference in students’ abilities to correct, modify and refine their technique.

In some respects, the fact that students have to be more self-reliant and self-aware in an online lesson, has actually boosted their technical abilities. They’re able to internalise and execute the movements they’re seeing me demonstrate and describe, with greater mindfulness and attention to detail. What they’ve learnt becomes more ingrained and enduring because they’ve done it all themselves.

I’ve been delighted to see how quickly students have picked things up and how they incorporate what they have learned into their pieces.

Lesson engagement has also improved

I’ve been very pleased to see younger students are more active at taking notes during their online lessons, for example, writing down on the music or in a notebook, what it is they have to work on during the week, their set of scales and theory pages.

I have found my students respond very well to this new responsibility (previously I would have annotated the score or written in their notebook) and they are very willing and capable scribes.

This greater degree of agency during lessons has produced the added benefits of, on the whole, students listening more attentively, and being more focused.

And of course, the online nature of the lessons means that students can record parts of the lesson to refer back to later. The ability of students to replay me demonstrating elements of technique and revisit explanations of how to approach a difficult session has been an added bonus of the medium.

Increasing number of National and international students

While I still have a large number of Dunedin based students, the mix has been progressively shifting towards more adults than children. I'm also finding that many of my adult students are moving out of town for career or family reasons and want continuity of tuition. This trend looks set to continue and the number of enquiries from outside of Dunedin suggests there is an increasing demand for online lessons.

In Summary

Covid has changed the game for in-person tuition in my view. My Pandemic Teaching Protocols cover whether lessons are currently available in person or not, and over the last two years, there have been more 'online only' weeks than those where 'in person' lessons were available. My expectation is that we are in for continued disruption of this nature for the foreseeable future.

While I was initially hesitant about the effectiveness of online lessons, experience and feedback has shown that generally, online lessons are effective and the additional advantages in most cases outweigh the main benefit of a traditional in-person lesson; that of ‘being there’. Given the continuing uncertainty about whether or not it’s actually safe to ‘be there’ it seems the time is right to start the transition to 'online only'. The effective date for the start of this transition is 22nd July 2022.

It's important to me to honour the existing tuition arrangements I have in place for my current students so this policy will be applicable to all new students from this date, and as existing students move on, the studio will eventually become online only. That said, there needs to be a date for the transition to be 'completed', so from January 1st 2025 all lessons, including to existing students will be online only.

Given those currently on my waiting list joined it prior to the start of this transition, they will be grand-parented in with the existing students and will be eligible for in person lessons (subject to my Pandemic Teaching Protocols in the Studio Policy) when a lesson slot becomes available (assuming that is prior to January 2025).