A guide for beginners by an almost-beginner
Guest Post by Garreth Brooke
Switching to video lessons at short notice is stressful!
I live in Frankfurt, Germany, where all the schools are now closed and I made the switch on Thursday afternoon. I’ve taught 6 lessons so far and overall it has gone pretty well. Here are some things I learnt that you might find useful…
Keep it simple.
In these early days, your phone, laptop or tablet can probably handle a basic video chat, and that’s all you need for your first few lessons.
I used Facetime on my MacBook on top of a pile of books on a chair next to the piano and it worked fine. Take some time to find out how you can make video calls with whatever bit of kit you have to hand.
If you’ve got an Apple product, think Facetime. If you have a Chromebook or Android phone, think Google Hangouts. Skype works on almost everything. Download it, test it out with a willing volunteer, ideally another music teacher (thank you Brenda!) If it doesn’t work properly and you’re not sure what to do, ask for help from someone who knows more about it than you. At the bottom of this post is a list of resources where you can get more information.
This is always important, but particularly so when peoples’ emotions are heightened because the potential for misunderstanding is far greater. Andrew’s email to his clients (included in his article here) is a paradigm of clear professional communication: adapt it for your own needs and use it.
Calling clients can also be a great way to de-stress a situation — remember that text is much more easily misinterpreted than speech.
Accept refusal professionally.
Try not to be upset if not all of your clients are willing to take video lessons. A significant minority of my students immediately said no, saying they’d prefer to wait until we can have face-to-face lessons again.
In times like these it can be hard to accept the financial losses that result from those decisions, but we can’t teach unwilling students and it’s definitely not a good idea to force people to give you money for something they don’t really want.
Instead it’s much better to focus on the students who are willing to give it a go. Once you’ve practised it with the willing, you’ll have a better idea of how to make the lessons work well for everyone. Yesterday morning I called one of my reluctant students and we chatted about what I had learned from the video lessons I’d already taught and gave him some suggestions for things we could try in a trial lesson next week. He was persuaded to give it a try and I’m hopeful that’s another bit of income secured.
Remember, also, that things can change — once parents have spent a week at home looking after their bored and lonely children, they’re much more likely to gratefully allow the piano teacher to take over for 45 minutes a week!
Collaborate with your clients.
Remember that for most of them it will also be their first online piano lesson.
Remember that, like you, they won’t necessarily have the perfect high-tech setup. Try to foster a spirit of “we’re all in this together”. They’ll be more forgiving of teething problems.
Be prepared for online lessons to be different.
The thing that really struck me after my first few lessons was just how tired I was.
On reflection I realised it was because I was having to invest much more energy than normal into trying to connect with my student, because they felt further away. Dan Severino has a great short blog post about this and other differences, which is in the resources section.
Get smart about money.
One of the reasons I’m able to feel more relaxed about this situation than some of my colleagues is that I know my business can survive losing a significant proportion of my income, and I know this because I’ve got a budget.
There’s no doubt that the next few months are going to be financially tight, but I also know that my budget will help me make good decisions to deal with that income shortage by telling me what not to buy and what payments I can put off to a later date.
If you don’t have a budget and you’re nervous about your finances, now is definitely the time to get one! There is some excellent advice in the resources section below, and you can also download several paid apps that will guide you through the process and simplify it significantly. At the risk of sounding like a massive nerd (disclaimer: I am a massive nerd), once you’ve started budgeting you’ll never want to stop.
One last thing.
If you’re feeling stressed, take a deep breath. There’s no denying that this is a bad situation, but it’s not that bad.
You are much more resourceful than you think, and difficult situations help the human brain become more ingenious. We have so many tools and so much information around us, much of it available for free. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. You can get through this.
- If you’re on Facebook, ask to join The Art Of Piano Pedagogy group then check out this really helpful 2 minute video from Hilda Ribi Ryan, which is really designed for total video lesson beginners.
- The Art Of Piano Pedagogy group also has several other longer interviews with more experienced online teachers, which are much more in depth. My favourite is this one with Beth Horton — highly recommended!
- Dan Severino’s post will help you prepare for some of the differences between online and studio lessons
- Mark Polishook’s post on this site suggests creative ways to deal with common tech problems and has a lengthy list of tips.
- Andrew Eales’ post Coronavirus And Piano Lessons has a model email to send to clients about video lessons.
- Reddit’s Personal Finance Wiki gives a good basic introduction to budgeting and the forum is extremely helpful
- My favourite budgeting programme is YNAB — I’ve used it for years and it’s got me through several tricky moments!
Garreth Brooke is a composer and pianist. He teaches piano lessons in English to a busy studio in Frankfurt, Germany. His music has been released on 1631 Recordings / Decca and published by Editions Musica Ferrum.
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