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Some of us can't go to the Mountain, so might the Mountain Come to Us?

Sure thing! With all this new technology - computers, the internet, webcams, and now Skype, we who would not otherwise have access to the best teachers in whereverland or students in boonyland can now meet up, share, teach and learn.

The Mountain came to me today, via Jeffrey Biegel, concert pianist and teacher extraordinaire. And it was quite exciting!

I was intriqued by the possibility since it was first suggested here on PW. Yet, I thought, as a student, how could I manage both this technology learning curve, plus the anxiety of having an actual advanced lesson with a concert pianist? Wouldn't it be less intimate without being there right beside the teacher?

Less concerned would I be about actually teaching via Skype for those beginner/intermediate students that I might reach. After 25 plus years of teaching, most scenerios have arisen and this would merely be a new venue to continue doing what I am already comfortable doing in person.

Aha, she asks, so does it matter which side of the mountain one might be on?

Well, as it turns out, not really.

I carried that mental scenerio of my ability to teach over to becoming the student in this situation. Certainly Jeffrey (or any other qualified teacher) has the knowhow to quickly evaluate and teach what is needed via a video just as he can in person.

And it was proven today.

Were we well prepared for this first lesson? Yes.

First I had to get some equipment.

I had been searching for a good deal on a laptop. Wanted a used Lenova T61. Got one. $500. I waited for a discount price on the latest Logitech Webcam. Got one. $75. Bought a long 25 ft internet cable to reach the laptop to locate it high viewing the piano keys. $25. Downloaded SKYPE and tested it out with a couple of friends pre lesson. Studied the test lessons and info here on PW.

There were a few bumps in the road but I'll add those later. I want to get on with the 'meat of the matter'....

I have been working on several pieces over that last 2 years, yet nothing has been played exactly to my liking. I view/listen to artists playing the pieces, I record and am super critical, but I don't know how to get to that next level of achievement.

I chose Rachmaninoff's 23/4 to study today with Jeffrey. I taped, using Zoom H4, two 'raw' takes yesterday and forwarded them, just in case there were problems with the technology (or me) today, and forwarded them to Jeffery. Probably not needed, but I considered them similar to an audition, a pre-lesson preparation to give him some idea of what he had to work with and on what he might want to coach.

Lesson was set for 10AM.

At 9:55 the skype phone rang via the laptop, and my heart quickly pounded in anticipation with happy anxiety.

For several minutes before the lesson, we were checking out our SKYPE conditions. My room was too bright. Shut off the light, close the blinds, draw the drapes, check the volume. The telephone was already unplugged, screen saver shut off, note on door here posted to do not disturb and Jeffrey had a no call note on his Skype contact during his teaching hours.

Since I had sent in the mp3, I didn't have to do the dreaded nervous, 'play it (perform) for me' as the lesson started. Jeffrey just comfortably started teaching. Here is what I heard, here is what you can do to improve, and here are the specifics that you can try as you practice making your playing better.

SPECIFICS.

Exactly what I wanted to hear. Not, you could change the tempo, dynamics, or whatever, and leaving me up in the air about how to achieve that.

HERE ARE SEVERAL WAYS TO PRACTICE CHANGING what needs to be worked on for improvement.

YES!

For instance...

Think melody lines. Linear. Over the bar. Let them flow as if I were singing, bowing a violin, forward rolling. (Several suggestions to accomplish this with examples were given and future practice is needed). Ask Jeffrey sometime about playing with pencils!

Loosen up those hands and arms.

Draw outward from the piano, instead of putting into it (or something like that). Allow more expression for the melodic phrase. Think linear. Let it flow.

LET IT FLOW.

Pedal changes. (tweaked)

Explicit roll implementations. Not just the simple bottom to top roll. Hmmmm. How about that! Exactly my question about this piece from day one. He NAILED IT without my even asking.

Could it get any better?

The lesson experience was heightened after hearing that this piece was one that Jeffrey had studied with his renown teacher/interpreter Adele Marcus. A little of Adele was passed on to me today. wow

So, you might be wondering, did I, or were we hampered by this new technology and having lessons via SKYPE?

Maybe just a little, but not much. I think you can get out of it what you want. Be it the teacher or the teachee.

After about 10 minutes, I forgot that we were miles apart. And Jeffrey is very calm and comfortable with it. He is not only a gifted concert pianist, he is a gifted teacher.

Were there any negatives?
Yes, I did experience a little SKYPE lagging/jumping flaws and unevenness in volume but nothing that I couldn't get beyond. Seemed to be mostly on my end. Some of which could be my internet connection and some might be improved with headphones.

I also found it a little hard to both watch Jeffrey play at the same time trying to follow the score AND take notes. The laptop was behind me.

I did have on my ZoomH4 (with permission) so that I can listen again to all the suggestions that were made while I continue to practice.

Was the experience worth it?

Without a doubt.

Will I do it again?

Without a hesitation.

Would the lesson have been better in person?

Possibly, but since I cannot go to the Mountain, moving the mountain here via the internet and Skype was like having peanut butter with jam on top!

Thank you Jeffrey.

Roberta









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What a great review! I've been following the Skype-teaching thread, too, and both you and Matt seem to have really had a worthwhile experience. Thanks for the post.

Cathy


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Sounds like it was a wonderful experience. Nothing like word of mouth smile

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BRAVO, LL!! thanks for sharing your first online lesson experience. I had some good visuals while reading your story and I thought recording on the zoom was especially a great idea.
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Thanks for the report Roberta, nice to hear directly from someone who has experienced this method.

So, can we expect to hear this piece at the next piano forums gathering?


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A note about Skype lessons. I have had a few with my voice teacher in CA. The sound quality is fair enough to hear things, but I certainly would not want to use it with a voice student whose voice I had never heard before, but I wouldn't have that problem with piano students I don't think.

Sometimes if both of you start talking at once, it cuts out and you can't hear what the other person has to say for a split second or two. But that's the same with cell phones.

If there's any hands-on work that needs to be done, of course, you can't do that, so I'd say if you need some serious technical re-working or if you are a beginner, it may not be the best idea.

Other than those drawbacks, I think it has a lot of potential, and I've certainly appreciated being able to study with my voice teacher without having to buy plane tickets!


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I was very happy with the lesson for Lilylady. She was skeptical at first, but really got the hang of it. Thanks for the review of our lesson. I'll be happy to share the pencil eraser technique with anyone interested during a lesson!

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Jeffery,

I knew you were doing this, but I DIDN'T know you were doing it with PW members! Way to go - this is exciting territory to any pianist and, of course, to any teacher as well.

Thank you for letting us get a glimpse inside!


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Thanks, lilylady, for the detailed review! Sounds like a wonderful experience. You've convinced me that this kind of setup would work very well for all but perhaps the very newest beginners. I'm also convinced that a Skype lesson from a superb teacher like Jeffrey would be better than an in-person lesson from a teacher who's mediocre or a bad fit for other reasons.

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It's very exciting to hear feedback from a student and teacher who had a lesson via Skype. Years ago I taught a few piano students through email (I communicated with students from as far away as Turkey and Kuwait). It was a challenge but we developed a good working relationship and concentrated on practice techniques. With G-Chat or Skype, teachers are able to offer their specific expertise and students are able to pick and choose what and when they want to learn without signing over their life to their neighborhood piano teacher and the traditional weekly piano lesson.

Cathy Shefski


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When both parties have a reliable fast connection, it is almost like being in the same room!

Just gave a first Skype lesson to a new beginner (guitar)in Japan, and right afterwards, received this pleasant email:

Hi Rob,


Thanks for that and thanks for the great lesson. I look forward to our next one on Wed 28th Oct.


Kind Regards,
*******

A good start to the day :-)

Last edited by R0B; 10/14/09 01:36 AM.

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Great to read this! I have just begun offering online piano lessons as well. I have a student who lives very far away and can't get to me as often as he'd like for lessons. So, we have started meeting over ooVoo, and it's going wonderfully!


Rachel Jimenez Piano teacher in Brooklyn, NY / Author of Fundamental Keys method
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Good to hear that you a having a positive experience, Rachael :-)

I have not tried ooVoo, as I am more than happy with Skype.

Have you tried both?
Do you notice any difference between the two?

Rob


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Hey Rob,

I went with ooVoo with my first student because I'm on PC and he's on Mac. When we tried Skype on both ends, we had bunches of technical problems. With ooVoo, the problems went away. I plan to use Skype with other Windows users, but for students with Macs, I think ooVoo has more cross-compatibility.


Rachel Jimenez Piano teacher in Brooklyn, NY / Author of Fundamental Keys method

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