Sunday, December 01, 2013

Music lessons in real time

The Cambodia Herald, 01-Dec-13 

PEITALING JAYA (The Star/ANN) -- Malaysian music educator Az Samad once took a music lesson that inspired him to teach guitar via Skype

In March 2010, I was in my kitchen in Berkeley, California and fingerstyle guitar guru Don Ross was in his kitchen in Canada. We were both on our respective computers, me on my 5-year old Powerbook G4 and Don on his laptop.

We were connected via Skype and this was a guitar lesson. Soon, he listened to my then new percussive fingerstyle guitar song, Hit Me Up. Don offered some suggestions and then showed me some rhythm exercises to help me develop my coordination. Later, he e-mailed me a PDF file and MP3s to help me learn what we covered in the class.

That was the first time I took a guitar lesson via Skype. It was life-changing. That inspired me to start my own international teaching practice, reaching out to students all around the world. Since October 2011, I've been teaching via Skype.

The lessons have been personalised to one-on-one private lessons because I believe everyone learns at a different pace. I provide materials based on the student's capability.

Connecting the world

Thanks to Skype, I've had students from the United States (California and Oregon), Indonesia (Jakarta), Malaysia (Ipoh and KL) and Singapore.

One of my students, Neil Chan from Singapore says, “One thing I love about Skype lessons is that both teacher and student can enjoy the lesson from their own home.

Neither has to travel, equals less time wasted. Another, is the ability to quickly send files over via the Internet, and even googling stuff during the lesson.”

Sometimes, a lesson via Skype can prove to be useful in unavoidable circumstances. When singer-songwriter Bihzhu, one of my local Kuala Lumpur ukulele students had to stay at home for a family matter, she still was able to attend her class.

According to Bihzhu, “It really brings people closer, and in emergency situations where you can't be somewhere physically, you can still do it via Skype, which is what happened to me.”

For other music educators around the world, Skype has become a part of their daily teaching life.

For some, it was a natural extension of their regular teaching practice.

British fingerstyle guitar sensation Mike Dawes says,“I started to teach on Skype regularly just after my first official video was released (Somebody That I Used To Know, June 2012) as a lot of new fans were having trouble learning the techniques used.

I thought it would be fun to connect with them and after a few requests, I gave it a go. I was a full time teacher back then anyway so it wasn't too different to the path I was already walking. LA is a big city. Since I am on the road a lot, this helps me in keeping one income stream while busy touring.”

Challenges of teaching online

Some might wonder whether there are limitations to this format. For Canadian guitarist Don Ross he finds that “It's impossible to play in unison, as there's always at least a short delay in the connection...and the farther away the student is, the worse the delay gets. There are also a lot of limitations dependent on the quality of the hardware. I've had students with very low quality Internet connections or poor quality webcams and microphones ... all can conspire to make the lesson very full of hiccups.”

For German Schauss: “The only limitation I see is the direct hands on approach a teacher sometimes has to apply, like taking the students fingers/hands and placing them or correcting a student’s posture. Of course there's a different "feeling" in a Skype lessons compared to a in-person lesson.”

From the business perspective, Schauss said: “I am not limited to my local area anymore for teaching, however I am competing now in a much bigger and more competitive market. I can teach from home and I don't have to commute or rent a teaching space or even be a sub contractor in a music store. I am my own business.”

Sometimes the format can even open new avenues. Mike Dawes explains, “I have one regular student who is almost completely blind. An incredible guitar player. We've worked on some really fun stuff with great success. I'd highly recommend Skype as a teaching platform.”

The future of teaching

As the Internet speeds spiral into hyperdrive and video streaming technology improves for the general public, this format becomes more and more viable.

It is truly a gift to educators and learners worldwide. Now, there’s no excuse to not study with an amazing musician from the other side of the world.

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