To Skype or not to Skype?

skype-picPiano lessons conducted over Skype have become increasingly popular. Skype is a free computer, tablet or phone app which can be either audio (phone calls) or video. The fact that it’s possible to call anyone, anywhere around the world at any time, opens up limitless possibilities for many professions, but particularly for music lessons. Whilst a considerable number of teachers have embraced this new technology, others feel  remote lessons are less than desirable; how much can students really learn when not in the same room, or being demonstrated to at the same piano?

I used to be amongst the skeptics, routinely refusing to give Skype lessons because I wasn’t convinced I could give a pupil the necessary attention and advice from behind a screen. Then one day an advanced pupil who I had been teaching for a couple of years (in real life!) suddenly moved to the US to go to university, and wanted to continue lessons (and exam preparation) with me. Would I give regular Skype lessons? Faced with this conundrum, I tentatively agreed.

Indeed, it’s been an interesting experiment, and one with which I have been pleasantly surprised. Once we had decided on the best time (not easy when there is a substantial time difference), and the best position for the computer camera (as seen in the image above) so I can observe the keyboard, posture, fingers and hand positions, lessons commenced as usual. I sit at my piano with the laptop on the (collapsed) music desk, so I can play and demonstrate if necessary (and it usually is); it’s also vital to have all the intended scores or scales and exercises at your finger tips. Never have bar numbers, key changes, phrase structures and other ‘sign posts’ been so crucial. I still keep the proverbial pencil handy even though it’s unnecessary!

The assiduous Skype teacher will have a much more thorough set-up with multiple cameras, headphones, and the like, but it’s possible to obtain a fairly satisfactory result with just a computer and a piano.

Sound quality varies; there can be a slight delay, especially when I talk whilst my pupil is still playing. At this point, the sound simply stops, meaning I will probably miss a few beats, so I have trained myself to keep quiet until the end, whether of a play through or a replay of a small passage. Rarely, the video and audio disintegrates and stops; this has never really affected our lessons; and if it does, the dissipated passage or phrase is just repeated.

One aspect which concerned me, was the demonstrating of technique. I usually show students, and very often (with their permission), will correct them. This isn’t possible via Skype of course, although you can demonstrate by showing particular movements (it’s not the same as being at the same instrument though). This is never problem for my student because we have worked hard in this respect over the two-year period when she studied with me. But it could be an issue with a new student. Beginners would be a challenge too, as they generally rely on being guided around the keyboard.

Sound production could be another problematic aspect. Hearing piano timbre via Skype isn’t the same as listening ‘live’ in the room, and can sometimes appear ‘harsh’ and ‘thin’ in quality, when in fact the opposite could be true (in the same way a difficult acoustic can alter our perception of sound). Again, having already taught the pupil in question, these issues are generally avoided, but could be alleviated by physical demonstration from a teacher (at the piano). In this instance, it would be especially helpful if a camera was set up to show movements. Here, I generally use my arm, wrist, hand and fingers to make the same gesture or motions in the air (to the camera), as would be required at the keyboard, which has worked thus far.

I’m pleased to say my pupil  is now well prepared for her exam and we’ve had few issues being thousands of miles away from each other. So perhaps this has convinced me to think again about the use of Skype for more than just business meetings!

Why consider Skype lessons? Here are a few reasons:

  1. You want to study with a particular teacher, who resides far away from where you live.
  2. You have a limited amount of time and therefore perhaps cannot study regularly.
  3. You would prefer shorter sessions rather than one long lesson (although my lessons can be fairly lengthy).
  4. You want lessons in the comfort of your own home.
  5. You don’t want to travel and would like the lesson at a certain time of day, to accommodate your own busy schedule.

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Piano Talk with Noriko Ogawa: Part 1

Japanese concert pianist has already been kind enough to take part in my Classical Conversations Series and you can enjoy the interview here. However, we decided to meet again and chat more about several subjects. In Part 1 of this two part interview which was filmed at Steinway Hall in London, we talk about the best ways to start to learn the piano, focusing on my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?

Noriko Ogawa has achieved considerable renown throughout the world since her success at the 1987 Leeds International Piano Competition. Ogawa’s ‘ravishingly poetic playing’ (Telegraph) sets her apart from her contemporaries and acclaim for her complete Debussy series with BIS Records confirms her as a fine Debussy specialist.

Ogawa appears with all the major European, Japanese and US orchestras. She has been appointed Artist in Residence to Bridgewater Hall in Manchester where she will be Artistic Director for the Reflections on Debussy festival, hosted by BBC Philharmonic and Bridgewater Hall from January-June 2012. With the recent completion of the Debussy series, Ogawa completed recording a new Mozart disc for BIS Records in 2011. With her wonderful dynamic range and colour palate, Ogawa’s particular affinities also range from the works of Takemitsu, through the larger Romantic composers such as Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, to contemporary concerti commissioned from Graham Fitkin and Dai Fujikura.

Ogawa is also renowned as a recitalist and chamber musician. Notable chamber projects include a tour of Japan with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Ensemble and the leader of the Vienna Philharmonic, Rainer Honeck. In 2001 Ogawa and Kathryn Stott launched their piano duo and have since toured in Japan and given premieres of Graham Fitkin’s double piano concerto Circuit, including the world premiere at Bridgewater Hall. She has also collaborated with Steven Isserlis, Isabelle van Keulen, Martin Roscoe, Michael Collins and Peter Donohoe.

An advocate of commissioning, Ogawa has been involved in numerous premieres. Her current commission is a ground-breaking series of recital pieces from Yoshihiro Kanno which feature the piano alongside various traditional Japanese instruments or sounds; the first for Nambu bell and piano Hikari no Ryushi (A Particle of Light), followed by Mizu no Ryushi (A Particle of Water) for metal chopsticks and piano, Niji no ryushi (A Particle of Rainbow) for piano and Kabuki Orgel and finally Sora no meiro (Sky Maze) for organ and piano.

Alongside performing and recording for BIS, Ogawa is sought-after for presenting, both on the radio and on television, recently appearing on BBC Worldwide in ‘Visionaries’ as an advocate for Takemitsu and in programmes for NHK and Nippon Television. As an adjudicator, she regularly judges the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, Honens International Piano Competition and the Scottish International Piano Competition.

In Japan, Ogawa acts as artistic advisor to the MUZA Kawasaki Symphony Hall in her hometown. In 1999, the Japanese Ministry of Education awarded her their Art Prize in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the cultural profile of Japan throughout the world and she has also been awarded the Okura Prize for her outstanding contribution to music in Japan. As a writer, Ogawa has completed her first book (published in Japan) and is currently working on a Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook.

Ogawa is passionate about charity work, particularly after the earthquake and tsunami which devastated Japan in early 2011. Since the earthquake she has raised over £20,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund and is keen to keep fundraising, also working with the Japan Society through 2012. Ogawa also founded Jamie’s Concerts a series for autistic children and parents.

Ogawa lives with her partner Philip and their cat Tama. When not practising she enjoys writing and cooking for friends.

www.norikoogawa.co.uk

Noriko in action…..


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.