Cellist friends have been in touch recently asking for online teaching advice, and we are delighted to share some ideas and online resources below. Huge thanks to Raphael Wallfisch, Jo Cole, Nicholas Jones, Eduardo Palao, Gillian Thoday, Elizabeth Upton, Sarah Westley, Daniel Springate and all the anonymous respondents to our recent survey for their help and inspiration.
It sounds obvious, but the success of an online lesson relies on both teacher and student having a strong internet connection. The more people in a teacher or student’s household using the wifi signal, the worse the outcome for a lesson which relies on bandwidth-hungry video for its success. If possible, try to negotiate with the rest of your household for exclusive access to wifi during the lesson. The closer you sit to the router, the better. Best of all is to connect your device directly to your router using an ethernet cable.
Most people we spoke to use a laptop, tablet or even a phone for online teaching. Sarah Westley uses a tripod for her tablet. She says the tripod allows her to adjust the angle and positioning of her tablet quickly, easily and safely. (Slik U874 Tripod) Elizabeth Upton recommends the K&M stand with tripod feet, and a very similar stand made by Tiger, with a much heavier base, (better if remaining in location). She says both of them have the advantage of securely holding the tablet, without obscuring the buttons and ports. They are very quick and easy to swivel from landscape to portrait, and would completely remove the problem of falling off the stand. She uses these for her remote teaching, as well as for video and sound recordings for music collage videos. She also uses a tablet for reading long scores of music, even in concert situations with a Bluetooth foot pedal.
Microphones built into phones, tablets and laptops all suppress their recording quality if the sound level is too loud, so don’t put your device too close to your cello – it needs to be at least a couple of metres away. Expect to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each lesson making sure that your device isn’t too close to your cello and your device volume isn’t set too high. Take time to experiment with different physical positions and device settings until you get the best result.
Some people have had good results using a headset with a built in microphone – the voice mic seems to pick up cello sound well. Also, using a headset can give a more comfortable listening experience than the small built in speakers in a phone/tablet/laptop.
If you want to try using an external microphone, the AT2020 Audio Technica USB mic is well regarded, as is the Rode Ixy (for iphone) or Rode Go (wireless). Eduardo Palao recommends avoiding wireless/Bluetooth speakers as these demand yet more of your wifi. Wires, leads and cables can be annoying but they are less demanding of your bandwidth.
As mentioned above, most players rely on their built-in speakers but if it’s possible to plug into your stereo system – or a headset – the sound quality will be much better.
Potential host platforms
Some of these online platforms have different settings and features depending on whether you’re using them on a phone, tablet or lap top so if there’s a feature you can’t find on your device, try it on a lap top where features will be enabled. The most popular platform according to survey responses is Zoom, despite the current security concerns. Zoom say they are working hard to resolve security weaknesses.
If using Zoom, you’ll have better results if you change Zoom audio settings to disable automatic background noise suppression (which makes the microphone cut out when long notes are played). Go to Audio Settings, Advanced, and disable the first two boxes on the right, as in the diagram below.
Useful video links
NB all the links on this page will take you out of this site, so you might like to open two versions of this page so you can switch between them until we have time to edit all the links!