Thursday, August 15, 2013

Enhancing Private Lessons with Everyday Technology

By Morgann Davis

Morgann Davis
While it’s easy to view some of today’s amazing technology as a distraction, there are many ways we can easily use the devices and services that have become so commonplace to quickly improve and enhance the private lesson experience. Odds are good that you or your students own at least one of the following: smart phone, iPod, tablet (iPad, Nook, etc.), desktop computer or laptop with a camera and microphone, hand-held video camera, or a digital camera with video capabilities. The odds are also great that there are more ways to use these devices than you realize to help your students improve quickly!

Apps are perhaps the most obvious way we can utilize our smartphones, iPods and tablets. There are amazing music teaching tools available for private and classroom instruction that are very detailed, but there are also great, sometimes simple, freebies that are easy to incorporate. YouTube has a free app that easily allows you to search for videos you’d like to share with your students. Links can be emailed directly from the app, or cut and pasted directly into a text message to the student. There are also lots of excellent, free tuners and metronomes available. I particularly enjoy using insTuner with my students, as it gives them simple guidance on whether they are sharp or flat, and which way to tune their instrument. It is also gives a more stable reading of the pitch than some other free chromatic tuner apps, and will play pitches in different octaves if you want to tune to a drone. There are also great apps for learning or referencing scales, like Scales & Modes (although this one costs $1.99, it provides a wide variety of scale types). Many more apps are available beyond those listed above, including ones that help with ear training and theory (some of these are free as well!), but I find these to be particularly useful. Now, every student has access to things like a metronome or tuner, even if their parents forget to take them to the music store!

As a student, I was told to record myself more times than I can remember (and I hate to admit, more often than I actually found the time to do!). Now, there’s very little excuse for a student not to record audio or video of a portion of their practice time. Even without a smart device, anyone with a computer that has a video camera can record themselves. For example, if you have any type of apple computer, you have a camera and a program called Photo Booth. Although the quality is a bit crude, this free program that is included with the computer more that serves the purpose of providing an outside ear and eye during practice. Students are never far from their phones, so I frequently encourage mine to set their iPhones or iPods to video instead of camera and place it on the stand. If viewing themselves from this vantage point makes them feel nervous, they can face the camera toward the stand. They’ll get a decent quality audio from this to use in analyzing their playing.  My favorite way to use video in lessons, however, is to record a problem spot in a piece or exercise using my phone and then email it to the student and their parent, asking them to watch the video and make notes on what they noticed before their next lesson. I have also done this with recital performances. My students are often shocked by what they observe (both good and bad)! For those of us wishing to make higher quality recordings for ourselves or our students, there are microphones that can be attached to your smartphone from companies like TASCAM that come with apps to operate them and edit the audio you record.

There is also an amazing wealth of resources beyond YouTube that can aid with performance practice and preparation. As a young student, I had no access to music libraries or catalogues of recordings, but today’s students can hear almost any musician from the comfort of their own homes. Beyond tutorials that have been recorded by flutists such as James Galway and Emmanuel Pahud (many of which are available on YouTube), there are free “radio” resources that allow us to access countless recordings. Even iTunes provides free radio where we can listen to classical, jazz or world music. My current favorite program for listening in the context of lessons is Spotify. Unlike Pandora, which generates playlists based on the genre of music or type of artist you searched, you can search for a specific artist or piece in Spotify’s enormous data base, then create and save playlists, even in the free version! For a small monthly fee, you can access your playlists using any device that’s logged into your account. The feature I find most valuable, however, is the ability to share your playlists. Gone are the days of burning CDs for students and hoping they don’t get lost before they make it home. Instead, you can share playlists with a student (even via their parents, if you prefer) with specific recordings you want them to hear through email (once someone has an account they can also opt to follow or subscribe to your playlists). I’ve made an example playlist that I might give to a young student that displays a variety of flutists and styles so you can try it out here: Teach Flute.

Another favorite performance enhancement tool for my studio is Smart Music. For just $40/yr and the one time purchase of a microphone to go with the program, you have access to a wealth of accompaniments. Using the microphone, you can play along to a set tempo (which you can adjust to your liking), or set the program to follow you. While this is obviously no replacement for a real pianist, it has been a tremendous help preparing my students for the first rehearsal with their accompanist when the piece is too difficult for me to play along.

A fun website that my students access often is Just like the name implies, there’s lots of free sheet music on this site as well as scales, staff paper, a tuner, and a glossary of musical terms!

From a business perspective, there are a multitude of ways technology can easily and instantly upgrade your teaching experience. Social media used the right way can actually be very effective for networking with other musicians, and for staying connected to your students and their parents. I think most people have become aware that it’s best to keep your personal life and business separate, so if you go this route you may want to create a twitter handle or facebook page specifically for business purposes. I use a Facebook page for my studio (DavisFlute Studio) to post resources, information about recitals and auditions, and the dates of classes for my students. Programs like GoogleDocs or Doodle can be used to help ease scheduling events like classes and recitals. You can even allow tuition payments by credit card for a minimal fee using your smartphone and devices like Square. There are also amazing sites like Weebly where you can easily make a sharp looking website for free. I paid just $40 for a yearly subscription to Weebly Pro so that I can tailor and update my website, MorgannElyce Davis, flutist, however and whenever I like.

These ideas are truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how technology can enhance lessons for both you and your students. The key is to have fun discovering what’s available and to carry the creativity you use in your teaching into the way you use technology! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.