Interactive Online Music Lessons—How Do They Work, and What Do You Need?
by Mage, NCTM, Musician & Teaching Artist
Last updated March 28, 2022
Interactive online music lessons are when the student and the teacher meet each other through video conferencing software such as Skype, FaceTime, Hangouts, Zoom, and others OR when the student and the teacher meet asynchronouslyby exchanging videos back and forth. Studying with a qualified teacher is not the same as going on to YouTube and trying to learn by yourself—with actual interactive online lessons your teacher will actually be evaluatingyou by watching and listening to you while you play! In this article I will outline some equipment that you will need in order to take online music lessons.
Online music lessons have been gaining popularity over the years, and with the COVID-19 pandemic they are the standard for safely studying with a qualified teacher. With today’s technology as long as you have a fast internet connection and a computer or mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet you can learn music the same way as you would in person.
1. Fast Internet—How Fast is Fast?
You can probably get by with download and upload speeds of 1.5 Mbps, but if you want the best crystal clear quality then it is recommend to have at least 10 Mbps for your download speed and 5 Mbps for your upload speed a 25 Mbps download and upload speed. You can easily check your speed at https://www.speedtest.net —that site even has apps that you can easily download to your devices to test the speeds directly on them!
Wired Ethernet: If possible, you should connect your device directly to the modem to minimize any wireless interference and delay. Adapters may be necessary.
2. Computer or Mobile Device
A desktop or portable (laptop/notebook) computer OR a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet is what you will use to meet for your music lesson. A computer/tablet is recommended for the main device in which you will be watching your teacher as smartphones tend to have screens that are too small for this purpose though they can be used as a secondary camera during a live lesson. Make sure that you charge your device before your lesson so you don’t run out of battery! Also to be sure that everything works properly and that your device performs well and is secure. Please do your software or operating system updates.
For the best audio experience in live lessons Mage Music recommends using a computer instead of a tablet due to the limitations of tablet operating systems. Students who do not use a computer as their audio device tend to have poor sound which makes it more difficult for the teacher to assess them. If you are in Level 1 or higher it is recommended that you use an external microphone and computer for your lessons, and if you are in Level 2 or higher you will need to do this (more advanced techniques/musical expression).
Almost every portable device these days has a built-in camera, built-in mic, and built-in speakers, but if you have a computer that does not have a camera OR you need a camera that has better resolution you can always purchase an external webcam. In addition often times the built-in microphones do not pick up the nuances of certain instruments, so it is highly recommended to get an external microphone if you have already optimized your audio, and if you have trouble hearing your teacher or get too much feedback some headphones or earbuds can help you hear better and concentrate too.
3. Camera, Mic, Speakers/Headphones/Earbuds
As mentioned above an external camerais a good idea if you have a computer that does not come with a built-in webcam (or if the built-in webcam no longer works). The webcams I recommend are all from the brand Logitech. Click the links below to view each option; some of them already come with tripod mounts which makes it easier to position correctly, and if you already have a tripod then you’re all set!
You may wish to invest in a set of headphones/earbuds/speakers and a microphone that allow you to hear the lesson better so that you can focus, and by having a microphone closer to you the sound is often clearer. Wireless headphones/earbuds/speakers are good as they allow you to move around, but just like with the devices make sure they are charged before your lesson! In addition if they use Bluetooth, and you are taking a live lesson, there is often a more noticeable delay in the sound than there would be with other wireless/wired options.
Listed below are the external mics for desktop or notebook computers.
The BEST EASY-TO-USE Microphone Solution at Mage Music!
(Better than Blue Yeti!)
“What?” you say. Yes…there is actually an external USB microphone that works better than the Blue Yeti for the purposes of interactive music lessons.
Not only does it work with Mac/Windows, but it also works on Chromebook and iPad Pro!
It allows you to capture your voice AND instrument at the same time.
If you have an electronic instrument such as electric guitar, digital piano, or electric bass, OR if you have an acoustic guitar/bass with a pickup, you can plug it directly into the microphone via a 1/4″ instrument cable! Or you could plug a backing track into it.
It has a built-in basic mixer which allows you to adjust the levels of the actual microphone and whatever instrument/device is plugged into the mic.
You can change the mic’s pickup pattern from omnidirectional to cardioid, to figure 8. Omnidirectional means it captures everything in the room, while cardioid is designed for a voice to be 6-12 inches or so in front of the mic, and figure 8 is for two singers.
⬅︎ Highly recommended as first choice. What are you waiting for? A worthy investment!
These are the ones recommended by Logitech/Blue for music making.
After experimenting for a while and having run the studio using just two iPads I much prefer using a computer for lessons as there are more options for good sound. But sometimes the tablet is the most convenient way for students to take their lessons. If using a tablet (or smartphone if you have to) to take lessons I would recommend the iRig Mic Cast 2by IK Multimedia: https://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irigmiccast2/ (There may be others; please check if they are compatible with videoconferencing. Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter required for Apple iOS devices.)
Of course if your device already comes with decent camera, mic, and speakers then you don’t need to buy an extra webcam, but there are other things that you might need such as stands, holders, and tripods to help aim your camera so that I can see you easily without you having to worry about holding the device and play your instrument or sing at the same time.
Want to get fancy? As you become more experienced with music, you may wish to invest in an audio interface with studio microphones! There are so many to choose from, and I could write a totally separate article just for that!
4. Device Holder, Stand, or Tripod
It is important for the camera on your device to be pointing at an optimal angle for music instruction because the teacher needs to be able to see your hands if you are playing an instrument, and the teacher also needs to see the posture of your body especially if you are a vocalist or singer. So that your hands don’t have to be constantly adjusting the angle and so that they can be free to play your instrument or turn pages a holder, stand, or tripod would greatly benefit your music lesson online session. Listed below are some products I’ve either personally tried or have evaluated and considered as useful for students.
⇦ Here is a webcam holder that I actually personally use. The long “snake arm” is bendable which makes it easy to adjust the angle on the fly. Some of the Logitech cameras I mentioned above include a tripod mount.
IK Multimedia iKlip Xpand universal mic stand support for iPad and tablets This one is recommended if you already have your own tripod or stand but just need to attach the iPad to it:
IK Multimedia iKlip Xpand Mini universal mic stand support for iPhone, iPod touch and smartphones If you have a smartphone and your own tripod or stand this is the holder to use:
iPad Tripod Stand, LetsRun Height Adjustable Foldable Floor Tablet Tripod Stand for iPad Mini, iPad Air, iPad 1,2,3,4 and All 8-12 Inch Tablets, Carrying Case and Phone Stand as Gifts This one even comes with an smartphone stand as a bonus gift! So you get both a tablet stand and a smartphone stand.
CTA Digital Height-Adjustable Tablet Floor Stand with Gooseneck and Metal Base for 7-13’’ Tablets, including 12.9-Inch iPad Pro, 11-Inch iPad Pro, iPad Gen 5/6, iPad Mini, iPad Pro 12.9, Surface Pro 4
Selfie Stick & Tripod Fugetek, Integrated, Portable All-In-One Professional, Heavy Duty Aluminum, Lightweight, Bluetooth Remote For Apple & Android Devices, Non Skid Tripod Feet, Extends To 51″, Black This one is for smartphones.
Adjustable Cell Phone Stand, CreaDream Phone Stand, Cradle, Dock, Holder, Aluminum Desktop Stand Compatible With iPhone Xs Max Xr 8 7 6 6s Plus 5s Charging, Accessories Desk,All Smart Phone-Rose Gold If you’re on a budget or simply want something ultra portable and sturdy for your smartphone go with this one.
UBeesize 67” Phone Tripod Stand & Selfie Stick Tripod, All in One Professional Cell Phone Tripod, Cellphone Tripod with Wireless Remote and Phone Holder, Compatible with All Phones/Cameras This one is rated as Amazon’s choice and is very tall!
There are tons of other stands, holders, and tripods available for use with your smartphone or tablet. Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments!
A variety of different software exists for use with video conferencing. Many of these already come with your device. At Mage Music we use Zoom which may be downloaded at https://zoom.us/download . Note: It it still a good idea to have a backup device and/or software just in case something happens to your original one.
The backup videoconferencing software that Mage Music will use in the event of a Zoom outage is Google Meet.
You will also need to install the Tonaraapp, and if you are a parent/guardian of a child student you should install the app on YOUR device too as it is the best way to get a hold of the teacher. Tonara is an effective way to track each individual student’s practice progress and study materials. It also involves social learning by having students see their progress and that of other students.
Mage is a creative artist and Nationally Certified Teacher of Music with a Master of Fine Arts in music composition and performance, a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, and an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician credential.