Q: I was thinking that maybe I should start taking Skype lessons so that I can reach out to more teachers than I have around me locally. Do you have any advice? Can you have a good lesson over Skype vs. in person?
A: It is certainly possible to have a great lesson over Skype but, yes, there are drawbacks.
Here are some important considerations:
If just one of you has a limited broadband speed or a poor connection, it can be a frustrating series of dropped connections and frozen pictures. Nine times out of 10, this isn’t an issue, but I have had issues while giving lessons to people in China and other countries with limited internet speeds, who are experiencing exceptionally bad storms or who just live somewhere with limited streaming speeds.
Audio is one way at a time.
You simply can not play with someone to explore ideas in a musically contextual way or just to gauge certain abilities and tendencies.
Screen size can make really showing or viewing subtleties in technique.
It’s just not that easy to show someone hand positions, etc. without holding the bass up to the camera, which makes a natural hand position difficult. Likewise, it can be hard to really see how someone is playing something.
On the plus side, it’s very easy to send files back and forth via the chat feature on Skype (again, connection speed plays a role). Additionally, if you have screen recording software, you could actually record your lessons and view them later to reference concepts and exact explanations.
I have given dozens and dozens of Skype lessons and have only had a few bad experiences, all due to connection speeds. In those cases, we either spent extra time to make sure we hit everything we wanted to hit or I simply refunded their money because we couldn’t really get anything going.
I’ve also done group lessons with Google Hangout with pretty good results.
You can expect to make payment via PayPal, Venmo, Square or any other money exchange service. I typically require payment the day of the lesson, prior to the lesson.
Nuts and bolts aside, online lessons are a fantastic (and fairly modern) way to access world class players and educators, regardless of where you live. Lessons will likely cost more than at your local music store, but lessons with the people that you’d likely approach would cost more anyway. This is a wonderful way to save up and take an occasional lesson from a hero of yours or that player on YouTube that you’ve admired for years. Next time you wonder, “how did they do that?!”, know that you may just be able to ask them for yourself.
I am curious to hear if anybody out there has found any newer, better services or have had any other experiences that can help inform the rest of us in terms of taking lessons this way. This would be a great way to tell our readers if you’ve found a better approach! Chime in on the comments, y’all!