TTTV052: Teaching Skype Lessons with Melody Payne

By Tim Topham | Online Teaching

Aug 05

teaching skype lessons

Have you ever considered teaching Skype lessons? Teaching piano online can be a fantastic way to fill daytime teaching hours, or a solution for snow days and other emergencies.

It can be intimidating though. You may feel like you would need a ton of technology and gadgets to do it effectively. Not necessarily so! You don’t need to break the bank, or completely change the way you teach to start teaching online.  It’s easy to get started with just a minimum of equipment and time.

Melody PayneI’ve invited Melody Payne onto the podcast today to share her tips for getting started stressfree and on a budget. Melody started teaching Skype lessons about four years ago, and has seen it work just as well as in studio lessons.

Melody has some great advice that can get you teaching online right away, tune in to find out what you need to get started!


Please find a full transcript of this episode at the bottom of this page. Alternatively, click below to download a PDF. If you are an Inner Circle Member, you can find the full video and transcript in the Member Resources AreaNot a member? See below for how you can get $50 off your membership today. 

In this episode, you’ll learn

  • How Melody got started with skype piano teaching
  • The biggest advantage of online lessons
  • The biggest drawback of online lessons
  • What you need to get started
  • The hardest part about teaching online
  • How the parent can help in online piano teaching
  • How to make sure the resources you need are available

Links Mentioned

Podcast Video

piano teaching education

This month’s sponsor

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Do you ever think, “I could never teach on Skype because I’m afraid of using technology during piano lessons” or “I wish I could stop teaching so many makeup lessons”, or “I’m moving soon and I don’t want to leave all of my students behind!” or “I wish I had more students to fill the rest of my teaching schedule” …. then these videos are just what you have been looking for!

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Join me as I answer your burning questions about online music lessons, help you gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence you need to start teaching online lessons, and help you discover ways to expand your studio offerings, set your studio apart, and take your studio to the next level!

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This month’s cheat sheet

teaching online piano lessons

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Thank you for Tuning In!

There are a lot of podcasts you could be tuning into today, and I’m grateful that you’ve chosen mine.

Being a full-time teacher myself, I know how busy teachers are and how much time, effort and passion we put into our students. Sometimes, the last thing we want to do in our time off is listen to more piano teaching stuff! So, well done for using this time for self-improvement.

Whether you’re at the gym, on the bike or in the car, I know that you and your students will get lots out of what you learn in the long run. Just make sure you try out some of the ideas before they get lost in the business of your next lessons.

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Have you ever taught piano online?

What was the biggest challenge you faced? Did you see a great solution to that issue in today’s podcast?

Has Melody inspired you to give Skype teaching a try?

Full Transcript

Tim: Melody, welcome to the show. It’s so great to have you on here finally.

Melody: Thank you, it is wonderful to be here. I’m really excited to get to talk about one of my favorite things, teaching online.

Tim: I know it’s something that you know heaps about, in fact you’ve put a course together and you’re sponsoring this month of lessons. So will talk about that a little bit later on. But I first wanted to say, I’m trying to find out. How did you come to offer Skype lessons?

Melody: Well, it sort of came to me. I wasn’t looking to teach Skype lessons, but I had some friends from graduate school whose daughter was almost five years old. They called me and said, we want you to be her teacher. We don’t want anybody else. And I said, we’re going to have to figure out how to do that, because you live in Louisiana and I live in Virginia.

Tim: What’s the distance for those on the other side of the world? Is that inter-state?

Melody: From my home to their home… So we had to figure out something and I don’t…

Tim: Sorry, we lost your connection just for a second there. Right when you said how far it was.

Melody: Okay. Its 804 miles, but I don’t know how many kilometers that would be.

Tim: So it’s, 1200 K or something. It’s a fair distance.

Melody: Some way I guess. So we got started, we gave it a try. It worked, we were excited and so here we are four years later. We’re still doing Skype lessons, it works great. I was actually asking the little girl, her name is Hanna. I was asking her one day, “What is it like to have Skype lessons?” She doesn’t know what it’s like to have a lesson in the studio with a person sitting next to her. So for her, this is completely normal for piano.

Tim: So she actually has only ever had online lessons?

Melody: Yes and it’s perfect. Online lessons…

Tim: There has never been a chance for the two of you to get together? Would that be something that you’d like to do?

Melody: Well, I would love to, because her mother and father and I have been friends for a long time. But when you live that far away, it can just be difficult. So I haven’t seen her in person since she was two years old, and she was actually the flower girl in our wedding. So it’s been really fun to get to watch her grow up on Skype, every week.

Tim: Yeah. And so, I think this is really important, because you aren’t just saying Skype lessons are great for a little bit of fun or just for a winter’s day when it’s snowed in or whatever. You’ve actually taught this girl for four years on Skype. You’ve actually got the research, you’ve tested this to see what it’s like. You can confidently say, she’s no less able or musical or whatever than any other of your other students that you teach one-on-one in the studio.

Melody: Absolutely, 100%. She is doing just as well as anyone that I can sit here right beside at the piano. And to me that is so thrilling. It is so exciting to me to get to work with somebody through technology, and be able to bring them to the same level as a student who is right here sitting beside me. I love it, it’s so great. Like you pitch in, it’s also wonderful for snow days and that’s another reason. I live here in the mountains of Southwest Virginia and we get a lot of snow days in the winter, and schools are closed and the roads are bad, because they’re curvy mountain roads and it’s dangerous to drive. So we do Skype lessons or FaceTime or whatever the families have and it works really well. And then I don’t have to do however many make up lessons that week depending on how many snow days they have.

Tim: People don’t have to try and judge the weather and drive when it could be dangerous and things. So you’ve mentioned a couple of services, Skype and FaceTime. Now, do you tend to prefer one or either of these and are there other options? What do you recommend?

Melody: It really just depends. Skype and FaceTime are the two that I use, depending on what the students has. Most of my students prefer Skype, because that’s the one that everybody has heard of and everybody is familiar with. But I have a few who prefer FaceTime, because they have Apple products. So they want to use their laptop or their iPad or sometimes their phone in a pinch, if we can’t make anything else work. Sometimes they want to do that. So it really just depends. I have not used Google Hangouts or Ubu or any of those other ones that are available. But I’m sure they would work very similarly to Skype or FaceTime.

Tim: If you’ve had success with a tool, why would you change it? We’re conversing right now, this is a recorded Skype conversation. I can see you and I’ve got to say you look fabulous and your studio looks amazing. I’m in my little den here. So for anyone that’s not watching the video, pop in and just at least have a look at the start so you can say you’ve got. I actually really love what you’ve got behind you. That street back brickwork and the little shelf, it just looks really, really cool.

Melody: Thank you.

Tim: So for those people who aren’t too sure, Skype is available on any platform, any device. But FaceTime is just for Apple products, right?

Melody: Correct.

Tim: So iPhone, iPad, Mac.

Melody: Right. I do FaceTime lessons on my Mac, I prefer to have a larger screen to look at so that I can see the small details of technique and things like that, versus trying to teach a lesson on an iPhone screen. That is only about this big. It’s easier for me to use my Mac, and it’s better if the students can too. But if they don’t have that, then of course iPads are getting larger and phones are getting larger all the time.

Tim: Yeah. Do you actually have an iPad Pro, the big iPad?

Melody: I don’t, but I would love to have one. Do you have one yet?

Tim: No, not yet.

Melody: No?

Tim: No, it would have to be a Christmas present or something, really. All right, so if you could nail it down to one thing, what would you say is the biggest advantage of using a service like Skype for piano lessons?

Melody: For me personally the biggest advantage that I have noticed is that, it’s literally made me a better teacher.

Tim: Really? Okay. I wasn’t expecting that.

Melody: Yes. I didn’t think you would be.

Tim: No.

Melody: When people ask me that question I usually say, convenience. That’s usually the first thing that pops into my head. But over time as I’ve thought about it, it really has made me a better teacher. I am forced to use more descriptive words, more colorful language and metaphors and more precise wording to teach my students things like how to pedal or to end a phrase, or shape phrases. Whatever it is. Using more specific terminology has I guess crossed over into my in-person lessons as well, and it’s just made me a better teacher overall. One day I was actually teaching my Skype student. She was ready to start pedaling recently. So we worked on that and I…

Tim: Is this the little girl you were talking about?

Melody: Yes. She’s now eight years old. So I started… I know it’s just really amazing. She’s been having to adjust the bench every week, because she’s having growth spurts. That’s another advantage of Skype lessons. If they have a growth spurt, you see it and you can help them.

Tim: Yeah, you can see it from a distance on the side. Yeah.

Melody: So we were working on pedaling and I took her through the series of baby steps, we did some coordination, like tap her hands on her lap to indicate if she was playing a key and to march her feet up and down, to help coordinate the coordination of pressing the key and lifting the pedal at the same time. After just a few minutes, she got it and I literally saw everything click in her brain. When it happened, she was the happiest little girl in the whole city probably. To her, learning how to use the pedal and make the music, it just made the music sound so beautiful to her, that was just priceless for me.

Tim: Yeah, fantastic. Is she the girl that you do some demos in your course with?

Melody: She is, she is the same…

Tim: Yeah. Because I remember watching it when you first brought it out and I remember thinking, “Oh, that girl looks like so much fun to teach.”

Melody: She’s amazing.

Tim: That’s great. So we’ve talked about the biggest advantage for you, which that was quite unexpected. Making you a better teacher, I think that’s really… I can see how you would have to be precise with your words, you’d have to choose them carefully, you’d have to think. You’d have to be quite imaginative with how you go about teaching certain things. You couldn’t be lazy. Yeah, I think that’s really cool for you bring that up. What about the biggest disadvantage?

Melody: Well, one of the disadvantages, usually the biggest disadvantage for me is occasionally when we have bad weather. My Skype connection is just not very good, when we have bad weather. And I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. Actually a couple of weeks ago my Skype student Hanna and I, we both live in the Southeastern United States. We have these huge summer thunderstorms that just go across the entire Southeastern United States. We were both getting hit with one the day of her lesson, and we ended up having to just completely quit her lesson after five minutes because the connection was so poor.

I could see her, but she couldn’t hear me. And then disconnect and recall and then she could hear me, I couldn’t see her. It was just a mess. I have in my policy actually, that if we can’t actually make a good connection after five minutes of trying, that we just need to reschedule the lesson. Because otherwise it becomes really frustrating for everyone. I don’t want that family to feel stressed, like oh, we’ve got to make this work and things like that. So we just disconnect and try again another day.

Tim: How often let’s say in a semester or half year would that happen for you?

Melody: It’s very rare. Usually after a few minutes, things kind of settle down in the airwaves or something, and then the connection settles down and it’s okay, even if it starts out not being so good. But that’s probably only about the second or third time in four years, that we’ve had to reschedule because of a bad connection. So it really doesn’t happen very often in my experience.

Tim: Do all your students have lessons online or do you also teach one-on-one in your studio?

Melody: Most of my students are one-on-one in my studio, but they do all have online lessons occasionally for snow days, or if I’m not feeling well or if one of their siblings isn’t feeling well. So we incorporate it all the time with every student in my studio.

Tim: How many students have regular ones or only Skype lessons? Is it just that one girl or just a couple?

Melody: Just the one right now. I’ve had a few other students, I had an adult student who took Skype lessons for I guess about a year from me. Then she got a new job, so she didn’t have time anymore. But it was a lot of fun working with that adult on Skype too.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. Have you ever taught someone on the other side of the world or in another country online?

Melody: I have not actually, but I think it would be a lot of fun.

Tim: I’m just thinking, one of the other advantages would have to be the fact that you could teach people in different time zones. So in all that dead space in the middle of the day, when it might be someone else’s evening, you could teach them perhaps.

Melody: Right and increase your teaching hours, definitely.

Tim: Exactly, yeah. Increase your income, increase your hours. Just a thought. How do you get started? Let’s talk about some of the things that teachers need. Also, I was going to say one other thing. I think the good thing that you’ve just kind of highlighted is that with all the kind of topics and ideas that I’ve discussed on these podcasts, I always tell teachers, you don’t need to revolutionize. You don’t need to cancel everything and suddenly only start teaching online. This is just an idea of things that you can add and for you in fact, even though you teach regularly, you have a great experience with this. It is just an additional service that you offer for most of your students, right.

Melody: Right, definitely.

Tim: So it’s all of the stuff we’re talking about today, you can go, “Well, maybe in those winter days,” or maybe in Australia in extra hot days when it hits 40 degrees Celsius plus. Maybe that’s the time that you can do that.

Melody: Right. In your air-conditioning and stay comfortable, do a Skype.

Tim: Exactly.

Melody: Right.

Tim: I don’t know what 40 is in Fahrenheit, but it would be over a 100 I guess. Well over a 100 probably.

Melody: It doesn’t even get that hot5, where I live.

Tim: Lucky you.

Melody: Because 90 degrees Fahrenheit, we’re really, really hot.

Tim: Yeah. But you have snow, which we don’t have. So how do you get started? What do people need to get things set up?

Melody: The most basic thing people need to get setup is a laptop with a webcam and an Internet connection. If you have those two things, you can get online and teach Skype lessons right now. I have my external webcam plugged in, so if it’s okay I’ll grab that and turned around and show what my setup looks like. Alright, here comes… I’ll try and keep everything in the shot. Here is the piano and of course I’d be sitting there, and then if I look around. There you are, hi.

Tim: I think this is a first, Melody, I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself on a podcast on someone else’s computer.

Melody: So I have the laptop setup on a metal music stand and it’s obviously adjusted so that it won’t fall down and won’t shift positions during a lesson, and then my webcam is just sitting right on top. Excuse me.

Tim: What webcam do you use?

Melody: I use the Logitech 920, I believe. Logitech 920, I’ve had it for a few years. How does it look on your end?

Tim: It looks amazing, yeah. In actual fact, I think one of the reasons why… I’m just kind of changing over to Mac at the moment funny enough. So I’m on my Mac now with the built in webcam, but I would normally be using the C910 or whatever it is. I think it’s the same one as you’ve got and it’s great. Because you get a wider angle too, don’t you?

Melody: Yes.

Tim: Yeah.

Melody: Yours looks very good too, and that’s another thing to mention, is that a lot of the cameras in laptops are really good these days. They keep getting better and better. I don’t know that they’re as HD and crystal clear as the external ones yet, but they’re still really good. That’s what I started with, that’s what I had. So that’s what I started with.

Tim: The Logitech, I think it’s only 100 and something dollars. Like 150 bucks maybe, they’re not that expensive anyway.

Melody: Definitely and they’re great. They work with PC and with Mac, I don’t how they do that. But a lot…

Tim: Do you have a massive satellite dish on your house and connect directly to the Internet or something? Or just your standard Internet connection? Is there anything, any tips on that?

Melody: Mine is very standard and it seems to work just fine. When my Skype student participated in our recital that we had in the spring, and so there is a picture on my piano studio Facebook page, if anyone is interested in going, it’s called Melody Payne Piano Studio. I posted some pictures and so we had… I was on the church’s Wi-Fi for that recital and it was great. It went super well, everything worked beautifully. All the parents who had never seen a Skype performance on a screen, in front of them through the projector, were just completely blown way. They didn’t know that you could do that. So it was a lot of fun to get to do that and their’s was standard Wi-Fi as far as I’m aware, and it worked really fine.

Tim: That’s pretty cool, yeah. And look, you guys have vastly superior Internet connections over in the state than we have here. But I’m in Australia and I record all these podcast on my Internet connection, so it’s totally fine. I guess the only thing I would say is that maybe if you can, to plug in, if you’ve got a laptop, to actually plug into the Internet rather than use Wi-Fi, if you’re having a lot of issues. That can be a big help.

Melody: Definitely. They make really, really long Ethernet cords for that, too.

Tim: Yes, yeah. I’ve got like a 30 meter one, yeah.

Melody: Thirty meters, approximately a 100 feet. Definitely.

Tim: Do you have any special lighting? Like the lighting there looks so clear.

Melody: I don’t have any special lighting, but I have lamps placed around so that most of the light is in front of me.

Tim: Can you show us what you’ve got? Because that helps people.

Melody: So here is where I would be sitting to teach, and then over here I have some lighting.

Tim: So it’s just like a standard lamp.

Melody: Just a regular lamp and I have another lamp all the way over there.

Tim: High up.

Melody: It’s brighter in the room and it’s coming through on the camera. I just try to bounce light all over the room and keep it as bright as possible. I think that helps with the clarity of the picture on them, on the side.

Tim: Yeah, it looks so clear. It looks like you’ve got a professional lighting set up, I’m very impressed.

Melody: Thank you.

Tim: I think it’s probably part of the webcam as well, because I was just watching it too when you sat down. You could see it focusing. So also that’s the other advantage of an external webcam, is you get that auto focus and a sharper image, a bit lighter. So yeah, okay, cool.

Melody: Yeah. It does a really nice job.

Tim: Yeah. So you don’t need much is what we’re saying really. You could start with just your iPad if you really have to, right?

Melody: You could, absolutely. You would have to get something to stand it up on or some kind of stand or an adapter to hook it to something. Or you could just set it on a chair and like face towards the piano. So yes, you don’t have to have anything special to get started. But there are lots of things that you can do, to make the lessons more special. Such as the external webcam makes it clearer, if you had an external microphone or something like that. There are tons of those different kinds of things that you could use. But for the most basic setup of all, a laptop with a webcam and an Internet connection and you’re ready to go.

Tim: What about an overhead camera? Do you ever feel the need for one of those?

Melody: I haven’t delved into that yet, but that is actually one of the things that’s on my wish list, so that I could use two cameras at the same time. So one day I’ll be trying that. Have you done that before?

Tim: Not over Skype. But I have done a webinar with Bradley Sowash and he has the one over the top, and I’m pretty sure Skype can actually change between… You don’t even need any… You can get extra software, but I think you can just use Skype and say which camera you want to look at. It could be worth it. Would you find that you would use it a lot if you had it?

Melody: I probably would especially for maybe teaching five minute scales, it’s easier for the child to look from above to see the black keys or where do my hands go. Or whatever is going on over here. I think having an overhead camera would be really, really nice. Pretty luxurious actually.

Tim: What’s the hardest thing you find about teaching online?

Melody: The hardest thing. I think one of the really, really difficult things is that I really enjoy playing the teacher accompaniment duet parts with my students for a ton of reasons. It helps their steady beat, their ensemble skills. I can lead them with correct dynamics and shaping without having to tell it, and you can’t do that just on Skype. That’s one of the very difficult things. There are ways around it such as my student Hanna, one of her regular assignments is to learn her pieces with the CD or the Piano Maestro app. Whatever she happens to be working in that week.

So that she can get the sense of performing all the way through as it would be, if she and I can play together. Sometimes I send her a recording of me playing it so that she can get the piano and piano sound, that she may or may not be able to get depending on what the accompaniment tracks on her CD sound lie. But to me, that’s probably the hardest thing. Because I love playing the duets with the little ones especially, and one of the things I really love about that is when they look at me. Because really early on in their lessons maybe they’re hearing pedal for the first time or they’re hearing multiple notes at the same time. Their moms or dads are sitting over on the sofa and they all just go, “Oh, that was so beautiful.”

That’s one of my favorite things. So it’s difficult to do that with Skype. But there is something called Internet MIDI, which I currently don’t have. Because my Skype student does not have a digital piano, she has an acoustic Piano. Which is nice and it’s all right. But if both people have a digital piano, then Internet MIDI can be used. The sounds that I would play on my digital piano, would travel directly through the Internet I suppose and come out her speakers of her digital piano. So that way we’re going to get really precise sounds, and that could be a great, great way to do duets. But like I said, I don’t have that. Because she uses an acoustic piano.

Tim: Yeah, got it. So we should tell teachers straight out, if you’re going to be teaching online, don’t try and play at the same time as your student. It’s unlikely to work very well.

Melody: Correct. Talking at the same time is difficult too. Sometimes there is a… I can tell you’re used to being online, because we have to get a little pattern going back and forth. We have to know when to pause and when to wait, because it will come through a little bit later than in person. But it doesn’t take very long to get used to that. My Skype student would get so excited, because she was four when we started. She would want to tell me everything. I colored a picture today, let me show it to you. Guess what we did in pre-school today? Let me show you my new toy. But anyway, it’s…

Tim: It is fun.

Melody: I just chased a rabbit, I got off subject.

Tim: No, no. Don’t worry, it’s all good. One of the concerns I do hear about teachers is that you can’t touch your student, you can’t move their hand into the right shape or something like that. How do you deal with that issue if you find it an issue?

Melody: I use the parents. Because when the student is really young, I always have the parents sitting right there in case something goes wrong with technology. So the parent can restart Skype or reset the computer, or undo the screensaver or whatever happens during that moment. So I have the parent right there for the technology side, but also for the child. Especially when the child is four, five or six years old and maybe doesn’t know how to read well yet or they’re learning how to find measure numbers in the music.

So I have the parent act as a stand in for me, so to speak. And I will stop talking to the student for just a second and have a little tiny conversation with the parent about, we need to do this and I’ll show them on my hand. Or do an exaggerated motion, with a really precise description, and say, do that on the student’s arm or on the shoulder or whatever is going on. So then the parent will do that. The parent will teach the child what I am instructing to the parent, and that has worked incredibly well. Just things like tone production or just lifting off of the end of the phrase, things like that. It’s really, really helpful to have a parent in the room.

Tim: It’s good, because the parent then feels a sense of ownership in what’s going on, they understand the practice that needs to be done, I’d say that’s a good thing all around to be honest.

Melody: I think so. I think it really has been, I think the mother. My student, Hanna’s mom had piano lessons for two or three years when she was a child. So she was familiar enough with the beginning stages of everything. But then when I started doing more and more detail things, she’s been able to help out with things. Now that Hanna has been doing Skype lessons for four years, mom doesn’t even have to be in room so much anymore. So she’s free to go and tend to her younger son or start making dinner or whatever, and that’s another good thing about it. Is that life at home can carry on in the midst of one’s child having an online lesson.

Tim: But she’s on call when you need her.

Melody: Exactly, she’s just right in the other room and I ask Hanna, “Hanna, is your mom nearby?” She knows that means I need to go get my mom.

Tim: I just had another thought just on technology too. Do you have a special microphone?

Melody: I have a Blue Yeti that I use, mostly when I’m recording things. Like the webinar course, but right now I’m just using the microphone that’s right here. I’m not using anything special right now.

Tim: Is that the microphone in the webcam?

Melody: Let me see, I cannot tell you right this second. I will tell you it is the microphone… Let’s see.

Tim: Because it’s incredibly clear.

Melody: It is the built-in microphone in the laptop, in the MacBook Pro.

Tim: There you go. Isn’t it amazing? I think it’s just incredible with the technology now.

Melody: Yes, it really is. I [inaudible [00:25:51] feel like you’re around the world from where I am right now. I feel like we are just sitting across the table from one another, having this conversation.

Tim: Absolutely, yeah. I have actually stopped using high-tech camera gear for a lot of my videos now, I just grab my iPhone. because I’ve tested the quality and the audio quality, and it’s just as good and it’s so easy to pick up your iPhone, put it on a stand and start recording. So I think it’s amazing, yeah.

Melody: I do have a couple of students. Because I live in the mountains, I have two students who live so far out of town. But it’s only 25 minutes out of town. But living that far out of town here, they can’t get Internet access at their house. So we can’t do Skype lessons if we have a snow day. So what I tend to do is record a lesson and on my phone and then upload it to YouTube, and send them a private link. Then when the parents come into town, they’re able to download the video onto their phone and then they take it home and they can show it to the child. So that technology is wonderful, it is amazing what even a phone can do.

Tim: I was going to ask, we’re about to get onto lesson activities because I want you to show us actually some of the stuff that you do. But before that, I think you’ve kind of answered this question. But I was going to ask you about managing the behavior of younger students. I guess it’s having the parent there, right?

Melody: Yes, it is. Having the parent there. Another aspect of that is that my expectations for my students, they are aware that they’re expected to behave. Just because mom and dad may or may not be nearby, that doesn’t give them license to misbehave. They know that I run tight ship and they are expected to mind their manners. So I really don’t have behavior problems in my studio. What was the other thing I was going to say about that? As far as behavior problems, if you keep the lesson, what I call tight and I don’t know how widely use of a term that is. But keeping the lesson tight, moving quickly from one activity, when you finish that activity, moving quickly to the next one, also helps. Because the child doesn’t have a lot of downtime. And when the child doesn’t have a lot of downtime, they don’t have time to misbehave. Between that, parent, and expectations, usually my students are really well behaved.

Tim: Again, that comes back to what you said before about it helping you be a better teacher. Because you’ve got be bang, bang. You know your sequence of activities, you know when it’s time to change. It all wraps up really nicely, I think it’s great.

Melody: It does all work together, doesn’t it.

Tim: Yeah, yeah. So let’s get into some of these activities. Because having seen your course, I know that you’ve got some great particular activities that work online. So can you share with us just a couple of them, that teachers could even try out if they wanted to?

Melody: Well quite honestly the main thing about activities, is that you can use most of the same activities that you do in your studio with your online students. So that’s generally what I tend to use. I don’t try to seek out a lot of extra activities, just to try and make something become an online activity. But if I can make a small adjustment and make the activities that I would normally use, if the student was sitting here beside me, work on their online lesson, then that’s what I tend to go for first. It’s like something that you mentioned earlier about using what you already have. When you mentioned if you have a laptop, use what you already have. It doesn’t have to be anything special. But one of the things I love is playing your training games with my students. Actually I’ll show an example of that in the course, so I won’t go into too much here. But you can do lots of ear training games, play a melody and have a student repeat it. Just three or four notes.

Tim: Do you want to try? I’ve got a piano here. Do you want to try?

Melody: Sure. Please don’t listen to my untuned piano, because it is the end of the summer. Lessons are over and I’m just waiting until almost time for school to start to get this thing tuned.

Tim: So are you on holiday at the moment? It’s holiday time there, right?

Melody: It is, yes.

Tim: So is that all of July and August? Or when do you go back?

Melody: I go back to teaching August 15th, and I have a few more summer lessons left. But not very many. So I’ll go back to teaching August 15th. The children in our area start back to school on August 10th, this year.

Tim: Okay. So you’ve got a couple of more weeks, that’s cool.

Melody: A little bit more time, definitely.

Tim: Let’s try this out, let’s see if I can do it.

Melody: The way we did it is that I tell her where to place her hands on the piano keys. I might say, used a D, five finger pattern or a D five note scale. So then I would have my hand on the D. I’d say place your finger one on the D.

Tim: Okay, I can do that.

Melody: Then I might play…

Tim: Did that come through?

Melody: It did.

Tim: Yeah.

Melody: Yeah, it did, and it could be just as simple as that and you can do that, whether the student is sitting right next to you or whether the student is there. It’s actually a little bit easier to do this activity on Skype than in person, because each person can sit right where they’re sitting. You don’t have to shuffle back and forth.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Melody: Here is the D I used. Which D did you use? All of that. You just sit right here and do the game and it works really, really well.

Tim: Yeah, great.

Melody: So you could have a lot of fun with that. Another thing that I really love is, and I’ve heard you mention this before in your Pop Piano, PinaoFlix, is the iReal Pro app.

Tim: Yeah. How do you use it?

Melody: I love using it for the blues progression. There is a fun blues progression and using that over Skype, since I can’t play the accompaniment with her like I usually do when I’m teaching students how to play the blues scale. Usually I’ll sit down and play the progression, while they’re playing their scale. Since I can’t do that with her, because we already talked about how we can’t play at the same time, unfortunately, I just have her turn on the app and find the blues progression and she sets it to the correct key, which we’re using C. So then she plays along with it and feels like a million bucks.

Tim: It’s good. iReal Pro, Just tell people what it does in case they haven’t heard before?

Melody: It’s a wonderful app that has tons of accompaniment tracks, and you can download songs to play along with. It has lead sheets that you play from, and each measure is highlighted as you play it. So it’s almost like a visual metronome I guess or a track, that it goes along as you’re playing each measure. It just helps you play, it helps your ensemble skills I think and your listening skills and so many things like that. I have a lot of kids that I teach who play piano for praise and worship bands at their church. Of course they use a ton of lead sheets for that kind of music. So being able to use the iReal Pro app, they can use that as a practice tool or playing for their service at their church.

Tim: I think the other great thing is while the app itself, it now cost about $20.00 or $15.00, once you’ve got it, you don’t pay anything else. Everything is imported off the Internet by people who have uploaded the chord charts, and you can add your own chord charts in. So when it comes to the blues, I put my own one in, I remember. So that’s great. If anyone listening is interested in the kind of apps that I use, then I’ve got a link to that on my menu. Just go to blog and then you can say best iPad apps for piano teachers. Actually iReal Pro, I think, is an Android app as well. I think it’s Android, iPhone app, it’s everything I think.

Melody: That’s terrific, I have not heard that. That’s wonderful.

Tim: I’m pretty sure, it’s one of the few ones that everyone can use. Which is great. So I get my students to use it. Fantastic. Any other kind of activities that you just want to mention or as you say, you just suggest teachers just try what they’re already doing?

Melody: Right, just try it. If you’re doing work sheets or some kind of… Something like that, something written. Maybe it’s a listening activity, a listening glyph where there is a picture that the child has to color. Let’s say it is a scene with an apple tree and a basket or something. It might say, if you hear forte, color the apple green. Or if you hear a piano, color the apple red. So it might be something like that. You would have to send that in advance, so that the parent could have time to print it out and have it available for the lesson. But they can still be used, you just have to plan ahead a little bit more than you might have to plan ahead for one of your lessons, where your student just walks in your door.

Tim: Absolutely. What about books? You’ve obviously got to be using the same books, right?

Melody: Yes, I do. What I do for my online students, I send a picture or a link to every book that they need to order. I try to keep everything going, a few weeks in advance so they have enough time to go by the music store or to order it online if they’re like me and don’t have a music store locally. Being able to just send a link and say, we need this one and this one and this one. I love, that’s my go to place for ordering music. So I’ll send a link or a wish list or something to the parents, so they keep the books coming in.

Tim: So it’s P-R-I-M-A, Prima?

Melody: Yes. Prima…

Tim: That’s in America or just your state?

Melody: It’s in America, it’s a really great company for ordering music. They actually have tiered levels of membership so that when you order a certain dollar amount of books, over time, then you begin to get a little bit more of a discount on your orders. So it’s really wonderful for music teachers.

Tim: Got it, fantastic. Out of interest. What method do you tend to use or have you built your own resources?

Melody: It really depends on a student. For early beginners, I am absolutely in love with the My First Piano Adventure series by Faber. I love that for the very young beginners and they love it too, they just love it. For slightly older beginners, I really enjoy using the Alfred Premier Piano Course, the orange ones and those are just fantastic. In my opinion those work better for a little bit older beginners like ages seven and eight. And as long as they’re are ages four, five, six and sometimes if they’re a young seven year old, I’ll still put them in the My First Piano Adventure, and we just go through it quickly. I have a little girl who’s six. She comes from a musical family, and her older sister has been studying with me for a few years. The six year old just started lessons in April, two weeks before our spring recital. She just this week finished her first My First Piano Adventure. She’s been moving pretty quickly, but as I mentioned she comes from a very musical family and that has helped a lot. We got to skip a lot of the activities, as they were very redundant for her.

Tim: Right, yeah. Do you tend to teach…? Have you got quite a lot of young ones?

Melody: I mostly have young ones, mostly. That’s my favorite, is young beginners. Those are my favorite.

Tim: I can see, totally your energy and everything. I reckon if I was a little kid, I would love having lessons with you. It would be so much fun.

Melody: I try to keep it fun, but every now and then I tell a corny joke and they don’t get it. So come on, stop being silly.

Tim: I recently found out about Piano Safari. Have you heard of Piano Safari?

Melody: I have heard of it. I haven’t had the opportunity to use it yet, but I’ve heard really great things about it.

Tim: If you’re doing a lot of the really young ones and I’m not paid by them or anything to tell you. I’ve started using it with some of my…and I mainly teach teenagers, but I’ve got some young beginners and it is really cool. I think you’d really love it. Just check out some of the stuff online and see what you think, it would be cool.

Melody: Definitely. I have a new beginner coming in who is five years old, and I’ve been looking for something different.

Tim: I’d try it out. Yeah, totally.

Melody: That may be exactly what I need.

Tim: Yeah, beautiful. We’ve got to kind of start wrapping up. But I do want you to tell us about your course, I mentioned it in the introduction, that you’re sponsoring this month and it’s fabulous. I’ve seen the course. I’m so glad you finally got it out, because originally you released it maybe a year ago I think. Or two years ago.

Melody: Two years ago.

Tim: That’s when I first heard about it and I’m like, oh my goodness, Melody, you’ve got to share this more widely. But then something happened and it went off or you fixed it up or something. So tells us a little story about it.

Melody: Yes, I took it away and then I improved it. It was presented as one long webinar live on one of the webinar platforms. After that I rerecorded everything and put it into smaller video segments and did a lot of editing and bullet points on the screen and things like that, just to make it more visually interactive and appealing. Went through all that and then most recently I thought, maybe I should add a little soft piano background track to it for people who don’t like to just sit in silence and listen to me talk at the screen. So there is…

Tim: What’s wrong with that, I do that all the time.

Melody: But there is a version that does not have a piano background track, just so that it’s quiet. It’s just me talking and teaching. And then there is a version that does have a little piano background track, which to me infuses a little bit more energy into it and it makes it seem fun. So people can have whatever choice they want, either one. But yes, I did a little bit of an overhaul on it and now it’s back online, ready to go, and it’s a total of approximately 90 minutes in nine short videos. Things like the pros and cons of teaching online are addressed, and teaching tips, studio policies specifically for online students. Payment options and ideas, specifically for online students. Oh my goodness! What else? How to get online students? Places to find online students. So [inaudible [00:40:31]. And of course how to set up and what settings to use in Skype for the best sound and video quality. How to use your webcam for the best sound and video quality? Just everything you need to know to get started and be feeling like an expert in no time.

Tim: Today we’ve really just glossed, we’ve kind of glossed over the surface. You’ve got so much more detail in the course.

Melody: It does have a lot of details, that’s for sure. It was something that I felt was needed in the piano teaching community. Because if you go to any other piano teaching forums, there are so many questions about: How do I teach online? How do I get started? How do I set up? Where do I put my webcam? Where do I put my laptop? How do I…? And I thought, “Oh, I can answer that because I’ve done this for a few years now.” So I just wanted to make that information available to people in a structured format, and it’s a step-by-step approach. You can watch as little or as much in one sitting as you like. It just, you can go back and review any part that you want, as many times as you want. We even have a private Facebook group that’s exclusively for people who have done this course. So people can join the Facebook group and talk more about online teaching, and ask questions…

Tim: Ask more questions, yeah.

Melody: Right.

Tim: Have you still got the videos in there of you teaching?

Melody: Yes, I have a few videos of teaching in there, yes.

Tim: Because I think they’re the ones that I found most fun, is actually watching you in action with your students. So you actually get to see that in the course, and I think it’s brilliant.

Melody: And I have the one of me teaching her how to pedal that I mentioned earlier, that’s in the Facebook group.

Tim: Fantastic.

Melody: Basically an entire lesson unedited. Well, not the entire lesson, but the unedited version of if you were sitting next to me watching me teach her pedal, that’s exactly what we did. What you see in that video.

Tim: Brilliant, brilliant. That so good. Thank you on behalf of piano teachers, for putting this out there, because you’re absolutely right. I get a lot of questions. There are a lot of people with questions. So it’s great to have somewhere that we can send people. So where should go to find out more?

Melody: My website is

Tim: That’s Melody, P-A-Y-N-E?

Melody: Yes. Melody as in music, M-E-L-O-D-Y. Standard spelling. Payne, P-A-Y-N-E. I know.

Tim: You could only been a musician, right.

Melody: I actually had somebody ask me once if that was my real name. I said yes, this is my real name. I am the piano teacher and my name is Melody and the car that I drive is called a Sonata.

Tim: I love it. So, that’s where they can find out more.

Melody: Yes.

Tim: Brilliant.

Melody: Then I also have all my social media links listed in a hand out, that I’m going to have available when this is live. So we’ll be having that hand out posted and there will be links to some more articles and information about teaching online that are on my blog, and links to all the social media.

Tim: Fantastic, that’s great.

Melody: So there are tons of ways to get in touch.

Tim: Thank you so much for putting all that together for us, and thank you for your time today. It’s been so good to speak with you. I feel like I want to have a lesson right now, but we don’t have time.

Melody: We’re right here, we can… That’s the other thing, that’s one more thing. When you finish your lesson with your Skype student, the student is sitting at the piano, so maybe that will encourage them to practice a little bit.

Tim: Maybe. You can always hope, can’t we?

Melody: That’s right, we should Tim. Thanks so much for having me today, I really enjoyed this time together.

Tim: You’re welcome. It’s been great to finally catch up properly and spend some time on something that’s really important. I really appreciate it and will speak to you really, really soon and will keep in touch.

Melody: Sounds fabulous, thank you Tim.

Tim: See you.

Melody: Bye


About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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