TTTV053: Next Level Online Lessons with Mario Ajero
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TTTV053: Taking Your Online Lessons to the Next Level with Mario Ajero

By Tim Topham | iPads / iPhones

Aug 12

online lessons

This week on the podcast we’re talking next level online lessons with Mr. Technology himself, Mario Ajero. If you’re ready to make your online lessons even more effective with some super clever tech, Mario’s your guy.

Mario was a pioneer in the early days of music teaching technology. He has tried and tested the best of these tools to enhance his own classroom and online teaching.

Mario Ajero

Today we’re looking at some fantastic ideas to improve your setup for online lessons. Using apps & extra video cameras you can make online lessons even better than in person traditional lessons.

Getting to see all this tech set up and working smoothly is really inspiring. I strongly recommend watching the video for this one if you can, it’s great to see this stuff in action. If you’re looking for how to get started with the least amount of time and money, you might want to listen to last week’s episode with Melody Payne before this one.

Transcript

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

  • What inspired Mario to get started with music technology
  • How Mario uses flipped learning in his piano classes
  • How internet midi can be used in Skype teaching
  • What you need to use the internet midi
  • How classroom maestro works and what you could use it for
  • What you need to set up an overhead video view
  • Some possible applications for tech set-up for online lessons

Links Mentioned

Podcast Video

piano teaching education

This month’s sponsor

Online Lessons Cover Image copy

Does the idea of teaching online music lessons seem a bit daunting? Do you know what equipment and technology you need to teach a successful online lesson? Do you know how to set up and use your equipment? What about finding students? Or getting paid? Or setting up your policy? Or knowing which activities can be successful in an online lesson? Are there specific teaching tips you should use for online lessons? How about pros and cons of online teaching? Or troubleshooting when something goes wrong?

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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Extras: 

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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!

Click here to find out more and get $10 off the entire month of August 2016.

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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What’s one piece of tech that you would love to have?

Did something in Mario’s set-up catch your eye? Is there something you’ve been coveting for a while?

What’s your favourite technology you already own?

Full Transcript

Tim: Well, welcome, Mario, to the show. It’s so good to have you on here finally.

Mario: No, thanks. It’s great seeing you there. It’s been awhile when I saw you in CKP last year there and then it’s great that we can still connect here thousands of miles away.

Tim: I know. Different times, different seasons. It was great. You came to the Australian Piano Pedagogy Conference about two, three, four years ago, something like that, and I remember…

Mario: It was in 2013. That was really great experience there, and I had never traveled that far before, and it was a delight to meet all the Australian teachers, and wish I had more time to stay a little bit longer there, but that’s always hopefully an opportunity in the future.

Tim: Absolutely. Well, look, you’re known as Mr. Piano Technology, internationally renowned as the specialist here. So it is really exciting for me to get you on the show because I know that you can help me win a whole lot of stuff and all the people who are watching and listening. So today we’re going to talk more about the theme of online teaching and the technology that we can use for that. How did you originally get into focusing so much of your career on the technology of music teaching?

Mario: Well, a lot of it was due to the amount of time I had on my hands as far as I was finishing up my doctoral degree at the University of Oklahoma, probably around 2005, 2006, and I was looking for a job as far as I wasn’t here at Stephen F. Austin State University just yet. But I had a lot of time on my hands and I was a wonderful procrastinator on trying to not finish my dissertation there. And I just was really fascinated with the emergence of like social media and YouTube and all this online technology where just like little people could…not necessarily make themselves famous, but at least make some kind of contribution. And I was really just fascinated how we could all kind of have a voice and reach out to people that we…or nearly wouldn’t be able to reach out to.

And I really didn’t get into like teaching people online through video conferencing yet at that particular point because the technology wasn’t as widespread as it is here today, but I had seen some people posting up videos on YouTube and also creating their own video podcast. And I thought that, well, I thought maybe I have something to contribute. So it was just kind of a thing that I got a little bit interested in. I started this video podcast, especially with Apple and iTunes promoting video podcasts, I thought it was emerging technology that I thought we definitely should explore here, and it’s great seeing, you know, like people like you, Tim, that are carrying on and really delving into that technology to reach out to other people here.

Tim: Well, cheers, and, yes, I think you are a pioneer in many ways with your Piano Podcast, which is still there on…it’s on iTunes I think, isn’t it?

Mario: Yeah, it’s still there. I have to confess that I haven’t really devoted a lot of attention to it, and certainly not anything like the way that you’ve created this whole series of really valuable interviews and have video podcasts for teachers to watch here. But, you know, I tried to post up…a lot of times now it’s more just shameless plugs of my kids playing through some technology that sometimes gets more attention. Those seem to get more views than anything that I ever I post on my own there. But hopefully now that things have kind of sailed in a little as far as my career is concerned there, then I might get back into the swing of things here.

Tim: Yes, and we must congratulate you on your recent promotion to professorship, which is really a huge move for someone in education like you. So congratulations.

Mario: Yeah, I hear a lot of people who have a lot of, you know, like tough times with administration, but the administration here and fellow faculty here at Stephen F. Austin State University have been really supportive. And, you know, the whole piano pedagogy community is so tightly knit there that it’s not too hard to find a lot of people that are going to be really supportive of one another to help you through that process.

Tim: Fantastic. And look, because you’re such a specialist in general, piano teaching technology, I wanted to ask just a few questions on teaching technology in general before we go into the online teaching. And the first one was what do you think is the biggest change that technology has made for piano teaching in the last 5 to 10 years if you could narrow it down to one?

Mario: I don’t know if I could really narrow it down here, but I mean, the Internet in particular has just significantly influenced the way that we educate others and even ourselves. Just there’s this whole now mentality that if you don’t know how to do something, then the first instinct is to go online and try to find out how to do that there. You know, all these cooking videos that kind of scroll through our social media feeds there, all of a sudden we think that we’re awesome chefs now, or at least have the ability to do so now due to all these like tasty videos and other things scrolling through our news feeds. So I think in that sense, that’s probably been the most significant thing that come across is this whole idea that the Internet has made this world a smaller place where we can share ideas and disseminate information. In fact, you know, I think a lot of students are catching on now that they could probably find information a whole lot faster and much more efficiently online than they could through their traditional face-to-face teacher here. So I think as teachers we need to think creatively to work with those students on how to make sense of all that information and how we can make them better musicians and better people overall. So I don’t know.

Tim: It’s great, and the change that has come about through all the online learning and stuff, I mean, it’s why I do my podcasts. It’s why I write blog posts. It’s why there are so many people doing those kinds of things because we know we can help people so easily. When they type a question into Google, hopefully it’ll pop up, and we’ll be to share what we’ve learned. So, yeah, I would tend to agree. And it’s going to be an interesting change, just in education generally, I’m thinking classrooms, too. If students can find out pretty much what they need to know from online, our jobs as teachers change considerably, doesn’t it?

Mario: Yeah. I found a shift in, even with my, particularly with my group piano classes that I teach a lot of group piano classes here at Stephen F. Austin State University, where we have…we still have the, you know, multiple piano, digital piano lab and students still come in twice a week there for their classes. But I’ve kind of adopted a little bit more of a flipped classroom mentality where I do deliver video demonstrations of me playing through some of the technique and the repertoire. And they kind of consume that at their own leisure outside of class, and then they use the piano lab time for us to actually kind of work through some of the problems that they have and try to overcome some confusion that they have through the online delivery of content that we’ve given them in between classes. And it seems to work out pretty well for most of the students here.

Tim: Fantastic. What would you say to teachers who are just overwhelmed with technology?

Mario: Oh, well. I would say that they’re not the only one. Even myself, I find myself overwhelmed with keeping up these days. I confess that I’m one of those people that’s really reliant on products on the Apple side of technology. So I have the utmost respect for teachers kind of like yourself who can find the time and resources to keep up with other platform…all the platforms that are out there. And my advice would be how I particularly handle it is what…you should only take on what you particularly feel comfortable with and what you can handle. Don’t just implement technology into your teaching just for the sake of saying, “Hey, I’ve implemented technology into my teaching.” But I would say have an educational and/or musical goal in mind just to justify it.

For example, where I’m most fascinated with the use of technology is particularly MIDI and digital audio accompaniments. Because part of my dissertation research, the literature review, showed that practicing with any kind of rhythmic stimuli, whether it be a metronome, or CD accompaniments, or digital accompaniments, or MIDI accompaniments really strengthen students’ listening abilities and their rhythmic continuity and rhythmic accuracy. So I try to incorporate that a lot in my studio personally, and I feel that my students and my kids in particular show a stronger sense of rhythm, and it also helps simulate the collaborative piano playing that I think is so valuable for them down the road. And they have such a great time just because, you know, it’s a much more rewarding musical experience for them to do that.

Tim: Yeah, it’s groovy. Kids do love it. And as you say, it’s so important for pianists to make sure you can feel a steady beat, play to a groove, play in a group, and these are things that don’t just happen without some…either playing with a second piano, accompanying someone, or playing with a backend track. I’m going to talk about some of the options teachers have for that shortly. One quick last question just on technology generally, what about the people who say that, you know, it’s hard to find the pedagogy in a technology? Sometimes it just all seems to be [inaudible [00:10:35] fun and games.

Mario: No, I mean there’s a lot of particular apps that have been emerging that kind of gamify the whole educational experience there, and not a lot of teachers are buying into that per se there, but I’ve seen, you know, positive results as far as that’s concerned. I really don’t have anything that I can say that I think will probably change people’s minds if they really feel that way or not there. But if they’ve seen any of the videos that I’ve shared of my kids practicing and maybe performing with the technology, I think that kind of speaks a lot of itself on how the use of this technology is legitimate in helping kids become better listeners and overall musicians for sure.

Tim: It’s about choosing the right app and having the right goal, I always think. You know, what are you actually trying to achieve by using this technology? It’s a bit like…I compare it to, you know, building a house and having a tool kit. Like you need to know, if you’re trying to put a nail in a wall, you’ll grab out the hammer. That’s the tool that you’ll use. You won’t grab out a saw, sort of thing. And so for us as teachers, having the right tool, which is the right technology, right piece of app, right app could be the thing that they need for that particular student to learn about rhythm, or to get a groove, or whatever it is. So I agree. Okay. Well, let’s get into more looking at the online teaching side of things. You’re currently teaching online, like live lessons or do you mainly recordings that people can watch later? How does your online approach work?

Mario: Most of it is online lessons. As I mentioned earlier, the group piano classes, I’ve kind of focused most of my attention to my students here at the university and wanted to give them the best experience with having that online content that they can access whenever is, you know, convenient for them. But as far as online students, I did a lot before I was teaching here at the university, but then as I got a little bit busier than…didn’t have quite as many. I don’t know if you remember when Google had this Helpouts service that they offered for a while, and I actually, at my peak, had quite a number of online students that I had on a regular basis. Unfortunately that didn’t succeed or live up…

Tim: That didn’t keep that going, did they?

Mario: No, no, which is a shame because they had a really big opportunity as far as that’s concerned, and I met a lot of, you know, like really wonderful students there, and I still keep in contact with a couple of them here. But I only do some online masterclasses here and there. Just a couple… Earlier this year, I did an online masterclass with the Oklahoma Music Teachers Association. We actually did a technology where we connected these Yamaha Disklavier pianos online, and it was a really great experience and neat just to see those kids’ faces. Well…

Tim: Now, I saw this demonstrated for the first time, and it was pretty unbelievable. So tell us just quickly, for those who haven’t seen the Disklavier in action, what does this allow people to do?

Mario: Yeah. Well, what we have, for those viewers who aren’t familiar with the Yamaha Disklavier, it is the 21st century player piano here the keys up and down, but it’s all digital these days. So it has a built-in computer into it there. And what they’ve done is, or at least what…I shouldn’t say they, but there’s many people behind this whole process, is that they’ve taken that technology where you could record and play back your performances and do that in real-time by connecting the pianos with one another either through proprietary technology that’s built into the Yamaha Disklavier pianos. Or also there’s a third party application that I use called Internet MIDI that will connect any MIDI device regardless if it is a Yamaha Disklavier Player piano or if it’s just a digital piano that doesn’t have the keys move up and down. But essentially you’re playing each other’s instruments, which can overcome a lot of obstacles as far as loss in audio and/or video quality, and you get a much more faithful [inaudible [00:15:13] of a student’s performance when you have this Internet MIDI connection.

Tim: And so this means that if I had a piano next to me here connected to the Internet, but that’s a Disklavier, and if you had one there, if you played a note there, my key would move here and I would hear the sound that you’re making. And I’d see the pedal move, and I’d hear it exactly represented on my piano, right?

Mario: Exactly.

Tim: It’s just mind-blowing, and I’m sure what I might do is try and find…in the show notes, we’ll put a clip or two. I know there’s some on YouTube of this in action. It’s pretty fantastic, but I imagine this is another whole step because it’s probably quite an expensive outlay, is it, for a Disklavier piano?

Mario: Yeah, for the Disklavier piano, I mean, there’s different models of it there. You can go all the way up to the top of the line CFX, nine-foot concert grand piano that have some of these on there. But then, of course, there’s upright pianos, and then also I have a seven-foot DC6 piano, Yamaha Disklavier Pro piano, and it’s one of my favorite instruments to play, not just technology is concerned, but it just has a really good full sound to it as well there. But I have other instruments at home. I have one of those Yamaha NU1 Hybrid pianos, and that also is technology-capable. It has same wooden keys and action as you’d have on a U1 upright piano, but it doesn’t have any strings. So it’s all sampled from top of the line, nine-foot CFX concert grand piano.

Tim: And it doesn’t need tuning.

Mario: No, no, especially here in East Texas. I don’t know how the weather there is in Melbourne, but the humidity sometimes wreaks havoc on at least the room in my house, and it’s been great to not have to tune that particular instrument.

Tim: And so the instrument, even though it’s got a lot of technology in it, you can play it like a normal piano. It responds. It feels the same. You wouldn’t know that it’s got all that electronic gizmo trick, whatever it’s called, inside it, right?

Mario: Yeah. No, no. It’s really faithful. I mean, like the speakers on the NU1, I don’t think they went into as much detail as they have on their, let’s say, the AvantGrand series. I don’t know if you [inaudible [00:17:40].

Tim: The AvantGrands are amazing, yeah, I have to say. They’re pretty impressive pianos.

Mario: Yeah. The NU1, the speakers, are probably not on the same premium as those AvantGrand pianos there. But one of the really neat things that I love about that NU1 piano is that you can export it to digital audio file, a WAV file, and you can get really pristine recordings of it without any use of microphones or anything like that there. And I’ve actually made a couple of videos of my son playing for these online competitions recorded on that instrument, and he’s done really well on those online competitions on a “unbelievable…”

Tim: Digital upright piano.

Mario: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. That’s amazing though, the sounds that are coming out of them. Even the sounds coming out of…I really like the FP series of Roland Digitals, and they’ve got their super sound or whatever they call it. Put some headphones on, and you really are immersed in the most amazing quality sound. So it’s great. All right, let’s…you’ve touched on Internet MIDI. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Mario: Yeah, sure. No, Internet MIDI is this application that I’ve used for online lessons. This is if you want to give live online lessons over some type of video conferencing program, such as Skype, like what we’re doing here. But then what it does is instead of having just the audio transfer through microphone, through the different instruments because you’re not going to get the same kind of quality as you do, but you’re actually playing each other’s instruments. So then you can overcome some of those compromises that we make normally when giving online lessons here. It’s by a company called TimeWarp Technologies here in the United States, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with the developers on trying to improve on it there and for a lot of great students, and I’ve connected with a lot of students really well with it here.

Tim: Okay, so the advantage of this is that the sound that you hear isn’t coming through Skype. It’s actually going through a separate channel effectively. So you look at the person as we’re doing to each other, but when we play our instrument, it’s going directly through the Internet and coming out the other instrument. Is that right?

Mario: That’s correct. Yes.

Tim: Like I say, you avoid delay and things like that, too. Do you?

Mario: Well, I mean, that’s kind of the challenge that they found was that the Internet, or I should say the MIDI data traveling from one instrument to the other actually travels faster than the video and the audio of a video conference such as Skype or any other application such as FaceTime or anything like that. But so what they have to do is they have to intentionally… If you wanted to watch the video of the person playing and have it be in synchronization with the MIDI performance, they have to put an intentional delay on the MIDI data so then it doesn’t get there too fast. And your reality or your perception of the students’ performance or the teacher’s performance depending on which perspective this is, it looks like it’s in perfect synchronization. It has what’s called an automatic microphone muting that you can implement into the program so that you just check off that you want to automatically mute the microphones anytime any MIDI data is being sent so that whenever someone’s playing, then you don’t get this, you know, like feedback…

Tim: [inaudible [00:21:21] delayed feedback, yes.

Mario: Yeah, of like one audio source and then one MIDI source there, but then it’s just this one MIDI source that’s coming in and in perfect synchronization with the video, and it’s quite amazing on how they do that.

Tim: Yeah. Okay. So what do teachers need to use to get set up with that? If I wanted to teach online lessons and I want to try this Internet MIDI thing because I’ve heard that the delays in the sound is the thing that is often hardest about getting a good lesson, what do they need?

Mario: Well, number one, they would need a MIDI capable piano, and again, it could be an acoustic piano with MIDI capabilities like the Yamaha Disklavier, or it could be a digital piano, Roland, Casio, anything that has MIDI capabilities to it there that you would connect to your computer there. They don’t have it available for iPad or any mobile devices yet, so you do need a computer for it here, whether it be a Mac or Windows, and I believe…I don’t believe they have it for Android yet, but still…yeah, you do need the computer and a digital MIDI capable piano.

Tim: Okay. And so the piano connects to…so let’s say you’re using a MacBook, a laptop of some sort, the MIDI app goes into the USB, goes on to the laptop, the software, the Internet MIDI software goes on there. Hooks up in Skype somehow, does it? Or is it just run alongside?

Mario: Yeah, sure. Let me show you a little…yeah, you run both applications at the same time, both the Skype and Internet MIDI here. Let me see if I could pull up that Internet MIDI here. Sorry, I should have got this up…

Tim: That’s okay.

Mario: But [inaudible [00:23:24] MIDI here. And here’s…

Tim: I’ve got it now.

Mario: You got it there? Great. Actually, let me do…

Tim: So if I’m listening on iTunes, this could be…this is probably an episode you want to have a look on the video because Mario’s now sharing his screen. And I think he’s going to do that a little bit later, too, so you can actually see some of the software in action just so you know what’s going on while we stop talking.

Mario: Okay. So, yeah, this is the Internet MIDI interface here. As you can see…oops, I have to change one setting on my Disklavier. Hold on. And you can see that there’s a MIDI input device here, and that’s my Disklavier.

Tim: So that could just be a digital piano of some sort with MIDI?

Mario: Yeah, exactly. And whenever I play a key on my piano, now I can see that it’s showing on this online screen here. I can even push the pedals up and down there, so it’s viewing up there as well. Then there’s these different buttons up top here. This is the Internet connection view or the globe view, and just like we have screen names for like Skype and other applications, you create a buddy name. My name, if anyone ever wants to connect with me, is Mario. I got…

Tim: You got in early.

Mario: Yeah. And then you create a password, and then we do that here. You could also connect directly through IP addresses, but most people like to use the buddy system of just, you know, creating a buddy name and then you go to various people here. This is Pete Jutress [SP] from University of Georgia there. So if I wanted to connect with him, obviously he’s not online here, but if he was online, we would see this button be green.

Tim: Green. Yeah. Okay, and that technology, that just runs in the background, and then…so you get all that set up. You connect to each other, and then you go to your Skype, and you just, you start teaching your lesson effectively, right?

Mario: Yeah. That’s pretty much all there is it to it.

Tim: Wow. That’s pretty cool. That’s really, really cool. So this is called Internet MIDI. It’s by TimeWarp Tech. I think that’s right.

Mario: That’s correct.

Tim: Do you know approximately the price? Is it a one-off price, a subscription [inaudible [00:26:07]?

Mario: Yeah. It’s just a one-off price here. I believe it’s $69, and then there’s also a Classroom Maestro plug in that goes along with it. Well, I think you might have buy the Classroom Maestro as a separate plug in to work with it here. But I’ve used it mainly in my group piano lab, and that’s how they originally conceived Internet MIDI was at a group piano lab visualizer in order for you to, you know, show what the teacher’s playing at the front of the classroom there. They would play that there, and then show up both on the staff and also on the keyboard itself. So it helps save a lot of time there, but then I found that…they found out that it works just as great in an online environment as it does in a group piano class.

So I’ve used it a lot in my YouTube videos, just open-ended lessons for students there just to cover some basic fundamentals of piano, and then just some, maybe some basic core progressions that are commonly used in a lot of popular songs there. What’s kind of neat about it, it has an analysis view here, and it’s pretty easy. Just put a…type in a keyboard shortcut of A for analysis here. So then you can show different [inaudible [00:27:40] there. Just both mid G chord symbols, but then also you can do…oops, I’m in the wrong key signature. Oop, I mean, here we go.

Tim: Got it. It can do the Roman numeral style. Yep, yep. And can it have more than one…because whenever you play something, it disappears. Can it stay on the screen and can you do a series of five chords or something?

Mario: Yeah. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that there. Let me see. I think it’s chord progression mode, although I don’t know if it’s on this particular…I might have an older version here. Let me just double check. I might not have the most updated one, but they did have a newer version that does display multiple chords in sequence of one another so you can show the chord progression here as well. There’s even a scale mode. So then I can just push the capsule up key, and then I say, “All right, student, can you play…” Then. Oops, sorry. I activated my smart program here.

Tim: What was that?

Mario: That’s spoiling the party here. Sorry to…No, here we go.

Tim: No, that’s…

Mario: It’s supposed to be in a B major Ionian scale there.

Tim: Beautiful. Beautiful. So now people who are watching or listening, if you’re still listening, check it out, this is all showing up on screen. There’s a keyboard view and there’s a view on the stave, and it’s analyzing what he’s doing. So when he’s playing a chord, it’s actually telling you what chord it is. I think this could be brilliant for, as you say, not just online lessons but for group…anyone doing group lessons. Brilliant. Pop this on the screen at the front.

Mario: What I love about is I’ve been using this application probably for about 10 years now, and I’m still trying to discover like new scales and things like that there. I’m trying to…let me see if I can find a good one here. There we go. There’s the…

Tim: Okay, good.

Mario: If you ever wanted to teach the F [inaudible [00:29:52].

Tim: Brilliant. That’s great.

Mario: [inaudible [00:29:58] there.

Tim: So this software is called Classroom Maestro, and this is a separate application, so you don’t have to use it with Internet MIDI. You can use it on its own, right?

Mario: Mm-hmm.

Tim: Yep. And it’s also by TimeWarp Tech.

Mario: That is correct. Yeah. I mean, I’ve even…you know, the most basic modes they have are Note Mode, so if you wanted to drill just as kind of like quick flashcards here on note identification here, you know, it does that as well. So it has like a note mode, chord mode, scale mode, lots of really neat modes, and what’s kind of neat here is in Internet MIDI, what I’ve done with some students in the past there is when we’re working on building chords, you know, I ask them…you know, there’s my C major chord. And you don’t have the Internet MIDI application there. But let’s say you were on that end, I could ask them, “On your piano, could you play a note that would make it a dominant seventh chord?” and they could play one note on their end, and then it will add on to…so we both have the same access to the Classroom Maestro program.

Tim: Oh, okay. So you would see your notes light up and my note, whatever I add to it, and Classroom Maestro would then realize it’s a dominant seventh chord or whatever.

Mario: Yeah.

Tim: Wow. Fantastic. The technology is great. I mean, I use Classroom Maestro when I put together my piano flicks, my pop teaching training package, which was three or four years ago, and I just loved it. And lots of people ask me about it because it is such a great way to show people what’s actually going on on the piano. Now, there is another way to do that of course, and that’s with having lots of different cameras everywhere. So this could be a good little segue into some of the ways that you can use different cameras, right?

Mario: Oh yeah, absolutely, yeah. When I was doing a lot of the online teaching for Google Helpouts earlier there, one of the things that I think kind of made me one of the more popular online piano teachers was my kind of doing some things as far as with the online environment that I don’t think a lot of other piano teachers were doing. And one of those was with multiple camera angles here because one of my philosophies as far as giving online lessons is you want to try to do your best with the limited resources that you have to try to create an experience that is at least as good if not even better than what you would have in a face-to-face lesson here. And if I can find my CamTwist preferences here. Oops, where’s my…here’s my main window here. So I have a preset here, or let me do a screen sharing here of my…oops, hold on a second. Well, not bad.

Tim: Whoa. No, that’s cool.

Mario: That’s a little bit too trippy there. Sorry about that.

Tim: Okay. I can see your keyboard.

Mario: Now, here, yeah, I have an overhead camera of my…that I have mounted on… Well, it’s probably better that I do show you first, and I’m controlling this all in another application called CamTwist, and if you can’t see here, I have a Logitech web cam. You are seeing this, right?

Tim: Yes, I am. Yeah, yeah. Same camera that I’m looking at right now, too. But brilliant. Really good.

Mario: Yeah. It’s the Logitech C920 I think. There’s probably even better web cams out there, but it seems to do the trick for what I need to do is, and that’s just a secondary camera because I like having this kind of side view so that they can see, you know, like proper hand position, the side view as you would as if you had two pianos next to one another there. But then I like to also have the Logitech camera, and it’s on this Boom microphone stand, and then I don’t know if you could see above that there is just this adaptor that…ugh, I don’t even know what you call it there as far as…

Tim: Like a microphone clip camera adaptor or something?

Mario: Yeah. What it does, it has the threaded adaptor so that you can mount the Logitech camera or any video camera for that matter to that microphone stand. So I actually got this from some of my friends at Yamaha, who had done this for some of the concerts of some live broadcasts that they have done there, and I was wondering, “Hey, how do you get that awesome over the head shot there?”

Tim: Yeah. Without a whole lot of masking tape holding stuff together, right?

Mario: Yeah. So it’s not the most eloquent thing in the world here, but for the online lessons, it seem to work just fine here.

Tim: We’ll try and pop a link to where you can grab one of those into the show notes too.

Mario: And let me show. Now, with CamTwist what is great is…oops, let me get rid of one of those there. So now, I think you have two camera angles now.

Tim: Yeah, perfect. Wow, it looks really good. Looks really sharp.

Mario: So that way, if I’m demonstrating something at the piano, I can now let go. I can have the multiple camera angles there. So that it addresses the students who, do they need, you know… For some students it might be information overload, but I found that it kind of hits all cylinders here. You get the multiple angles of, you know, proper hand position and then also the correct fingering to go along with that there. If I wanted to go even further with that there, let me do one more…one of my other favorite camera angles, and that’s just to triple it up here. So then now I can do both the Classroom Maestro, the online keyboard, the staff, and all that. And then hopefully, you know, I don’t have to repeat something over and over again. I just need to…

Tim: Wow. That is really good.

Mario: [inaudible [00:36:50] if they missed it, then they can always rewind I guess.

Tim: Yeah. So we can now see on the screen the overhead view. We can see Mario from the side. We can see the stave and the keyboard, the digital keyboard with the notes sliding up. You know, as you say, I think you said earlier something about we should be making online lessons even more impressive than the in person lessons. Or at least as impressive, and I think this is the kind of thing that can go a step further because, of course, students can record the whole lesson pretty easily and come back to it over and over. Or a teacher could record a lesson that could then be shared to a whole number of students on a particular topic, and, you know, looking like that is just so professional and so clear. I think it’s brilliant.

Mario: Yeah, no, no. A lot of it is just, you know, I did it. Part of it was just a lot of my experimentation, again, with some of those initial YouTube videos that I had done back in the mid-2000s there just experimenting. And it was clunky on the way…how I had to record one angle and then record a different angle, and then show a screen capture of the chord progression on the staff and another one here. And now just kind of knock out these lessons, and it really cuts down the time and the tediousness of it here.

Tim: Yeah. Just to sort of summarize what we’ve got to, we’ve…to do what you’re doing now, we’ve had to buy a few things. We bought Internet MIDI, which is software, to connect the people over the Internet. We’ve got an application called Classroom Maestro. We’ve got a couple of web cams or maybe you’re using…the camera you’re facing now on the side, is that your in built web cam in the computer?

Mario: Yeah. That one’s just my built-in web cam or the FaceTime camera on my MacBook Pro, and then the one mounted above here, it’s the Logitech C920 web cam. It’s a little bit older, but still does the trick.

Tim: Yeah. Beautiful. And so you’ve really, you’ve actually only bought one web cam other than what’s already in your computer, and you’ve bought software to allow you to switch between the different views. In your case, you said CamTwist, and I’ve also heard of another one called Mini Cam. There’s probably others.

Mario: Yeah. In fact, CamTwist, I believe, is a free download.

Tim: Okay. Brilliant. Even better. And I think that’s it, right? And the microphone stand if you want to go, we’ll do all that.

Mario: [inaudible [00:39:37] yeah, improve the microphone. Right now I’m using the built-in microphone on my MacBook Pro, but if you don’t think that this audio quality is suitable for you, you know, I’m sure you have a lot of wonderful microphones that you could probably recommend.

Tim: Yeah, I got this one in front of me, which you can see on my screen now. That’s what I use for the podcasting, but it looks, it sounds perfectly clear where you are.

Mario: Really?

Tim: Yeah. And so the only other thing was the actual microphone stand that holds the web cam over the top. Amazon would be what? I mean, I can say that one looks pretty sturdy. It looks like a pretty strong one.

Mario: Yeah. This one is called On-Stage Stands. It’s sold by I think a company here in the United States, Sweetwater Music. I think they were the ones that I got that, and there was also a little adaptor that I needed to purchase, and I think I also got that from Sweetwater Music. I can send you the links to those if you want to share.

Tim: Yeah. We’ll put them in the show notes. And I’m sure Amazon…you know, people in Australia, for example, it’s much easier often buying on somewhere like Amazon, say. We’ll find some links and we’ll put them in the show notes page. That is just such a great summary of what is possible, because in the first session in this series, episode 52 with Melody Payne, we really talked about how you can start simply. So, Mario, you’ve just taken it to the next level of actually what is possible without too much expense. And while it might probably take some time to get your head around how it all works in getting the screen set up, I imagine with a little bit of experience, it wouldn’t be that hard.

Mario: No, no. There’s going to be a lot of…you know, that’s one thing that teachers have to keep in mind. Just like when you’re learning a new piece, you’re going to mess up here, and you’re going to make mistakes, and things are going to feel a little bit frustrating there. But, you know, you have to approach it just the way that you have all your students and yourself approaching learning some new music here is you just got to keep working at it there until you find that sweet spot where you’re comfortable working in this particular type of environment here.

Tim: Okay. So I want to kind of start wrapping up soon, but it might be worth talking about a new score reading app that I know you’ve been involved in the development of, and that’s Super Score. Is it worth just telling, just mentioning quickly sort of what that’s about so that people could find out more if they’re interested?

Mario: Yeah, sure. What it is, it’s a digital music reading app. It uses the music XML format as how it displays the music notation. So a lot of it is initially proprietary, and you buy the music within the app here. There’s a lot of composers and authors that have jumped the board on early here. [inaudible [00:42:40], sorry. I don’t have like a fancy screen sharing for this.

Tim: [inaudible [00:42:44] say that.

Mario: The Funky Beat by Bradley Sowash who I know you’re quite familiar with here.

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Mario: And again, what is unique about the Super Score format as opposed to PDFs, you know, when you pinch and zoom on a PDF file there, then you just kind of zoom in on that particular measure here. What the Super Score does pretty neatly is that if I zoom in, it will redraw the screen in such a way to optimize the screen, whether it be, you know, like landscape view or portrait view as well here. And what’s different about it is that it takes all that information just like slurs and chord symbols and redraws it in a really slick quick fashion that makes it easy on the eyes particularly, [inaudible [00:43:48] so whatever the eyes there. And since this is music XML data, what they also have is certain pieces like this, by Bradley Sowash, has like MIDI data incorporated with it so that you could actually play in synchronization with a backing track along with it, and it will even turn pages along with you.

And if you have it hooked up to a MIDI capable piano like the one that I have here, then we can actually play in synchronization. It will follow the students playing so that when they speed up or slow down, then it will speed up and slow down. So it’s kind of this interactive score, and just like the name of the application says, it’s not just a score, it’s a Super Score.

Tim: Super Score. And then I remember that was one of the features of Home Concert Xtreme, that follow mode, which I thought was incredibly clever, and Home Concert Xtreme was another play along effectively app that listened to what you were doing. So now this is just taking that to another level in many ways.

Mario: Exactly. I think what you’re eventually going to see is eventually does two applications merge with one another. I still use Home Concert Xtreme extensively with my students here. The thing about Super Score is that instead of it taking MIDI data, it’s taking like data from music XML files, ones that are generated through notation programs such as Finale, Sibelius, and other notation programs so that it looks much more eloquently on screen than it does on Home Concert Xtreme. Which Home Concert Xtreme does probably the best job that any application can do on taking MIDI data and making it into music notation here, but here composers and publishers have much more control over what they can show on the screen as well here.

Tim: It’s a great looking score. Are you able to demonstrate just like how the actual play along thing works, or is it not set up for that at the moment?

Mario: Yeah, sure. I can show that. [inaudible [00:45:53]. If you got time for it there, and if you don’t mind indulging one of my little kids here to help demonstrate it here.

Tim: Yeah. Let’s do it. It’s only a few minutes, isn’t it?

Mario: Okay. So we’ll do this Funky Beat here by Bradley Sowash here, and what I’ll do here, let me just make sure my MIDI is setup correctly here because it was connected to the computer a second ago. I have to make one quick change here.

Tim: Who’s performing today?

Mario: Oh, well, I got Olivia here.

Tim: Awesome.

Mario: And Olivia…

Tim: Who I met when she was half the size. Hello, Olivia. How are you?

Olivia: Good.

Tim: Lovely to see you. Thanks for helping us out today.

Mario: Sure. So what’s kind of neat here, one thing that you’ll notice, Tim, here by the way is there’s no wires involved here. It’s all wireless. On the Disklavier piano, I have actually a Bluetooth MIDI interface, and that’s been one of the challenges as far as MIDI is concerned is you have to have all these interfaces and wires here. And there’s this one by, I believe it’s a Japanese company, Kwiko [SP], that a friend of mine gifted to me. And I got the chance to try it out, and it works quite amazingly where you would think there would be some latency or at least noticeable latency involved, but I don’t notice it when we’re connected here. So, Olivia, could you show Tim how we get into the Bluetooth MIDI here? Can you first get us out of full screen here? So easy a seven-year old can do it.

Tim: Very intelligent seven-year old though.

Mario: You go to the gear box, and she’s going to…I’m going to narrate this here. It says “Add Bluetooth MIDI device,” and it recognizes the M1 Kwiko device and she’s going to…does it say connected or…?

Olivia: Connected.

Mario: Oh, it is already connected there. Okay, so then I guess we’re already connected then. So let’s do that there, and do we have the M1 Bluetooth selected? Yes, it’s already selected. So go ahead and click done. All right. Now, at the bottom…oops, I’m going to see if I can do this [inaudible [00:48:26]. See, it’s put on jam mode. We’re just going to do the jam mode here. And what it’s going to do, it’s going to activate. All the sounds that you’re going to hear are not coming from the iPad. It’s actually coming from the Disklavier’s internal tone generator. So it’s, again, no wires connected here.

Tim: So if you didn’t have the Disklavier, would the backing track sounds come out of the iPad in that case?

Mario: You could set it up to do either. You could have it either through the iPad itself, or if you have a digital piano, it doesn’t have to be a Disklavier. It could be some other digital piano. As long as it has general MIDI capabilities and a general MIDI bank of sounds, then it can play back some of these tracks like Bradley Sowash has created for this Funky Beat here. And I don’t know if you could see it on your screen here. There’s like a little green cursor that kind of goes along on the screen that shows where she’s at here, and let me go through two different camera angles here so you get the full effect here. Oops. There’s my…switch over to…oops. Too much information here. There we go. Okay, Olivia, Funky Beat by Bradley Sowash. [music]

Tim: Yeah. Nice playing, Olivia. That was really great. Thank you so much. Take a bow. [inaudible [00:51:18] Thank you.

Mario: [inaudible [00:51:22] Thanks, Olivia.

Tim: That’s awesome. Thanks, Mario, that’s great. Really, really cool. And then we could hear the backing track and everything. So I’ll make sure Bradley gets to see that and give his stamp of approval as I know he will. That’s brilliant. Thank you so much for showing all this stuff in action. It’s great just to see how far this technology has come, and some of those options that are out there for teachers who want to go and take it a step up from just, “Let’s Skype,” to, “Well, here’s what you can actually do.” And that’s exactly what I hoped you would show us, so thank you so much.

I thought I’d finish with just the last couple of questions quickly. Do you have just a couple of tips for making online teaching successful, leaving aside the technology so much perhaps? Are there a few ways of approaching your actual teaching that can really help that you’ve learned?

Mario: Yeah. I mean, as far as on the technical side, I tried to tell teachers to try to eliminate as many variables of things that could potentially go wrong. I’m kind of doing the exact opposite.

Tim: Yeah. I know. I was going to say, you know, don’t do this at home.

Mario: [inaudible [00:52:27]

Tim: Mario is a professional.

Mario: But, no. To be honest here, you know, it’s taken quite a number of years just to kind of figure out, oh, yeah, well, this could work with this. Oh, well, this could work with that there. But at the same time, you know, when you’re dealing with a live online lesson, we’re dealing with…you know, there’s a greater risk of something could potentially go wrong as far as like a bad connection. So try to eliminate as many variables or at least control for as many variables as you possibly can, the way… I know it’s not…well, maybe it is easy for us to kind of connect with one another here from United States to Australia here. But, you know, I want to make sure that this works here so then I make sure that I’m on the best Internet connection possible, got off of the Wi-Fi, went to the hardwired Internet, which is much more reliable here, and hopefully it’s come across nice and crystal clear on your end here.

And the same thing here as far as like when you’re trying to set up a lesson there, try to eliminate as many variables as you can there. And as I mentioned earlier, try to handle…you know, take on what you can handle at first there, and then reevaluate after a particular lesson. You know, like, “Oh, I wish the audio was better here. Well, let me see if I could, you know, get a new microphone.” “Oh, I wish I had a better video quality. Let’s see if we can add a camera here.” Or, “Oh, I wish I could have seen the student’s hands. Well see if the student can get that, you know, like overhead cam there that might make the experience better.” So it’s a continually evolving process, and if there’s any…you know, like if you’re a true professional teacher, then I think we already have kind of like in our DNA what it takes to succeed in these particular endeavors, and that’s just kind of continually working at it and reevaluating and keep plugging away at it.

Tim: And if you happen to be listening to this episode before episode 52, then maybe listen to episode 52, which was real…the slightly simpler approach to actually teaching online. So try that one, and then when you’re ready to step up, definitely try all these things. So we’re going to put links in the show notes to all of the things we’ve been talking about today. Last question, what’s one piece of tech you couldn’t live without and why?

Mario: Oh, wow. I mean, if you asked me this like maybe 10 or maybe even just 5 years ago, I would say definitely my notebook computer. I’ve kind of moved away from desktop computers. I don’t think I’ve owned a desktop computer in maybe 10 or 15 years.

Tim: Don’t know if they’re making them anymore, are they?

Mario: No, I think they got them there around there, but I usually find that it’s my bread and butter and able to handle all these different types of applications. You know, there’s some really great things emerging with mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones and wonderful applications as far as that’s concerned. But, you know, with doing all these online video editing, and working with smart accompaniments, and creating online lessons, and lesson planning for my group piano classes, my notebook computer or my MacBook Pro computer still is my workhorse and gets things done there. But those times are a-changing here. You know, I took a trip to Europe and I didn’t think I could leave home without my computer to go to Europe there, but I took the plunge without it there, but then I did take an iPad.

Tim: You made it…oh, you took the iPad. Yeah.

Mario: So, I was at least able to feel some sort of connection with people there, with that there, but…and that might change, yeah, still within 5 or 10 years. Maybe this iPad Pro that I just got a couple of months ago is really amazing piece of technology here, and I could see that in, you know, like in maybe a few years, it could potentially be a replacement for my computer. I know it is for a lot of users, and that’s perfectly fine there, but, yeah, this is the main piece of technology. Although I love playing with a whole bunch of toys here as you can see.

Tim: We know. Yeah, absolutely. Well, look, I think we’re going to sign off there. Thank you so much for your time, Mario. It’s been brilliant to catch up with you, and it’s also been brilliant to learn from you. Really appreciate it.

Mario: Yeah, sure. It’s been great pleasure here. Thanks a lot, Tim.

Tim: All right. We’ll catch you again really soon. See you later.

Mario: Okay, bye.

Tim: Bye.

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About the Author

Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at timtopham.com and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.