TTTV055: Cultural Difference in Online Teaching with Sarah Lyngra - Creative Music Education
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TTTV055: Cultural Difference in Online Teaching with Sarah Lyngra

By Tim Topham | Online Teaching

Aug 26

online teaching

Have you thought about teaching students via Skype who are overseas? Imagine being able to teach students when you can’t teach students in your own studio, ie during school, early morning or late in the evening. Teaching overseas students does come with some important things to think about. Sarah gives us some great food for thought in this episode explaining that we have to think outside our own cultural experiences and be aware of the cultural differences of other nationalities and religions.

As well as cultural differences you’ll need to think about:

  • Time zones – what time is it where your students are? And how to time table table that. Try using World Time Buddy to work out times when you and your potential student are available.
  • Holiday times in the other country. Be aware that some countries don’t celebrate Christian holidays, so you’ll need to ask your student for their vacation and holiday timetable in advance.
  • Christmas Carols and other holidays songs – remember overseas students may not be Christians, so they may not celebrate Christmas. Be aware of this, to avoid cultural issues.

Using Internet MIDI see Episode 53 and for other beginner tech ideas relook at Episode 52. Here’s a great video of how Internet MIDI works:

Sarah Lyngra’s extraordinary jouney across many continents will give you some great ideas on how to start your own Skype teaching program. More information is available from her website: www.teachpianoonline.com.

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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

  • How Sarah got started with online teaching.
  • How to get students for online lessons from overseas
  • How to make sure the resources you need are available
  • How to be culturally aware

Links Mentioned

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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!

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Full Transcript

Tim: All right, Sarah, welcome to the show today. Great to have you on it.

Sarah: Thank you.

Tim: Now, before we get started, I think you better tell everyone a little bit about your piano teaching adventures and your life adventures from the last few years. You’ve had some pretty amazing experiences overseas. And this is all gonna be connected to our concept of online teaching, but yeah, give us the rundown.

Sarah: Well, I actually moved overseas about 20 years ago, and I spent 5 years in Copenhagen. And that’s where I learned that the market for English-speaking piano teachers when you’re working overseas was pretty big, so I taught piano lessons in Copenhagen to an international crowd. And then from there, my husband and I…my husband’s Norwegian, and we’ve never actually lived as a married couple in the United States…moved to Saudi Arabia. And this was right after September 11th, and so things were quite a bit different then, before and after, than they are now. And the majority of my clients initially… I met a piano teacher who was going back to work, so I got her clients. And then over time, there aren’t very many piano teachers in Saudi Arabia. They don’t have a music curriculum. You can’t get visas for music teachers. They don’t teach music in the schools. And so the longer I was there, the more local clientele I had, as word got out, the more adult students that I had. We were also involved in clandestine music concerts with artists all over the world.

And the international expat community is quite a bit different than teaching in a local community because you’re not just teaching Americans. You’re teaching people from pretty much every continent except Antarctica. Even though everybody I taught had at least one parent with a college education, quite a few of the people I taught, this was the first time that they ever had private music lessons. And in Saudi Arabia, a lot of the local students didn’t have…well, they didn’t have music education…but they didn’t have the background of you go to your lessons, you practice, and then the delayed gratification of practicing and then having recitals. And then we had also a wide variety of religious backgrounds, and it was just completely different than what you normally see when you’re teaching in a rural community in the United States.

Tim: Oh, absolutely. I can’t even comprehend what it would be like to live in somewhere like Saudi Arabia. I think it’d be amazing. It’d be fascinating. It’d be a huge culture shock, I would guess. So when you were living over there, you’re talking the expat community. So that’s international people living in Saudi Arabia, and you said there’s pretty much people from every continent there. So you were giving live one-on-one, personal piano lessons while you were there, as well as online piano lessons. Is that right?

Sarah: Yes. Well, actually I was giving online lessons to students in the United States because I had some here. I was giving online occasionally to students in Saudi Arabia because women can’t drive there and driving can be kind of dangerous. And so some of my students had to commute, and when they couldn’t get a driver, then I would give them a Skype lesson. And then one of my trips back to the United States, I got an infection that prevented me from flying for a few months, and so I started teaching my students in Saudi Arabia from the United States to keep them going because I couldn’t travel.

Tim: Yeah. Well, talk about giving you flexibility, right?

Sarah: Yes, yeah. And it’s one of the things, I think, that teachers don’t think about because, like, let’s say you are going through chemotherapy, for example, you feel well enough to teach, but you can’t be exposed to other students. And so having Skype lessons as an alternative gives you the ability to continue teaching your students without exposing yourself to risk. Or if your students are sick or if you’re sick, then it’s a really good vehicle for that kind of teaching.

Tim: And in Saudi Arabia, piano lessons weren’t really common and music education isn’t in schools, how do people get pianos? Are there piano sellers?

Sarah: Well, there are. But you know when you go to a show room in the United States, you choose the piano, and then they have a bunch of movers who move them in the tuning community. In Saudi, it’s kind of like you shop from a catalog and they ship it in. And when we first got there, it was right around the time of the Second Gulf War. I was teaching group lessons because there weren’t many teachers. I had ordered a whole bunch of electronic pianos, and they got delayed because the shippers didn’t wanna go into the Gulf until it calmed a little bit.

Tim: Oh.

Sarah: So you had to wait for getting whatever you were gonna get at that point. The tuning, tuning is not a profession that you have in Saudi Arabia, so tuning acoustic instruments was quite challenging for a lot of people. And one of the tuners was deaf, and he wasn’t telling his clients. So the clients didn’t hear it, and so you could go over to their pianos and you would know that it was tuned by this particular gentleman, who had access to this fabulous group of, you know, Saudis who had pianos. And also, in Saudi Arabia, the music that’s often played is played on an oud, which is kind of like a lute, and it’s not fretted. And they use quarter tones, and so what sounds out of tune to a Westerner doesn’t necessarily sound out of tune to a Middle Easterner.

Tim: Wow. I mean, there are just so many things going against you, even living in the country.

Sarah: Yes, but [inaudible [00:05:39] going for you because there’s a real desire for people to learn musical instruments, and so when they find out you’re a piano teacher… I didn’t advertise. I stopped doing a waiting list because it became overwhelming.

Tim: Wow. I think I could talk to you and ask you so many more questions about Saudi Arabia, but that isn’t the focus of today, although it kind of is.

Sarah: Yeah.

Tim: What I wanna talk about is how you went about the online teaching. And as you know, we’ve had a number of guests on this month who have talked about the technology and things like that, so we can cover that just basically in regard to what you use and what you’ve seen work. But I think one of the most important things we can talk about with your experience is cultural difference. And so while the first few podcasts of this month have talked about, you know, what to do when it’s a snowy day and if you’re not too well teaching your local kids or teaching kids in your same country.

But you’ve got some experience now of teaching in other countries. So what are some of the factors that we haven’t really explored in regard to this cultural difference and things you’ve gotta keep in mind?

Sarah: Okay, so one of the big cultural differences that I see is that, you know, particularly in the United States, in December, everybody does Christmas recitals. And you know, Christmas music is big. The piano [inaudible [00:07:00] all have their Christmas versions of it. Now, when I got to Copenhagen, I was so excited because my favorite Christmas music was actually provincial French carols. We lived down the street from the French school, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh! I’ve got French students, this’ll be their music, and I’ll really make a connection with them.” And caroling is not a tradition in modern day France, and none of my students knew carols. And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” So I had to kind of change my American “This is a great thing” to more European style of teaching.

So then when we got to Saudi Arabia, well, Saudis don’t celebrate Christmas. They have Ramadan and Hajj and they have their Eids, and they are not tied to December. They move around through the year. And Christmas is a Christian religious holiday, so my ideas of, “Oh, Christmas music” just totally [inaudible [00:07:55]. And so you see a lot of people doing Christmas recitals in the United States, and some teachers sometimes get a little upset that their students don’t wanna do Christmas music, or their students don’t wanna do this kind of music. Or they don’t even wanna be involved with that particular recital because it goes against their religious beliefs, which is totally fine.

And I think, when you start teaching overseas, it’s not your culture that really matters, it’s the culture of your students. So you don’t teach “Silent Night” to Muslim students unless they are okay with it, you know. You always wanna get consent about the music that you’re teaching, particularly if it has a religious bent. “Jingle Bells” is universal, so it seems like you could teach “Jingle Bells” and the secular carols very easily. You know, even “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is very popular because I think “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Silent Night” are universal. Everybody knows them.

Tim: They’re almost folk tunes, aren’t they, sort of thing?

Sarah: Yeah. “Happy Birthday” is generally okay, but again, there are a few people that don’t do birthday things. So you don’t do birthday stuff. And so I think, the majority of students wanna learn how to play the piano because they wanna learn how to play songs and songs that relate to their culture. And if you give them songs that relate to your own culture, then that’s not really what they’re looking for.

Another thing that I found was really interesting is, in the Middle East, there’s a Lebanese singer named Fairuz. And she’s like the person that everybody in the Middle East, whether you’re Saudi Arabian or… There’s also an Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. And these women are iconic, and so you might have a lot of resistance in Middle Eastern culture to taking piano lessons, particularly if they’re Western piano lessons. But I found that, if I could make some arrangements of some of these Middle Eastern songs that are universal, it was no longer about taking piano lessons. They were learning how to play Fairuz, and that was huge.

And you know, my adult students, I have Saudi adult students, and in the beginning, they were like, “Oh, I don’t wanna learn this. This is what my parents listen to” or “This is, you know, baby music or whatever.” But what they found is that, when they went home and they played that, it legitimized their own lessons. Because that’s another interesting cultural thing. If you’re coming from a culture that doesn’t celebrate music, doesn’t teach music in the school, and then there’s some political reasons why music is not really up there, you don’t have people saying, “Oh, my son is doing this,” you know, getting everybody around the piano to show them off. So they’re not getting a lot of support from home. There’s not like, “Oh, great. This piano student is doing wonderfully at home.” They have to kind of be self-starters.

Interestingly, though, the Lebanese are very culturally in tune, and you get students’ parents who say, “I want my kid to play the Für Elise.” And so they’re not taking piano lessons, they’re learning how to play the Für Elise. And I’ve seen this happen over and over and over again, where the kid learns a little bit of the Für Elise, often not very well, and they get dragged out for the family, “This is my prodigious student, and here they’re playing the Für Elise.” So the Lebanese are a little different than the Saudis and some of the others.

But you have to keep that in mind, that they may not be getting tremendous support at home, they don’t have that you’ve gotta do your piano practice at home, and they’re not getting support from their friends. I have students who didn’t even tell their parents they were taking piano lessons because they were raised religiously, so you just don’t do that. And so it’s kind of like this secret life that you’re leading when you teach piano lessons. It’s not really broadcast.

Tim: So there’s obviously some challenges in regard to the cultural aspects, but by no means insurmountable.

Sarah: Oh, no.

Tim: What are some of the advantages of going outside your own country for online teaching then?

Sarah: Oh, well, I think there’s a huge demand, as I said, for English-speaking piano teachers in countries outside of the United States. In fact…

Tim: And why do you say that? How have you found that to be the case?

Sarah: So like, for example, in Saudi Arabia it’s difficult to get a visa to work in Saudi Arabia, and certainly to get a visa for a music teacher is just unheard of.

Tim: Okay.

Sarah: So you wouldn’t go there specifically to work. So I was over there because my husband had a job, and so I happened to be a piano teacher and I was coming over so I knew what I was doing. A lot of the teachers who are over there are people who know how to play the piano who get asked, “Can you teach my kid?” I mean, there was such a demand that, at various points, I had between 15 and 70 students, and when I left, I had 18 teenagers. And what I did was I started a teenage mentorship program where I had the teenagers take on the five and six-year-olds. And so in my whole studio, there were probably 100, 120 students, because between all of the teenagers, my students, and so on… Because that’s what you had to do.

Tim: Wow.

Sarah: Because I think you have an opportunity, when you’re teaching the very young ones, but it seemed like my time was better spent in coaching and mentoring and teaching more advanced students. And so it was fabulous. I mean, teenagers… They did a better job with their student because by that time I had learned on them, that I had done with them when they were at the same age. Because I had been teaching in Saudi Arabia for 15 years, and I had quite a few students who had been with me from the time that I started. Now they’re off in boarding schools or college.

Tim: Yeah. And now you’re back in the States now, right?

Sarah: Yes. I’m in Washington State on the West Coast.

Tim: And you’re continuing to teach some of those students who are in Saudi Arabia online, is that right?

Sarah: Well, I plan on teaching only students online in Saudi Arabia or in other overseas countries because, again, it’s easy for Americans to find…Americans can find music teachers anywhere, and they also have the culture to go out and look for music teachers. So a lot of the students in Saudi Arabia were taking Skype lessons for, you know, other instruments, so I feel like I’m doing more of a service to the international expat communities over there than I would be over here. Plus, you’ve got time zone issues, right?

So when you’re teaching in your local community, piano teachers have really terrible hours. You have to be teaching at the time that your students are home from school, right? Because you can’t teach in the mornings, or you have to teach certain kinds of clientele during those times. And so if you have children yourself, then you have to make a compromise between are you gonna be with other people’s children or your own children?

So Saudi Arabia, right now, has 11 hours time difference apart, or no, 10, and then you’ve got Daylight Savings. Saudi doesn’t have it, but we have it here, so it’ll be 11 in winter. So I can teach in the mornings and then have normal afternoons. It is a little early in the morning. My first student will be around 6:15 a.m. here, but I’m a morning person, anyway. So that’s not a big issue.

So if you were on the West Coast and you teach East Coast students, you have the morning where you work and then you have an afternoon where you’re home with your kids. Or if you’re teaching European students or whatever, you can make that time zone difference really work for you.

Tim: Absolutely. And I mean, the biggest time of the day when piano teachers are often not busy, when they could be teaching, is during the middle of their day. So to find somewhere in the world, where students that’s their after school time, that would be perfect.

Sarah: Yep, yep. There is also the coolness factor. Because, you know, I know you have Mario Ajero on, and he was talking about Internet MIDI. And I’ve been using Internet MIDI and have known George and Mario and all of the whole Internet MIDI group for, I don’t know, maybe 10 years or so. And there is nothing cooler than connecting your piano in Saudi Arabia and then playing your student’s piano on the West Coast or vice versa. There’s just something that’s unbelievably awesome about being able to be half a world away and actually play the other instrument.

Because when we first came over, we had dial-up Internet connections, and this wouldn’t have been possible.

Tim: Yeah, that’s right.

Sarah: I have a small publishing thing. When I started, you couldn’t do digital downloads, and, you know, shipping and storing and printing and producing, it’s quite expensive and it requires logistics. And it would’ve been totally impossible to do digital downloads even five years ago. And then you’ve got companies like Musicnotes, and it’s so much easier to have access to legitimate music than it was just 10 years ago. So getting materials overseas is much easier, and then, as I said, there’s this coolness factor. And also I really love my students and I love teaching, so it’s very fun.

Tim: If you’re listening, wondering what we were talking about just a moment ago with Internet MIDI, Episode #53, I was talking to Mario Ajero about some of the high-tech things you can do with your piano teaching online. So do check that out, timtopham.com/episode53.

So we’ve talked about, you know, time zones and things like that. Let’s say you’re in America, and you’d really like to teach someone in, I don’t know, Europe or somewhere like that. How do you actually go about being found in these other countries? You say there’s a big need for it, but how do you get yourself out there?

Sarah: Okay, so I think the way you get yourself out there is similar to the way I got myself out there in Copenhagen, and that was… All of these countries have expat communities, so most European countries will have them, Middle Eastern countries, even Asia and Africa, will have groups and organizations for expat women. And so when I started my teaching studio in Copenhagen, I advertised in the American women’s group in Copenhagen. And so they have little magazines and brochures and stuff, and you can find those. I mean, again, at the time, it was like a printed thing that’s been folded in half and stapled together with your address handwritten in, and it was mailed. And now you can go onto Facebook groups and online groups and you can put yourself out there as an Internet teacher that teaches, and then you can look for specific clientele.

I also take online lessons, and my piano teacher Dave Frank is a jazz improv guy in New York City. And he teaches all over the world, and he put little videos of his jazz improv stuff out. And that attracted people to him, and then through that, he got his online teaching. And he’s also taught students in the Middle East. He thought it was wild that he was teaching me over there. But he had students in Syria and Singapore and whatever.

And so once you start getting into this international online business, you’ll find that, you know, in the West, you’re quite spoiled and it’s easy to find that stuff. But when you’re over in Africa or Asia or the Middle East, it’s not as easy to find the kind of teaching. And also there are so many different things that people specialize in, like Dave is a specialist in jazz improv, and there aren’t that many jazz improv teachers. So I’m gonna continue taking lessons with him because I wouldn’t be able to find that locally. And so if you are a niche market teacher who teaches one specific area, then you have the ability to find that niche in whatever country you’re looking for.

Tim: Great tips, Sarah. So finding the expat community, finding the American or the Australian teacher or the international school or whatever it is in those countries…

Sarah: Exactly.

Tim: …and therefore making connections with our English-speaking and people potentially looking for lessons, I think that’s a great way to go about it. But I think you’re right. Having an online presence, having videos of you teaching, and obviously a good website and things is probably just as crucial.

Sarah: Yeah, because you wanna have people directed to you. Another thing, too, …because I’ve been watching, this is the area that interests me, so I listen to your podcasts, and I’ve been following other teachers…is a lot of the times, the teachers are thinking about, “How am I gonna get this? How am I gonna find students? How am I gonna do these kinds of things?” Instead of just thinking about, “How is it gonna benefit me?” really figure out how you can have the most awesome online teaching experience you possibly can have. Because, you know, that’s how you don’t get one student. That’s how you get lots of students because word of mouth is the best way to get that kind of thing.

And if you think about it, you can only teach a certain number of students, so before you even start going online, you have to decide, “How many students am I actually looking for?” If you don’t even address the question, then you get overwhelmed because there’s so many different things that you need to do. But if you narrow it down to, say, “Gee, I think I can manage 10 students,” then 10 students on this planet who are a match for you, that’s quite easy to find. But if you’re not thinking in terms of that, you’re thinking, “Oh, I feel so overwhelmed because I’m gonna try here and here and here and here.” You’ll get overwhelmed, but it’s not as difficult because all you need is one student who loves you. And then they have a brother, and so the parents are gonna love you. And then they have friends, and then pretty soon you’ve got your studio and you’ll be turning people away.

Tim: So we’ve talked about some of the benefits in regard to time zones and scheduling. Are there any negatives you’ve found, any things to really consider before you go into online teaching?

Sarah: Well, I mean, there’s the negative of 6:15 a.m. Depending on where your students are, you have to be prepared for that. I think everybody has experienced crappy Internet, I mean, bad Internet connections.

Tim: You’re fine.

Sarah: Where you get disconnected or delays or whatever. And I know that one or two of your clients, or your interviews earlier had said about having wired connections, rather than using wireless. And then the other thing, too, is that, you know, you gotta think that, when you look in the mirror, that’s your tech support. And when you look in the mirror, not only is that your tech support, but that could be your student’s tech support. So your students are often initially gonna be just as confused about how to get everything connected as you are, and what works in one country may or may not work in another.

So for example, some governments don’t care for Skype, and some of their telecoms don’t care for Skype because Skype is free, so it’s undermining their business. And so if you’re only comfortable with Skype and your students can’t get it, then you’re gonna have to think about FaceTime or Hangouts, or Facebook Messenger now has a video thing. And then I’m experimenting with a couple of alternatives. You know, I have a Beam. It’s way cooler than I thought it would be. It was a Kickstarter program for a few years ago, and I only pulled it out of the box this summer. My husband is still in Saudi Arabia. He’s been doing communing. And it’s this robotic thing that you…

Tim: It’s a robot, isn’t it? I’ve looked at it online when you mentioned it to me. It looked crazy.

Sarah: It’s a remotely-controlled robot where my husband in Saudi Arabia drives it around my house. He’s the one with the controls. And the reason why I wanted to investigate something like this is because it’s not on the Skype network, you know. It’s on the Beam network. And so if a country’s blocking one thing or another, for them to go after Beam, it’s ridiculous. It’s just a small company.

I’m also looking at security cameras, because if you get security cameras, well, you know, you can check on your dog when you’re off doing stuff and you’re doing it wirelessly. And so I was thinking, well, what if you got a security camera and just gave your students the code to that thing so that they could connect everything to the security camera. And looking at them, I haven’t actually bought them yet, but they have really good cameras, and a lot of them have audio as well. And so I thought, well, if you’re gonna have problems with Skype, you can go off into these little weird things.

Tim: So just to confirm, you’re suggesting, you know, putting one of those security cameras over the piano and they could link in with it somehow?

Sarah: Exactly.

Tim: You’re just thinking of alternates and options. Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. And I’m very fortunate because I tell my students that we’re the piano science learning laboratory, and so we’re gonna try things. And some things are gonna be awesome, and we’re gonna be like, “Oh, my gosh. I couldn’t believe it was that cool.” And other things, we’re gonna be like, “Oh, that was really bad.”

Tim: Which is great. Look, I love experimenting, and I think one of the things you’ve gotta be, when you’re doing online lessons, you’ve gotta be flexible, you’ve gotta be ready to change, you’ve gotta be open to laughing at yourself. You’ve gotta be open to going, “You know what, this isn’t working.”

Sarah: Yeah. And you have to convey that to your students, you know. Like when something goes wrong, your students have to have the similar, you know… And I think one of the things that you can do, when you’re teaching online, is set it up. Like there might be 1 lesson out of 20 that’s gonna be really awful, that we’re gonna spend the whole time connecting and disconnecting and it’s just gonna be frustrating. And that’s just part of it. You know, you kinda plan for that, and then when it happens, you kinda keep an eye on, “Well, why did it happen, and how can I avoid that in the future?” And then, as I said, online piano teaching science laboratory, anything that we do here can be shared with others because it’s such a cool thing to do, and there are so many students and so many people who want it.

For example, I found that sometimes, you know, you get this delay, or you’ve got wonky sounds. Because some students have acoustic pianos, and you can’t use Internet MIDI the same way. So the quickest, easiest, cheapest way to check your Internet connection that’s as low-tech as you can get is the metronome. You have your students set a metronome for 60 beats a minute, and then you can look at a clock and see how delayed or how even the thing is. Because sometimes you can’t tell whether it’s your student who’s off or whether it’s the connection. And so, you know, just by teaching for a while.

And then I teach my brother’s kids, and I was telling him today that I’m so thankful I’ve been teaching them because every problem that you could possibly experience from online teaching has happened with them. You know, like materials, we had to send stuff over the Internet. My brother didn’t print them out in time, and you’ve spent the whole lesson waiting for stuff to print out, and then it’s over.

Or pens, you never want pens anywhere near the piano, because if the kid writes on the music, you know, in pen and it’s wrong, then particularly younger kids, they take the eraser and they go like this and then hold it up for you. And there’s holes in your music, and you turn it over [inaudible [00:28:01]. And then they have to print it out again, and it takes forever, you know. So I have a whole list of workarounds on that.

The music that you use is actually quite important online, because if you can’t point, your students have to be the ones who are writing and everything. And a lot of music is really compressed, and so you want to have… Like I said, there are so many things that… Because I’ve doing this maybe for five years, and every time something goes wrong, there’s a long list. And then we think, “Okay, so this didn’t work. What are we gonna do differently?”

Tim: And I think you actually shared an example of some of your music with me, which was great because it was very step-by-step for the student. It was very, very clear, so it’s not like, you know, “Third line down, fourth bar across. It’s that one,” point to that so I can see. It was actually like, “Just cut that bar out and here it is here. Have a look at that” sort of thing.

Sarah: Yeah. This is actually really interesting. When I started teaching my nieces, they were six and eight, rhythm. You know, when I teach in person, I would write counting numbers in their books myself, and so I knew that they were correct. And I understood how to remind beats and all of that. But when they started, and this is a really great exercise, and if you can do it, super, having them write their own counting numbers in the music. But what happened was, when they were young, they didn’t understand how to do it. They would write it in, then they’d have to hold the music up so I could check it, and inevitably it would be wrong. And so then, you know…

Tim: You’re trying to describe where to put that, where the numbers should go.

Sarah: That’s right.

Tim: Yeah.

Sarah: The problem with that online is that it’s incredibly time-consuming, so if you have a 30-minute lesson, then 20 minutes of your lesson is instructing them how to erase one “and” and put it in the right place verbally, when you can’t point, is really challenging. And so I found that if I give them scores that already have the counting numbers in them, then it was incredibly helpful for making the lesson as tight as possible. You know, I was listening to Melody telling you how being an online teacher really tightens up your lessons. It makes you a better teacher because you have to be a lot more organized, you have to have a lot richer language, you have to be more descriptive, and you have to be able to convey those ideas verbally 100% of the time because you don’t have the alternative of pointing. And I found that I was writing in counting numbers to all of my students’ stuff anyway, so if I just did it in one score once.

And then the same thing with the fingering numbers. Again, younger children don’t have small handwriting, and so if you write in finger numbers or they wrote their own in, by the time that they were done writing counting and fingering in the areas that they needed to, you couldn’t actually see the notes anymore. And so that wasn’t working. And I found, also, that if we put in the fingering numbers in the middle of the piece as well as the beginning, then they could pick up from any place in the whole piece and they would be able to get it correctly.

Otherwise, you have that issue of going back to the beginning and then playing to the part that you need to work on. And they would do that to finally figure out where it is, and then they would write the numbers in, you know. And as soon as they’d write those numbers in, usually they’re written above the notes and so they’re looking at the numbers. And you could always tell them they’re looking at numbers versus reading notes. And so I thought, “Well, I’m doing this anyway. I may as well do it this way,” and then send in the scores,” and it makes it a lot easier for both of us in terms of teaching. And then the step-by-step stuff is really good because the step numbers, when I say, “Go to Step 1,” there’s no question. It means Step 1. And so it’s organized in such a way that it makes the online teaching as efficient as possible.

Tim: You’ve hit the nail on the head with one of the biggest issues that come from online teaching. A lot of people worry about, you know, you can’t touch a student or physically move their hand or anything like that, but just the communication. In my experience, I remember, in the teaching I’ve done, just getting a student to look at the same bar, and I was teaching an adult. Like, imagine it with young children.

Sarah: Yes, oh.

Tim: So these are just fantastic tips. I really appreciate it. Is there a chance we could share even just one page of your example?

Sarah: Well, you know, the one I sent to you, you can share the whole thing. Because again, when I do stuff, I am very fortunate because I can change it if it’s wrong or if it didn’t make sense or if there was a problem with it. And so that particular one, I think we did the steps from the end.

Tim: Right.

Sarah: So you start at the end and you go step-by-step all the way through the piece. And that was a really interesting exercise too, because usually you play from the beginning and go to the mistake and go back to the beginning again. The steps prevent you from doing that because you have to flip a bunch of pages, and so you go back to the beginning of the step rather than the beginning of the piece. But going from the end of the piece, it’s easy to teach that way in person. But what I found, when I was looking at the music, is that often they put on the finger numbers on the first page, because when you get to the repeated sections, then you have to write them all in again. And so this way, we were playing around with, “Well, how easy and how much would this make it easier for a student to learn the whole piece without getting bogged down in the middle?” And so if you wanna share the whole thing, that’s fine.

Tim: Oh, that’d be great.

Sarah: Because that was an experiment. I think we have one mistake in the clef. You know, you go from, you know, two treble clefs to a bass clef and the bass clef to…something like that.

Tim: No. And look, I think… I mean, it really is just for an overview of what you can do, just to give teachers an idea of the sorts of ways that you can refine that teaching.

Sarah: You know, what I would do, before going into this detail, a lot of the music that I have, I would just write out as a PDF, you know, like edit the PDF and we’d put in the notes. And again, you’re kind of limited by what the students have, so now you’ve got iPads and tablets and stuff. There are lots of editing programs like forScore that you can use to edit in your own music and then you can share annotated scores with your students, which does the same thing. But again, you have to be organized and get yourself up to speed on that technology before you can start sharing it with your student.

Tim: Is there a way that the student can have an iPad with the music open, you can have an iPad, and you can write on your score and have it show up on their score? Do you know?

Sarah: I don’t know. I think that there are, like, screen sharing things that you could do. Or you know, like with Skype, you can share the screen, and if you’re sharing the screen, you’ve got something, then you can… I think this was also discussed. A friend of mine here has an iPad Pro and they’re awesome.

Tim: I know, they’re so good. I can’t wait to get one.

Sarah: And she was showing me that what she was doing with her students is that… Because with the iPad Pro, you can make the score really big, so you can write in it. And she was using forScore, and so then she would send those scores over annotated. As far as in real time, I think the technology, it’s just a year or two away, but I haven’t found it yet. But I’m looking because I think that that would be incredibly useful.

But again, you have to consider iPad Pros, or even iPads, are kind of expensive, and not everybody has them. And so that was one thing about teaching in Saudi Arabia, you know that’s kind of your expat community. You don’t go to Saudi Arabia unless they pay you to do it, but not all communities are like that. And then I had German friends, and iPad technology, at that point, it wasn’t as big as it is in other parts of the world, so depending on where you are. That’s another thing. You can’t make assumptions on the kind of technology that your students are gonna have. You know, I think the simplest thing is a Skype connection and a piano, which will get most people. And if you’re in the expat community, that is an added advantage because they’re already accustomed to Skyping people.

Tim: Definitely.

Sarah: You don’t have to bring them up to speed on that.

Tim: Let’s just talk scheduling for a moment too because I’m sure you might have a couple of tools or tips on that. And I should mention too, when it comes to time zones, for all these podcasts, I do a lot of time zone things, and I use Time Buddy, which is a website, and also Time.is, I think it is. I should check out. They’re my two kind of go-to. Yeah, Time.is and Time Buddy for just converting time zones and things like that. Sorry, it’s worldtimebuddy.com. But do you have other ways that the students can schedule things with you?

Sarah: Again, we’re trying things to see what works best. When I was in Saudi, I used Studio Helper because I was managing my schedule and my students’ and my teenage students’ and their students. And so I needed to have that.

Tim: And Studio Helper is Music Teachers Helper’s version for studios, right?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s Music Teachers Helper for studios, but I think Music Teachers Helper would have been sufficient. But I had a problem with the time zone because when it took it into Google calendar it always seemed to be an hour off for Daylight Savings because Saudi doesn’t have Daylight Savings. So you would schedule this with Calendly…

Tim: Yeah, I really like calendly.com. Yeah, that’s great.

Sarah: Yeah. So I want to try that out to see if that’s possible. Google Calendar actually does a pretty good job in basic. You can make the appointments, and it does really well with the time zone as well. So that’s a cheap… I mean, it’s free basically, and there are some plug-ins that you can get for WordPress sites. And I had a student who was taking Spanish lessons with a woman in England, and this is a man who lives in Saudi Arabia. And her scheduling, she had some WordPress plug-in that was working there. So I’m, again, fortunate I’ve got students who expect that we’re gonna have some hiccups and experimentation in terms of scheduling and time thing.

So the way I’m structuring the lessons is there’s the Hajj in Saudi Arabia and then Eid. And that’s another thing, the calendar and scheduling, it has to be, and it took me a while to figure this one out, the schedule and the calendar and the country that your students are in, okay? So if everybody is gone for the Hajj, don’t schedule lessons for the Hajj and the Eid thing. You know, that just is stupid.

Tim: The Hajj is their religious holiday.

Sarah: The Hajj, it’s when people travel to Mecca, but the Eid is after and so the whole country shuts down. And the majority of my students went to one particular international school, so you grab that school calendar and you set up your lessons to that school calendar. Or you need to have the school calendars of the students that you’re teaching because otherwise, especially in expat communities, people travel. And so they’ll be gone for this vacation. Then it’s a vacation, and so they’re going off to this country and this country.

And there’ll be a few people who will hang around for those vacations, but because it’s a vacation, the parents and the kids are not kind of on the same schedules, and so you schedule your lessons and nobody shows up. And that’s especially true in the international communities because of this whole going back to their home country, traveling the world, that’s one of the reasons why they’re there. When I was teaching in the U.S., that wasn’t the same issue. Yeah, maybe people who were off during the summer, but it wasn’t these particular vacations over the course of the year.

Tim: Yep. Okay, so we’ve got some scheduling tools, and, look, it’s gonna be trial and error, and I love how much you talk about your studio as being a lab. I do the same with mine. I’ll just try new things out, see what works. What about billing? How do you go about that?

Sarah: Well, I’ve got kind of an unusual situation because my husband’s still in the country, so I can actually bill my students and have them pay him if they don’t wanna do anything online.

Tim: Right.

Sarah: However, I use PayPal. And again, international students use PayPal, so that’s easy. You can also do wire transfers or bank transfers. Again, when you have students who are international, they’re pretty accustomed to doing this because they’re often handling billing issues in their own countries. And so the billing is, again, seeing what your clients are comfortable with and then working with them on what they’re comfortable with because there are so many of these little fiddly things in the beginning. Once all of the online stuff is working, then, you know, this is just this little bit of a learning curve at the beginning. But once you get it set up, then you just continue and it’s not a big issue.

But you’re dealing with different cultures. You’re dealing with people who are nervous about, “I have never had an online lesson.” They just don’t know how it all works. And so the more things that a teacher can do to make it easy for the clients, you know, then when they talk to their friends, “Oh, I’m taking online lessons with so-and-so, and it’s great,” you know. And I think once you’ve got your clients and you’re teaching them online, everybody’s really happy and excited. But it’s that initial, “I’m not sure whether or not online lessons. I’d rather have somebody in the room.” And my response to that is, “Well, yes, I would rather be in the room with you too, but it’s a choice between online or nothing. So if you don’t want lessons, that’s okay.”

Tim: So what does your tech setup look like for most of your lessons at the moment? I know you’re obviously always trying new things, but what’s your go-to setup?

Sarah: My go-to setup is I have a MacBook Pro, I’m using Skype, and I use Internet MIDI. And I connect that to my students who have electronic pianos. That’s it.

Tim: That looks like a grand piano, an acoustic, behind you on your right?

Sarah: A Yamaha N2 AvantGrand.

Tim: That’s an AvantGrand, okay.

Sarah: Yeah.

Tim: So that’s got the digital connectivity.

Sarah: Well, yeah, it’s got a MIDI to USB connector to connect it.

Tim: Yeah.

Sarah: I use Clavinovas in Saudi, and so that’s just a MIDI that connects to a printer cable. It’s pretty easy. And the reason I got this instrument is because we plan on using this as a vacation rental. If you wanna come to play a piano at a place, then this is good. If you were getting started and you were thinking, “Well, I only have online students, and they wanna use Internet MIDI,” you do not have to use a high-end electronic piano because it’s a MIDI signal. And I think probably Mario mentioned that, when you’re doing Skype, you’re sending audio and visual signals, and those are big files. They get taken apart, and then they get reconnected by the time they get to you. Where MIDI files and the technology that goes through these keyboards, they’re really quick and they’re tiny.

And so what I found using Internet MIDI was that you could have terrible Skype and really clear sound. So even if you could barely communicate, what we would do in those cases is that, on Skype, even if the video or the audio isn’t working great, you can message and text. But you can still hear a really crisp, clear sound out of the piano. And you do not need to have an electronic piano on the side of your student because you can send the Internet MIDI, it can come out of the computer speakers. And so you can still use the screen for Internet MIDI, you can still show what key you’re playing on the piano, and there’s a lot of stuff that you can do in terms of theory and scales and chords and all of that on their side, even if they’re not connected onto a piano.

Tim: And if you wanna know more about Internet MIDI, then you can do a Google search for it or, again, watch Episode 53 when Mario demonstrates that. And there’s actually this YouTube of it being demonstrated. It’s pretty cool. It’s a little bit like having… You know, Skype needs a big, thick tube to go through, so put all your Skype video through that. And then Internet MIDI’s this tiny, little pipe that’s completely separate, which just connects directly between two instruments. It’s a fantastic option for teachers who are doing more and more of this. That’s great.

All right, look, we’re gonna start wrapping it up. You’ve got a website, Teach Piano Online, as well. What can people find there?

Sarah: Well, there’s a blog about some of the things that we talked about. There’s also a course on how to make video lesson make-ups, and that again, the same technology that you use for online lessons is the same technology that you would use for video lesson make-ups. When I record, I use ScreenFlow, which is a Telestream program, and I think that’s the same program or the same company that does the technology in the webcasting that Mr. Ajero was talking about. And so another thing that you could do with your online lessons, you can record them to Skype if you’re using Skype, but you can also use ScreenFlow to record your lessons and so that your student can have an online, you know, little video of what you’re using.

There was a program a few years ago, Giveit100. It was a website, and you uploaded 10-second videos every day for 100 days. And no matter what you were doing, presumably you’d get better if you did it every day. And I did that for a few different things. The site wasn’t sustainable, but I’ve learned that after doing 100 little videos, you realize that when you’re doing, and this is kind of that flip classroom that Mario was talking about, that when you create online videos for teaching purposes, you only have to demonstrate whatever you’re doing once. And so you could actually get really rich videos by keeping them short and only showing it once because the student can watch it over and over again. You know, it’s up to them, not up to you.

Tim: Yeah.

Sarah: It keeps the videos short. So that’s the thing that you can… But when after this getting all of my students set up and figuring everything out, I’m gonna be creating a video course on getting started with teaching online lessons in the international expat community.

Tim: Fantastic. Well, look, thank you so much for all of that. And in actual fact, this weekend, we’re doing a webinar with Brenda Hunting about teaching online, and actually she’s gonna go into some of those options you’ve got of saving your lessons and actually charging people for access to them. So actually having a repository of lesson, information that you could then even sell to students or share with them somehow online. So that’s gonna be the final part of this month’s podcasts and blog posts on teaching online. Thank you so much for your time, Sarah. I really do appreciate it. Is there any last final little tips? I really, really appreciate that we’ve covered stuff like culture and things that we haven’t talked about the rest of the month. But is there anything that you wanted to mention before we wrap it up?

Sarah: Well, I think the whole thing is that you have to make the online lessons as awesome as possible for your students, you know. And how do you make sure that they’re learning and that they’re happy? Because happy students give you referrals, and happy students are way more fun to teach. And you have to think from the student’s standpoint because inevitably there are gonna be problems. And if you’ve got students who are looking for those things, then those lessons are not as successful.

But I really appreciate the opportunity because I think this online series is extremely helpful for all of those people who are interested in getting started and feel a little overwhelmed by all of the stuff that’s available.

Tim: Yeah. I hope that we’ve given people…we’ve shown them advanced stuff you can do, but we’ve always shown how easy it is to get started, and that was my intention. So if people have questions, are you happy for them to write a comment if they’ve got one on this podcast, on the show notes here, and I can shoot you the question if I can’t answer it, is that okay?

Sarah: Yep, that’s perfectly fine.

Tim: Fantastic. Because I know there might well be some people asking about expat and international questions.

Sarah: Yeah.

Tim: That’d be great. All right, thank you so much for your time, I really do appreciate it, and look forward to speaking to you again soon.

Sarah: Super.

Tim: All right, bye, Sarah.

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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.