Arise, I Dub Thee an Online Teacher

We’ve all been lightening fast inducted into changes and adaptations of our new realities (yes, plural — we’ve had many realities in less than six weeks!). Let’s first celebrate that in spite of ourselves and our preferences, we’ve lived through it and we are living through it. I also hope that you’re thriving in it, too.

Teaching piano online has been more work than teaching in-person.
It takes more careful preparation of the lesson content itself and keeping additional contents handy in anticipation of potential needs that might rise. This means, I have to do more work to curate contents and teaching techniques before and after the lessons in anticipation of both the best and the worst case scenarios.

Being online takes away an important sense for instrumental teaching, the kinesthetic sense, and the comfort of communicating more intuitively (non-verbal). This means, for the teacher, a need for diligence in methodical and careful communication, leaving as little room for misunderstanding for the student. These days, I often end up with sore throat at night (and this is a terrible time to wonder why my throat is sore) and I have to try to remind myself not to speak so loudly and drink tea and water as often as possible. I’m on a learning curve.

And let’s not forget the obvious shortcoming of being online — the audio. Most of the time, what we get is a representation of what the student is doing, even with the best audio. This means, I, as the teacher and the expert, have to use all of my experience, knowledge, and intuition to reconstruct in my mind what might be really happening in the room where the student is playing, and make conclusions and action plans for guidance and coaching, based on it. 

In the end, the teachers who will survive online teaching will end up developing stronger and more diverse techniques to communicate and teach the complex skill and the art of playing the piano, exposing those who’s been teaching the piano merely by “show and tell.” I believe that this will strengthen the teaching community and raise the standard of piano teaching — and I welcome it. 

Online teaching also exposes the student. Those students who have gotten by with half-hearted attention and strategic guess-working, quickly will realize that that will no longer work. Online learning requires students to learn to use musical terms, read and understand notation, count for themselves, make their own markings in their score, and take more charge of their own learning process. They are also learning to listen better — both in listening to music and listening to directions. 

Before we started the lockdown a few weeks ago, I sent my students home with enough sheet music and piano books to last them for awhile. On this third week of the lockdown, I’m realizing that many students are going through their material fast, and I am left with this very happy scream — omg, I gotta get more music to you! So this online teaching and learning thing is working — working well and thriving.  

It’s not a surprise that our humanity compels us to rise above our current limitations. And it propels us to work on something seemingly so far from surviving this pandemic —  learning to play the piano (but in fact, anthropologists believe that music was crucial in survival of homo sapiens, by providing communication methods and by “soothing the beast in us”).