Online Piano Lessons: A Teacher's Journey into an Emerging 21st-Century Virtual Teaching Environment

By Pike, Pamela D.; Shoemaker, Isabelle | American Music Teacher, August-September 2015 | Go to article overview

Online Piano Lessons: A Teacher's Journey into an Emerging 21st-Century Virtual Teaching Environment


Pike, Pamela D., Shoemaker, Isabelle, American Music Teacher


To Teach Is To Remain Curious

Technology And The Prepared Teacher

Scholars have argued that technology and its ubiquity among young people has transformed how they engage in music outside of the studio or classroom (1) and that technology has changed the basic learning characteristics, needs and expectations of our students. (2) Although I use educational technology, I maintain a healthy skepticism about the complete dominance of technology in the 21st-century music studio. In the end, music students need to acquire deliberate practice skills, the ability to persevere and demonstrate understanding of musical concepts, and competence through their formal and informal performances. I have discovered that they can do this via synchronous distance lessons.

I am an "accidental" online teacher, though my past experiences prepared me for this unanticipated opportunity to broaden my teaching horizons. While I never have considered myself to be an early adapter or technology buff, as a teacher educator I keep abreast of trends in educational technology and experiment with those that might be beneficial for my pedagogy students. I have taught group piano in digital piano labs since the mid-1990s. In 2004, I completed an intensive semester-long interactive distance learning certificate program for faculty, which permitted me to offer hybrid online and face-to-face piano classes that included synchronous and asynchronous learning components. (3) Yet, my personal teaching philosophy dictates that I do not embrace technology simply for technology's sake. When I employ technology in my teaching, it must enhance the educational experience for my students. (4)

Teaching Is Lifelong Learning

During the past several years, researchers have studied music teaching via Skype. (5) Online teaching became feasible for me however, with the development of the Internet MIDI software program. (6) Used in conjunction with a video-conferencing platform such as Skype, the sound quality during the piano lesson is outstanding because the teacher and student instruments generate it. Once meaningful work on tone, musicality and technique became possible during the online piano lesson, I was ready to experiment with distance teaching. By the spring of 2010, I facilitated a synchronous teaching demonstration between students at Louisiana State University and the University of California-Los Angeles using two Disklaviers.

The event that finally thrust me toward ongoing distance teaching was when a colleague, Kristin Shoemaker contacted me in December 2010 to inquire about collaborating on a small research project to explore the efficacy of teaching sight-reading online to beginning students using Internet MIDI and digital pianos. Kristin had been teaching students in Zambia from her home in Minnesota. She now coordinates a growing online music program at MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. (8) It was because of Kristin's experience with online teaching, and my curiosity about the potential of synchronous distance lessons, that I agreed to collaborate for the online sight-reading project. Thus, in January 2011 we set out to design, conduct and ultimately report our study results. (9) In yet another moment of serendipity, one of the students that I taught for our research project was Kristin's younger daughter, Isabelle. During a casual conversation following the experimental phase of our project, we discovered that Isabelle and I had both enjoyed the learning experience and with Kristin's blessing we began formal online piano lessons, even though we live more than 1,000 miles apart.

Synchronous Online Lessons ... Our Journey

The First Semester ... One Small Step Into The 21st-Century

In August 2011, Isabelle and I began meeting weekly for 30-minute piano lessons. Isabelle had not taken formal piano lessons though she had been studying violin for four years and participated in a children's choir. …

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