Online 'Distance Learning' Lessons: TECH Help/Tips

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by Karl Kaminski, Mar 25, 2020.

  1. Facetime/Skype/Whatsapp (similar basic video app)

  2. Zoom (general conferencing app)

    0 vote(s)
  3. JamKazam (featured music conferencing app)

    0 vote(s)
  4. other (if you choose 'Other" please post your choice with a comment)

Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Karl Kaminski

    Karl Kaminski Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    HI Everybody,
    Like a lot of folks I've started 'Distance Learning' lessons this month and I thought I'd start a thread where we can offer tips, ask for help, etc.

    I've offered distance lessons for a several years but now (in a pandemic) its become imperative. In the past I got by with FaceTime and Skype. But now Ive moved to Zoom which integrates scheduling, whiteboards, and the best feature—I can share(ie control) metronome, play along tracks etc from my iPhone/ipad as needed. Ultimately I'd like to move to Jamkazam but the main hurdle there is 'parent involvement and expense'. (Even a modest investment $30-50 can seem 'off-putting' considering our current situation) Ideally getting all the students a 'basic' audio interface would be a huge step forward in bass/guitar DL lesson feasibility but the goal here is to create an online lesson with minimal expenditure.

    I'd like to get this started by offering some tips and then ask for some help...

    In general I've found that the main hurdle is audio jitter (ie sound breaking up) The best way around that is for both parties to use an Ethernet connected computer and headphones. With WiFi being so prevalent and convenient, most won't have, want, or just can't use a wired connection so focus on the use of headphones. One aspect with tablet/cellphones I haven't experimented with yet is using cell data (mobile phone connection) vs wifi (home internet connection).

    I dont think tablets and cellphone have any options to control settings, but a computer can be adjusted in the Sound Preferences. The *basic setup of both devices should be using built-in mic/built-in output (headphones). The *best option is using an audio interface for the instrument, a vocal (talking mic), and headphones. And in all cases if it can be avoided, NEVER use the headphone mic (the one built in to the earbuds)

    Along with breakup of audio is the complication of low bass frequencies. Most acoustic guitar lesson can be adjusted with some or minimal sound issues, but Bass is difficult so the placement of the amp has been the target experimentation. This week im going to have all the students try cutting the bass EQ on the amp to '0' OFF. Hopefully this will act as a HPF and help the fidelity. Ill post the results.

    Finally have an adjustable stand for the device (iPhone/ipad/PC/laptop) so taht it is secure and clearly shows the players instrument/hands. There have been quite a few 'drops' last week with parents tilting their iPad against something. (*Ironically its the parents who ignore the most basic requirements for a smooth lesson environment.)

    There are many more 'little tweaks' I can offer but too many and varied to list here generally, Im happy to offer anything I've picked up in a direct response to a question.

    Now, I need your thoughts/tips...

    As stated above the main hurdle is audio quality (just being able to hear or play with each other online). Does anyone have any tip/help for setting up apple's audio midi setup? I want to create an aggregate device between my audio interface/built-in mic/and audio driver. Basically I want the functionality of JamKazam in the form of the Zoom app. The online help for Audio Midi Setup is basic at best, I guess im looking for a way to route audio signals together (at minimal expense) I know of Loopback (paid) and Soundflower (free?).

    the Pros/Cons of the whole thing are:

    Simple setup
    Pros: is cheap, relatively easy
    Cons: sound and lesson experience is crappy, ok at best.

    More involved setup
    Pros: better lesson experience
    Cons: requires more gear, more involved setup, time intensive for parents
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2020
  2. Karl Kaminski

    Karl Kaminski Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    Anyone else having a hard time with the tech involved with giving or taking lessons online?
  3. RabidMusic


    Jan 29, 2012
    You are absolutely correct about a wired connection making a big difference. When I moved into my house 12 years ago the best thing I did was have it wired for Ethernet before moving in. It makes a huge difference, even with face time.

    One thing that I don't think you mentioned is lighting. It is important to clearly see the hands of the instructor and student to help with technique and fingering.
  4. Karl Kaminski

    Karl Kaminski Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    Thanks for the input! I wish I had 'ethernet in the walls' in my apt! Ive been having great results using an Ethernet Powerline Adapter.

    Yes indeed, lighting the subject is important! :thumbsup: I didnt mention it here (I was mainly focused on the audio end of the equation). I sent out a 'tip sheet' for parent and its the second thing on my list ;) (hard to believe its been two months already!)

    Dear parents and students,
    I hope you're all doing well and staying safe. I am looking forward to beginning online instruction next week! I hope to see all of my students at their regular lesson day/time. Please be in touch and confirm as soon as possible, or alert me to any issues you might anticipate—I will need to confirm with everyone before starting to ensure proper setup and aid with questions.

    I will be using the Zoom platform for our lessons. It's secure and up-till-now, very reliable. Zoom should work on any OS (MAC/WIN/iOS/Android) browser app (Safari/Edge/Chrome). Basically any device with a webcam, mic, and internet connection should work. (You can also download the free app and use that instead of your browser, but not necessary)

    Requirements for a successful lesson:
    • A QUIET location (lessons will not work in rooms where others are talking/watching videos/cooking/cleaning/working etc. Sibling and parent distractions have already been a issue)
    • A WELL LIT location (Please remember the lightning needs to be 'on the student' not 'behind the student’)
    • Your instrument
    • All of your lesson materials (ie books, manuscript bk, handouts etc)
    • A music stand to be able to see your music and materials
    • A pencil and eraser
    • A stand for your device: (simple is fine) just so its held securely and I can see your student's instrument and hands. Please try and mount the device closer to the student showing the instrument and hands.
    • Your iDevice with webcam, mic, internet connection.
    • Headphones—These are a must! Nothing fancy—just something to block out disruptions and prevent feedback ‘audio jitter’ while playing.
    • Headphone extension: 1/8" M-F cable for needed space between you/instrument /computer.
    *At minimum a parent, relative or other caregiver may need to set things up for the student if they are younger (teens will likely be savvy with the technology). This new way of learning may take a little getting used to for all of us but I’ll do my best to help you through the process.

    Here's how it will work:

    I will send you a ‘link' the day of your lesson and at your lesson time, you just 'click the link’ each week—It will take you to our ‘meeting room’. If I’m still with a student, it should hold you there in a 'waiting room' until I join you.

    My Goal is to keep the lesson format the same: we’ll work on our materials in the book or current topic of study, and time permitting we'll add in favorites songs. I would ask that parents please print out and forward to the student any materials I send you. I will occasionally give them supplemental material in form of PDFs or slowed down Audio tracks for practice.

    At the end of the lesson I will ask for questions/comments and make sure that they write their assignment in their books. I will follow up with an email if there's any additional material.

    And thats it. Easy-peesy :)

    *I will most likely have to disconnect promptly to move onto the next student so if you have any questions its best to ask at the beginning of the lesson. If I can't answer fully in the time we have, I’ll respond via email.

    If you have any questions, concerns about setup, scheduling, or if anything goes awry during the lesson, you can easily contact me. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you online next week. I'm so happy we will have the opportunity to continue our learning together during these difficult times.

    Basically all the 'uni-directional' conferencing apps (Zoom/Facetime/Skype/Teams/etc) are the same for audio hurdles; they only allow audio to work in one direction—like a conversation; so two ppl playing together is difficult without some kind of adjustments. Ive been trying to get most of the more experienced players to move over to the JamKazam platform, it allows for a much more satisfying lesson. But overall, Zoom has been the best for me with features, familiarity and cost.

    Here are some more tips for "UNI" apps from the weeks that followed:
    • get student onto a desktop/laptop instead of tablet/phone
    • do NOT use headphones with a built-in mic, avoid noise cancelation
    • set computer's audio settings to "built-in mic" & "built-in output/speaker/headphone"
    • USE HEADPHONES (wired, with an extension cable with enough to allow room for the instrument)
    • turn off as much 'wireless tech' as possible (WIFI/BLUETOOTH) Use wired connections when possible.
    • turn off auto compression/auto-gain vol controls
    • turn off Zoom's "advanced" audio settings
    • turn off VPN
    • do not play loud/agressively
    • For amplified lessons, move the amp as close to the computer as possible and set the volume LOW (instead of filling the room with a loud amplified signal).
    • Adjust the EQ settings: For bass I found that setting the EQ at: Bass9/Mid12/Trb[off] helps, especially those young students that haven't developed a sense of touch yet and beat away on their strings (in which case running the Bass EQ [off] also helps.)
    The main goal with all of these tips is to isolate the signal so that input/output dont override eachother. And secondarily, the computer apps and hardware (ie mics) aren't designed for audio, let alone the low-end demands of bass. Cutting the frequencies like a H/LPF really helps with the clarity. Using these tips I've been able to play duets with my students and accompany them in the lessons. Of course, getting them onto JamKazam is even better if they're setup for it; the sessions are like being in the room together without having all the 'setup hurdles'.

    Hope these tips help.

    <Hey, where are all the TB teachers and students at? I really thought this would be a hot topic considering :bookworm:>
  5. Karl Kaminski

    Karl Kaminski Supporting Member

    Aug 26, 2008
    Forget the rest, theres a 'new game in town' for audio-colaberation and its called... Sonobus!

    I havent paired it up with Zoom lessons yet, but excited about the possibilities