Why I Love Skype (Webcam Lessons!)

Before I started teaching via webcam, I assumed, as many do, that remote lessons would be a cumbersome substitute for “the real thing.” I finally took the leap to teaching by Skype when a student bought me a webcam and insisted that I save her the driving time to my house, which is an hour from hers. What I quickly discovered is that webcam lessons are no less valuable than in-person lessons – they are just different in some ways.

Because I rely heavily on my intuition when teaching, my first concern was that I would feel less connected to the student. From the moment a student enters my studio, I am assessing his or her mood, energy level and feelings regarding the previous week’s practice. As the lesson progresses, I am reading the student for blocks, confusion, frustration, resistance, fatigue, excitement and interest. I proceed according to the cues I receive and I keep the door to my own creativity open, so that I may determine the optimum tempo and direction of my teaching.

Within minutes of the first webcam meeting with my generous student, I realized that I was not limited in any way by the camera or the distance between us. Intuition works long distance! There were some technical glitches to get through, but those glitches proved to be no more than a minor and temporary inconvenience. I began to take on more long-distance students and with time, I discovered some unexpected and interesting dynamics that are unique to webcam interactions.

Remote lessons have some obvious advantages: the student can tune and be warmed up before the lesson begins; the lesson can take place regardless of whether the student has a cold or is dealing with a logistical issue such as car trouble or a sick child; the student can work in a comfortable and familiar environment; the student can practice what he or she learned immediately after the lesson; lessons are more likely to begin and end on time. What I didn’t anticipate were some of the subtle qualities that actually increased the intensity of human and musical connection.

When two people are interacting in the same space, there is a constant, subconscious balancing of physical and psychic boundaries. When those same two people are relating on webcam, there is an absence of the energetic juggling and balancing that takes place in person, which leaves more room for clear focus on the topic. In addition, by neither party having to be concerned with invasion of the other party’s physical space, it is possible to orchestrate close up views of hand positions or proper posture that might be awkward in person.

Because students are viewing their own image during a webcam lesson, they have a tendency to focus on the task at hand more consistently than they do in person, where they may allow themselves to mentally drift or to be distracted by the environment. Also, the level of mutual conversational respect rises acutely, as it is impossible to talk over one another on Skype. The student who is accustomed to interrupting or talking over others is quickly cured of the habit when he realizes that due to the delay, it doesn’t work.

I have a desktop computer with a different internet provider that I keep beside the laptop that I use for my webcam lessons. This setup allows me to use the desktop to choose and view a video of a song that a student is interested in learning without compromising the connection or interrupting the flow of communication. I often type out lesson notes to email on the spot or after the lesson and I can scan in drawings, songs or charts to send, as well. In addition, it is possible for either or both parties to record some or all of a lesson.

The only limitation I have found in webcam lessons is the inability to play along with the student, but this issue can be solved by using simple homemade recordings or backing tracks. I do not recommend webcam lessons for complete beginners, as it important for the beginning guitarist to have a teacher who can physically assist with proper technique and posture, as well as other basics of playing. So, if you can “play a little” (or a lot!), and want to join the fun, hook up your camera and schedule a lesson!