How to Set Up for Online Piano Lessons – Advanced Set up

This is the second post in a two-post series. If you haven’t read my recommendations for a basic set up check out this blog post first!

If you are ready to take your student set up to the next level, here are some tips and strategies that will improve your overall lesson experience.

I recommend a more advanced set up like this to intermediate and advanced students in particular, but of course, ANY student can set this up to elevate their experience and make the lessons even more productive.

Improve Your Audio Input

This set up is highly recommended for intermediate and advanced students OR for students wanting to play in online recitals if using a laptop.

Using an external microphone during lessons is highly recommended, as most internal laptop microphones are not good at picking up piano sound.

Piano sound, and particularly acoustic piano sound, is notoriously hard to capture. The bigger the piano, the harder it is to get the balance right between the instrument and your own voice.

Relying on internal microphones usually starts going pearshaped for intermediate and advanced students with an acoustic piano, when the music gets more complex and the teacher needs to hear more nuance.

And of course, the better the teacher can hear what you are playing, the better and more focused the feedback will be!

There is an easy solution to the audio problem. I recommend students to purchase the Blue Yeti USB microphone. This is the one I use during my teaching, and it’s great at picking up both piano sound and voice.

The Yeti connects to your device using USB. There is some technical set up required (so it’s not 100% plug and play), but a professional, experienced online piano teacher can help you get everything up and running.

If you use an iPad for recording music (for recitals or simply for your own archives) and want to use an external mic, you’ll need 2 more items to make things work.

First, you’ll need a connector piece called the camera adapter to be able to plug in a USB device to your iPad. It looks like this:

NB: ALWAYS check compatibility with your device!

Second, I highly recommend iPad users also purchase a powered USB hub.

Without a powered USB hub, your microphone will plug into the iPad and draw its power from your device, which may drain the battery very quickly. Sometimes the microphone won’t even work.

A powered USB hub is a USB unit you plug into the wall. You then plug your microphone into the hub and the hub connects to you iPad device using the adapter above. The microphone will still be connected to your iPad (just has the USB hub in between) but it will get its power from the hub, not from your iPad.

I personally use this USB hub when I use my iPad.

IMPORTANT: Most lesson platforms (Zoom and Rockoutloud.live for instance) do NOT allow you to use an external mic on iPad. DO NOT purchase this set up for lessons with an iPad as it will not work!

One final note here about your new audio set up. It’s really important to experiment with the placement of the mic. For instance, do NOT place the mic on top of your piano. The vibrations of the instrument will be picked up by the microphone. I recommend you place the microphone off to the side, and ideally near the treble.

It will take some experimentation to get this right because placement and microphone setting will depend on your type of piano, as well as the acoustics of the room.

Improve your Audio Output

The best thing you can do as a student is to use headphones during your lesson.

This has multiple reasons!

First up, headphones will always give you a much better audio experience than relying on the internal speakers in either the iPad or your laptop.

And while external speakers can help give a bigger sound, they can in their turn interfere with your microphone.

The best solution is to use headphones. And I recommend open-back, over-ear headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 558 (this is the one I use):

An “open-back” headphone simply means that the back of each earpiece is not sealed (solid plastic) but perforated, allowing more airflow and natural, environmental sounds to come through.

That’s important during a lesson because you want to hear your own playing as clearly as possible.

This is why I strongly discourage noise-cancelling headphones during the lesson. It will muffle the sound of your playing and you may overcompensate.

So if you’re going to splash out, stick to open-back headphones.

Improve your internet connection

In my previous blog post I gave some crucial information about your internet connection and minimum requirements. Today, I’d like to briefly discuss some additional things you can do to ensure your connection is the best it can be.

First of all, the best connection is a wired connection. That means plugging your computer into an ethernet port. I teach using a wired connection for this very reason: it’s the fastest, most stable connection you can have.

However, the reality is that most students rely on a wireless internet connection for their lesson.

There are things you can do to ensure your wifi connection is as strong as possible.

First up, the quality of your wifi router matters. They are NOT created equal, and cheap routers may not output a strong or far-reaching wifi signal. To put this in perspective, a good wifi router will cost upwards of 200AUD.

Here’s the one we use at home:

The location of your wifi router in relation to your lesson space also matters. The closer it is located to where you are taking your lesson the better.

You may not be able to move it closer though, in which case I recommend you look into a ‘wifi extender’. A small, relatively inexpensive device you can use to boost the wifi signal in your home such as this TP Link Wifi booster.

Use a Secondary Device with Bluetooth Speaker

A secondary device such as your smartphone is handy to have available, particularly for beginner students. You can use it to play backing tracks or duet parts yourself during the lesson.

While the teacher can play tracks and then transmit them through Zoom, there will always be a little of delay and sound quality degradation.

It’s much easier if the student can play the tracks on their end and let the microphone pick up both backing track and piano sound.

Having said that, it’s crucial you use an external speaker with your secondary device. This will amplify the sound so both parties, student and teacher, can hear the track AND the piano.

If you have a smartphone, you can easily connect it to simple, portable Bluetooth speaker such as this one:

So there you have it. A few extra tips and materials to make your lesson even better!

Now before I sign off – let me tell you this: if you are on a laptop, particularly a cheaper Windows-based laptop, and you had to pick 1 thing to improve, make it your microphone. While using a microphone is unlikely to make a massive difference to you as a student directly, it can mean the world of difference for your teacher. It makes it easier to hear nuances and give feedback on your playing.

For advanced players, in particular, this can be the difference between generalised comments and detailed instruction. I require a microphone set up from students past grade 4-5 on an acoustic piano and highly recommend it to students past grade 6 on any piano.

So if you’re going to upgrade your set up, start by getting a Yeti! 😉

See you next blog post!

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