Online Trombone Lessons

Whether you’re a student of mine or another music teacher/student around the world, I’ve put together this info in hopes of simplifying your experience and maximizing the value of online music lessons!

Zoom

I use Zoom for online lessons because I find it provides the best experience for both student and teacher. Some, but not all of the features I use include screen sharing, whiteboard, enhanced audio quality, easy lesson recording, multiple cameras, etc… I do not use other services like FaceTime, Skype, etc. for music lessons because, at the time of this writing, they cannot replicate these features.

You can download the Zoom client here for free.

Computer vs. Mobile

I highly recommend you use a computer for lessons (system requirements). A tablet or phone does work, but it won’t be the best experience. I use screen sharing and visually demonstrate things often, so a larger screen size is a plus, and a computer allows for some better audio settings. I recommend all students make the following changes if you are using Zoom for music lessons.


Zoom Audio Settings

First, let’s quickly talk about why we need to adjust some settings… Zoom, as well as most applications designed to connect people in different places, is setup primarily for talking. It processes the audio to make your voice clearer, cancel echo, reduce background noise, etc… These are great features when you’re just talking, but they are NOT GOOD FOR MUSIC!

Fortunately, Zoom has some great features to allow the raw, original sound to come through!

Finding Audio Settings

First, you need to find your settings window. The official instructions are here, but here are some ways:

In a Zoom Meeting, there’s a shortcut to some audio options in the corner by your mute button
In the Zoom client, you can access settings in the top-right corner
On a Mac, you can go to Preferences in the Menu Bar

Enable Original Sound

I used to go into more detail here – instead, I want you to quickly read Zoom’s instructions for “enabling option to preserve original sound,” since it covers multiple operating systems.

Once the option is enabled, you’ll see the following button in-meeting. Make sure you actually turn it on!

Once you’ve turned ON original sound, the button will say “Turn off Original Sound”… a little confusing at first glance, but makes sense once you think about it. To make things simpler, if you usually use Zoom for music lessons, I recommend you click the arrow next to the button and select your input from the drop-down menu to enable Original Sound be default anytime you join a meeting (see below).

High Fidelity Music Mode (Computer Only)

Right below the option to enable original sound is a button to turn on “high fidelity music mode.” This is a newer feature, and I love it! Here’s what Zoom says about it:

This option in Advanced Audio enhances “Original Audio” mode, allowing for disabling echo cancellation & post-processing, while raising audio codec quality to 48Khz, 96Kbps mono/192kbps stereo for professional audio transmission in music education and performance applications. Professional audio interface, microphone, and headphones required.

In my experience, the student doesn’t need the “required” gear on their end to benefit from this setting, so I encourage you to try it out and only revert if you encounter issues (echo/feedback/internet issues). Since I always use headphones on Zoom, the only issue I have occasionally encountered with this is if the student has their computer volume up too loud, or if an external mic is placed right next to the speaker. One other potential drawback is that is does require more bandwidth – see my internet tips below if that’s an issue.

By the way, this wasn’t in older versions of Zoom so, if you don’t see this option in your advanced audio settings, be sure to update to the latest version.

Input Level (Computer Only)

In order to accurately portray dynamics, you also should adjust your input levels. By default, Zoom normalizes audio input to bring down loud sounds and raise up quiet sounds… great for a conference call but, again, not ideal for music making!

  1. Disable “Automatically adjust microphone volume.”
  2. Set the input volume to an appropriate level.
    • Position yourself in the same position you’ll be in during the lesson (as if you’re reading off your music stand, etc.) and play something quite loud to make sure the upper limit of your instrument can be heard without distortion.
    • Most instruments are significantly louder than the human voice, so you will often need to lower the “Input Volume” slider shown.
    • If you are using an external microphone/audio interface and have the ability to adjust gain, you can leave this slider at 100% (as seen in the picture)
  3. The “Test Mic” button will start recording for a few seconds and then automatically playback the recording so you can verify that you’re doing step 2 correctly.

Headphones

In my experience, students should not need to wear headphones in one-on-one lessons with these audio settings. The teacher may not have to use them either, but I always do just to avoid potential issues (echo, talking over each other, etc.). Many of the reasons people don’t like to play/teach with headphones on are mitigated by using a decent pair of “open-back” headphones – this style has a few drawbacks in other settings, but is great for remote teaching… If you want to know more about this, check out my post entitled Headphones for Trombone Players!

External Microphones (optional)

An external microphone, while not necessary, provides several benefits. Yes, they can provide higher audio quality but, often, the greatest impact can be simply the ability to position the microphone independently of the computer, providing more ideal positioning to capture your true sound.
If you want to explore more of the world of recording equipment, you can check out my post called “Recording Gear for Trombone.”


More Logistics

  • Lighting
    • Avoid being backlit by bright light (e.g. windows) behind you.
    • Being lit from the front is ideal. Fortunately, I face a window while sitting at my computer, so I don’t even turn a light on in my studio.
  • Internet
    • Remote lessons don’t require a very fast internet connection, but they do require a consistent connection.
    • A hard-wired ethernet connection will always be more consistent than wireless. If it’s easy to plug in, use ethernet.
    • Wireless can be fine, but consider these tips:
      • Position your computer and router near each other
      • Avoid excessive wireless bandwidth usage (e.g. streaming video elsewhere in the house) while in a lesson
      • Avoid signal interference, like other network devices, between the computer and router
  • Device placement
    • I recommend you setup in a way that makes both Zoom and your music stand visible from your playing position. I use the “share screen” functionality liberally to display markings on music, exercises, music theory examples, etc.
      • For trombonists, that means place the device slightly to your right!
    • Whenever possible, angle the device so I can also see most of your instrument.

Other Tips For My Students

  • Supplies
    • The student should have a metronome and pencil ready to go. I also recommend having some sticky flags/paperclips to mark assignments, since I can’t do that for you!
  • Music
    • If you’re working out of a method book or something else that I have recommended/assigned, I have that music with me. If you would like to work on something you think I may not have a copy of (e.g. band director gives you an assignment you’d like help on), just send a picture of it to me.

Shameless Plug

Students

If you’re a student looking for online trombone lessons, contact me!

Music Educators

If you’re uncomfortable teaching music remotely and would like to schedule a consultation, please reach out. I’ve helped educators with their setups for private lessons, K-12 general music classes, university level courses and more. We can discuss equipment, audio best practices, Zoom functionality, and more.

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