Teaching Tips: How to Teach Online Piano Lessons

Thanks to videoconferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and others, teaching online piano lessons is becoming more and more popular among teachers all over the world. In this post I’ll share a few of my own experiences teaching online piano lessons: finding the right clients, introducing concepts in online lessons, visual aids, having online students perform in your studio recitals, what to do when your screen freezes, and more.

Piano teacher Melody Payne teaching an online piano lesson

This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. For more information, read the disclosure statement here.

It is important to identify the best potential online clients

One particular student I am teaching online at the time of writing this post is four years old (she will be five next month), and we are using Alfred’s Premier Piano Course, Level 1A. H is responding well to this series for many reasons. She is:

  • Reading at a 3rd grade level
  • Very independent
  • Great at following directions
  • Intrinsically motivated to learn and loves learning
  • Home-schooled by her mom, a former elementary school teacher
  • Additionally, her mom sits with her during each lesson to help out when needed

Parental support is essential, and H is blossoming because of it. So far, H has been the ideal client for online piano lessons!

I currently teach all of my students online, ages 5 to 82. In this article, I’ll be commenting on three students ages 7, 10, and 11. These three girls are hard workers, their parents are always very close by if they need assistance with moving the iPad or playing an accompaniment track, and we have so much fun during their lessons. These things make them really great online piano students!

It is important to use a specific protocol for introducing new concepts and pieces

For H, as well as other young beginners, I must create extremely detailed practice steps to use during the lesson and during the week, since I am not there in person for a hands-on lesson. My questions must be very clear, and I must wait until she has finished playing or talking before I speak or play, because she can’t hear me otherwise.

For each page in the Lesson Book, I create a list of questions and instructions for H. For example, here are questions I ask her and directives I give her as we begin learning “Treasure Map” (Alfred’s Premier Lesson Book 1A page 8), after we’ve talked about the title of the piece, going on a treasure hunt, pirates, and other things that 4-year-olds love to interject:

  1. Listen to the CD and tap your fingers while saying finger numbers.
  2. Say the words while tapping your fingers.
  3. How many groups of notes do you see?
  4. Are they moving higher or lower on the page?
  5. Will they move higher or lower on the piano?
  6. Which hand plays?
  7. Which fingers play? Wiggle the fingers that play this song.
  8. Will you need 2 black keys or 3 black keys?
  9. Find your Hand Position (look at the small keyboard on the page).
  10. Touch the notes that you will play. Remember to move lower for each group of notes.
  11. Play the song and sing the words, then play along with your CD at the Practice Tempo first (track 5), then the Performance Tempo (track 4).

These questions and statements can change greatly from week to week, based on the things she begins to notice on her own, as well as the things that need extra review.

It takes longer to teach concepts and pieces online than in person, so focus and flexibility are especially important

One of the reasons for this is because I have to lead her to complete tasks by giving her these detailed instructions, and it just takes longer! I email a copy of the assignment/task sheet to H’s mom before each lesson so she can follow along and be sure H stays on task through the lesson.

Often, I plan too many things to be accomplished in the lesson, because it does take a little longer to communicate concepts online, so I make changes to the assignment sheet and email the updated copy after the lesson. Sending the lesson plan prior to the lesson isn’t necessary for my older online students. We simply follow my plan and then I email practice notes to their parents afterwards.

Additionally, I must remember that H is only four years old, and she has a short attention span, as most kids that age do, so we usually work for 15 minutes, take a break while her mom and I chat, and then work for 15 more minutes, which I think is fantastic for a four-year-old. Of course, it helps that H’s mom and I are friends, so we always have plenty to talk about!

The older the students get, the less “brain breaks” they will need, so I need to be very aware of when they are getting tired and need a breather, especially during the more rigorous lessons. We take each lesson as it comes, and work and break accordingly.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide for teaching online piano lessons, my Quick Start Guide is exactly what you need! Click this link to add it to your cart. After you check out, you’ll be on your way to becoming the online piano teacher you want to be!

Click here for my Quick Start Guide and start teaching online piano lessons today!

Introduce new concepts using “larger than life” visuals (as part of the Sound-Feel-Sign-Name sequence)

When I am showing things to H, I must remember that bigger is better with regards to what she can see on her laptop screen. The visuals I create for her are 8.5×11 so that she can easily see not only the sign or symbol, but so that she can also follow along as I point to something such as a rhythm pattern or series of notes. These giant visuals make it much easier to convey information within the lesson setting, especially with a young child.

For example, after H experienced hearing a quarter rest within a series of quarter notes, and repeated clap-back patterns I clapped with quarter notes and quarter rests, I showed her a giant picture of the quarter rest, then told her its name. The giant visual eliminated any confusion she might have otherwise experienced, if she had been expected to follow along in her book on her own.

With my older online students, I keep an extra copy of their materials handy and write on the score during lessons. Then I hold the score close to my webcam so they can copy the markings onto their score. This process becomes much more efficient as they become more and more comfortable finding measures by using measure numbers.

How do online piano students participate in recitals?

There are multiple ways to do this, including having the parent video the student performing and sending the video to me ahead of time, and I play the video during our live recital. However, I prefer having my online students perform live via Skype or FaceTime during the recital.

Below you can see one of my online students getting ready to perform in our spring recital. My students and their families met in the fellowship hall at church. I used my laptop and the church’s projector and speakers so everyone could see and hear her, and she performed live via Skype from the sanctuary of her church. Her mom set up her laptop so that we could see and hear her performance clearly. What a fun recital!

Additional things to remember

  1. Laptops and iPads (especially the largest iPad Pro) are best for online lessons. Smartphones will work in a pinch, but they are not ideal longterm.
  2. Laptops can sit on a music stand, table, chair, or other stable surface. iPads can be placed in a floor stand for ease of use and to keep your iPad safe and secure.
  3. I use an ethernet cable rather than depending on Wi-Fi for lessons so that our connection is as strong as possible.
  4. My laptop power cord is plugged in during online lessons.
  5. If students are using an iPad for online lessons, turning the iPad horizontally seems to works best. I can also adjust my FaceTime settings so they can see me horizontally as well.
  6. iTunes is great for playing the CD tracks so students can clap along and say finger numbers, words, count beats, play along, etc.
  7. We have our webcams set up so that our hands and faces are visible. I set mine up on a music stand, raised slightly above the piano, with the webcam facing somewhat downward so my students can see and understand my demonstrations and see my face as well as books and materials when I am using. Logitech webcams are without question my absolute favorites.
  8. I use my students’ names very frequently during lessons to help maintain their focus and attention.
  9. Because online lessons are at the students’ own homes, my youngest student often asks to show me drawings she has made, or a new toy she has received. I allow her to do this, sometimes during our break, and sometimes after the lesson, because it is very important to her to share things with others.
  10. It’s also extra important to have brief chit-chat sessions with all of my students, whether online or not, to increase rapport and trust, and to help us get to know each other better.
  11. Be prepared for the screen to freeze occasionally during online piano lessons. It doesn’t happen often, but we have a plan for when it does. If someone is “frozen”, like these hilarious screen shot pictures, we hang up and I FaceTime or Skype them again. It usually solves the problem right away. Really – these are ACTUAL frozen images of the girls, just as they looked on my laptop screen! We all broke out into giggles when I sent these to their mom 🤣

To answer a question from the comments on this post, here’s a video of how I teach pedaling to my online students, and to my in-studio students as well. It was recorded in Call Recorder for Skype, so please forgive the quality. I wasn’t planning to share it publicly when I recorded it, but here it is 🙂

Do you teach online lessons? What are some of the most important (and often surprising!) things you have learned? Share a comment or story below!

Then click this link to get the Quick Start Guide. Following the suggestions, worksheets, and information in the guide will make teaching online piano lessons so much easier for you! No need to dread it any longer. My Quick Start Guide will help you become the online piano teacher you want to be!

Get the Quick Start Guide and start teaching online today!

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Annie

    Hello melody! What a wonderful website you have with so many resources! Thank you for sharing. Just have a quick question, what do you require your students to have at home in order to have a successful lesson? After several months of teaching online and with no end in sight I’ve decided to get a better setup in my studio. Some of my student’s lessons go so well, we are able to interact without much delay, I can hear them and they can hear me, video works great without freezing or glitching while some of my other students are just the opposite. Because some are successful and others are consistently unsuccessful I’m thinking it must be something going wrong on their end and not mine. Is it fair of me to require some basic equipment beyond their smart phone? One of my families in particular has their piano on the opposite end of the house and in the basement away from the wireless router and it’s nearly impossible to have a lesson without dropping the call at least once. The lag is so terrible we can hardly get anything done in our 30 minute lesson time. I would love any suggestions you might have. Thanks again for your beautiful website and helpful suggestions.

    1. Melody Payne

      Thank you so much, Annie! I think it’s more than fair to ask them to use an iPad or laptop for online lessons. I’ve found that tablets and laptops make the lessons much more productive than phones.

      Here is some information from my “Teaching Piano Lessons Online” eBook with a few suggestions that might help.

      “Internet bandwidth can cause audio and video issues, especially when the teacher or student has a poor internet connection or a slower speed. This can make it tricker to diagnose issues in your students’ performances. Connection issues can easily be improved by purchasing a faster internet package from your internet service provider or a Wi-Fi booster, or using an Ethernet cord to hardwire the connection.

      1. Check your internet connection speed at https://speedtest.net, at https://fast.com, or use another internet speed test.
      2. Use the highest-speed internet connection you can easily afford.
      3. If you can stream HD videos on multiple devices in your home, your internet is probably already very high-speed.
      4. Ask others in your home and your student’s home to stop streaming during lessons so the bandwidth can be used solely for online piano lessons during piano lesson time.
      5. Use an ethernet cord plugged into your laptop and your modem or router to create a hard-wired internet connection on both ends of the connection (both you and your student, if possible). This will help your connection to be as clear as possible. This step isn’t 100% necessary, but it definitely plays a role in providing a stronger audio & video connection for online teaching.
      Ethernet cords range from 3 to 100 feet in length. I plug mine into the router, disable the Wi-Fi, plug the other end into my laptop’s ethernet port, and use the wired connection for teaching.
      6. Check your device to be sure you can plug an ethernet cord into one of the ports. If not, you’ll need an inexpensive adapter or hub that has an ethernet port.
      7. Most newer devices will not have an ethernet port, so if you have a newer device, you’ll most likely need an adapter.
      8. I can’t recommend a specific adapter, but if you do an internet search for your device, I’m sure you can find an adapter that will do the trick.”
      I hope this helps, and keep me posted on how it’s going!
      Melody

  2. Sally Robinson

    Hi Melody, I’ve been teaching online for six weeks now. I’m enjoying it! I have one student with whom the connection used to be quite good. Now we can’t connect at all on Face Time. We switched to Google Duo . She’s using a 16 key, fairly inexpensive keyboard that I lent her. So, (1) Could the keyboard be contributing to the weak connection? (The family has no problem connecting with other people on Face Time. ) I’m using a new iPad and she’s using a Chrome book. (2) If I used external speakers, would that help the connection? And which speakers would you recommend? . Thank you for your feedback.

    1. Melody Payne

      Hi Sally, glad you’re enjoying your online lessons! I’ve been really happy with mine too 🙂 FaceTime is only available on Apple products, so if she’s using a Chromebook, that’s probably the issue. Ask her to try an iPad, and if you’re both using iPads, the connection should be there.
      Regarding your speakers question: I have some Bose stereo speakers that are fabulous. I’d definitely recommend Bose. They’re a great brand with very high quality products.
      Another idea: You might want to try the lessons on Zoom. My students and I are really enjoying it. There’s a Facebook group specifically for Zoom piano teachers that you might enjoy, and they may have some other ideas for your connection issue as well. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2583269888609453/
      Best wishes!
      Melody

  3. Nancy

    Hello, Melody,
    Since our pandemic lock-down, I have been searching for tips on how to work out a virtual recital. I have only 15 students; usually the recital is somewhere around 45-50 minutes. This exceeds the time limit for my Basic Zoom account by just a few minutes.
    Is FaceTime or Skype appropriate for recital (ease of use, sound quality, mute features, etc).
    I’ve not used them, and am not computer savvy, but would explore.
    Suggestions , advise , please!

    1. Melody Payne

      Hi Nancy, it truly depends on which platform works best for you and your students. You may consider paying the monthly fee for Zoom, just so you can host the recital you’re wanting to have. That’s what I would probably do, because my entire studio is currently on Zoom and loving it so much 🙂 Since all of your students use Zoom, that would be the easiest thing to do. You could also consider having a brief intermission during the recital, ending the Zoom call, and starting the time limit over again for the second half of the recital so you don’t go over the 40 minutes, but I think the easiest thing would be to pay for the month so you could have a recital that’s longer than 40 minutes. Have a fabulous recital!

  4. Milla

    Thank you so much! You overlapping pedal teaching technique is brilliant! My first week teaching online went fairly well. I discovered that preparation takes much more time and effort than for lessons in person. FaceTime worked fine for me providing that they have good quality electronics on their end, Skype distorts the sound and couldn’t master Zoom.
    I miss playing duets with my students.
    Downloaded Faber’s SightreadingCoach app, could not get it to work. So far they didn’t answer my questions on how much it costs for students to join.
    Have to master turboscan app to email theory worksheets

    It’s a lot of learning for 70+ brain!

    1. Melody Payne

      Thank you, Milla! I know there’s a large learning curve with teaching online for the first time, but it sounds like you had a terrific first week! Keep working at it, and your lessons are going to feel much easier very soon 🙂

  5. Sue Vinsant

    Hi!
    I am looking to start giving some online lessons due to the current corona virus issue. You provided a link to some stands for an iPad. Is there one that you especially like? Thank you in advance!
    Sue

    1. Melody Payne

      Hi Sue! One of my online students has this one and really likes it: https://amzn.to/3cXMsQk It’s a great stand and plenty adjustable for getting just the right height and angle for the iPad. The stand I have is actually not sold on Amazon anymore, but there are tons of options that I’ve heard are great. Hope this helps, and stay well!
      Melody

  6. Marcie Richeson

    Thank you Melody. I have a student who has moved out of state and 2 others that want lessons from another state or city. All of this is very helpful. I’m also a vocal coach. I’m going to utilizing everything you have brought to us. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ll probably be in touch with you again very soon I’m sure.
    Kindly
    Marcie Richeson Wray
    Professional Piano Vocal Training

    1. Melody Payne

      It’s my pleasure, Marcie! I appreciate that you took the time to stop by and check out this post in the midst of such a crazy week. Best wishes to you and your students, and I look forward to hearing from you again soon!
      Melody

  7. Kristy

    Hi! Do you have a post on the business side of online piano/voice lessons? I’m thinking of starting an online business in addition to my local students, perhaps in a webinar-type offering.

    1. Melody Payne

      Hi Kristy, I don’t currently have a post like that, but I will make a note to consider putting one together at some point in the future. Do you belong to Piano Teacher Central on Facebook? There are tons of online piano lesson ideas in that group that I think are what you’re looking for and would be really helpful for you. Best wishes in your new business venture!

  8. DOREEN HALL

    Thank you for the informative article. One question I have is how do you handle teaching pedaling to your online students?

    1. Melody Payne

      My pleasure, Doreen! I teach pedaling to all of my students (online or in the studio) the same way, through a series of chants, prep exercises/activities, and through baby steps that are all preparing the student to use the pedal properly from the very start. I’ve embedded a video in this post so you can get an idea of how we do it. I’ve used this process with several online students and it has worked every time 🙂 Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Welcome!

Hi! I’m Melody Payne, a pianist and piano teacher, educational resource author, a fun-loving wife to the most wonderful and talented hubby I could ask for, and a lifelong learner who loves to share. I want to make your life as a music teacher easier by writing and sharing helpful and relevant music teaching articles, and by creating educational resources with your very own students in mind. If you are a parent who wants to enroll your child in piano lessons, I’d love for us to get started building those skills that can give your child a lifetime of musical enjoyment!

Looking for Something?

Blog Categories

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Let's Connect