When I first started to learn a fretted instrument, my choices for instruction were limited. While there were plenty of guitar instructors, it was very difficult for me to find a qualified banjo or mandolin instructor. Today, many options are available and in one particular case, I can travel or stay at home and still take my lessons.
I am not speaking about independently learning a fretted instrument from books or instructional DVDs. Instead, I am addressing how technology allows for video conferencing over the internet and thus, live interactive lessons are now possible over your laptop or home computer.
Last night, while in Florida, I provided a student in Chicago with a lesson on guitar theory, with a demonstration of how to play pentatonic scales on the fingerboard. Imagine sitting in an airport terminal with your laptop and using your time wisely by hooking up for a video lesson. Whether or not you have your instrument, there is much to learn about music in general.
To arrange for online lessons, you simply need a computer, a modem and internet connection, and a web camera that can be connected to a USB port. Depending on the computer you use (Apple Mac with OSX or a PC with windows), the web camera may already be part of the computer. For instance, the latest Apple IMacs have built in web cameras. If you have a PC without a web camera, you may be surprised at how inexpensive the peripheral costs. You will find an affordable web camera at your local store where computer products are sold.
Once connected, you need to download to your computer the software for making video conference calls. One such free service for video calls is called Skype. The download is simple and the video calls, according to the Skype website are free (as long as you connect to another Skype user). A simple registration with a user name and password, followed by activating the software is all that needs to be done. Of course, you must place a video call from your computer, as though you were dialing a phone, and then wait for the other user to accept the video call to initiate the call.
If two Apple Mac users are arranging a video call, the process is quite simple. A feature in Apple’s Leopard software called IChat will allow two Mac users to not only engage in a video chat but to also share screens. This is quite useful for interactive lessons ,where the student wants to download music lesson plans and tablature. Instead of Skype, the Mac users will use IChat and engage in a video chat through an instant messenger site such as AOL Instant Messenger, Bonjour or other instant messengers. Once again, the instant messenger is free and requires the user to register.
While the online lessons are not as personal as a face to face lesson, and while there is a slight delay in the video stream, the sound quality was excellent. For those who want to learn from a qualified instructor but can’t seem to locate one nearby, these remote lessons provide a good substitute for continuing your music education.