My name is Joe Walker. I teach Skype guitar lessons as well as in-person lessons at my home teaching studio in Seattle, WA. I started my teaching business, Deft Digits Guitar Lessons, just five months ago, and I’m having a great time working with a variety of students in Seattle and through webcams.
I’ve been teaching guitar lessons in my spare time for several years, and while I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to Skype lessons, I’ve learned quite a bit from my early experiences. I’m very excited to pursue this medium, as it opens up connections all over the world between teachers and students. Read on if you’d like to learn more about getting started in the business of Skype guitar lessons.
The Technical Setup
There are plenty of upgrades you can make to your equipment to improve the quality of your Skype lessons, but I’ll start with a bare bones setup which should be enough to get you off the ground.
Here’s the minimum setup you’ll need:
- High-speed internet connection
- Computer, with enough processing power to send and receive streaming video and audio (anything on today’s market can handle it)
- Webcam, either built-in on a laptop or bought separately
- Microphone, again either built-in or separate
That much will allow you to conduct face-to-face video chats with students anywhere in the world. You’ll need to install the Skype software on that computer. Go to Skype.com and they’ll walk you through it. Choose a username appropriate for your business, usually your business name itself, if it’s available.
Now let’s look at some of the amenities you might use to increase the quality of your lessons.
Headphones: Once in a while, your speakers will feed into your microphone, and your student will hear his/her voice or guitar echoed back. The Skype software does a pretty good job of minimizing this, but a pair of headphones or ear buds will eliminate it completely (you might ask your students to use them, too).
Better Microphone: I don’t like the built-in microphone on my laptop. If I need to type anything during the lesson (like a YouTube search for a song my student mentions), the mic picks it up loud and clear, which can sound really annoying on the other end. Even a cheap computer microphone that I can plug in and place between my face and my guitar amp does wonders for the sound quality. I’m sure a nicer microphone will go a long way too, and there will soon be one in my budget.
Better Camera: I haven’t yet upgraded from my built-in laptop webcam, but this will be my next purchase for this area of my business. Having a crystal clear image on your students’ screens will make you look that much more credible and professional. Check reviews on Newegg and Amazon; there are dozens of great-looking, affordable options. I have my eye on one, but I won’t vouch for it until I have it and love it.
Background: Pay attention to what’s behind you! If there’s anything in your camera’s view behind you (books, music stands, guitars, pedestrians, dirty laundry), it’s going to distract your students. Think about all those instructional videos you’ve seen. The guitarist is usually alone in front of a plain backdrop, eliminating anything that would visually distract from the real content of the video. If your teaching space has some of this background noise in the video shot, consider purchasing some room partitions or a curtain to set up right behind your chair.
Lighting: Good videos are well lit. You will need more lighting than would be appropriate if your students were in the room with you. You can go pretty fancy in this department, but the easy route is just to bring in a few extra lamps, which you might already have lying around. Make sure your face, hands, and guitar are very easy to see in the video.
Disadvantages of Skype Guitar Lessons
There are a few key shortcomings to Skype lessons that you should keep in mind as you get started. The first is that you can’t play together with your students. As with phone conversations, there’s a slight delay between the moment you speak and the moment your student hears it. This eliminates any kind of rhythm from the things you can do together. The second drawback is that you can’t physically point to a student’s fretboard, showing proper finger placement or problem spots in a chord. The best you can do is hold your fretboard up to the camera and demonstrate.
For these reasons, I don’t offer to teach beginners over Skype. The inability to synchronize means that each of us will be playing alone for longer chunks of time, which is more suitable for intermediate and advanced players. And I find that pointing out specific fingers or spots on the fretboard, especially when teaching a student his/her first chords, is an essential element of teaching a novice how to play guitar.
Working with Students
Before a Skype student’s first lesson, I like to set up a 10-minute appointment to connect on a Skype session, meet each other, talk about the student’s experience and goals, test audio levels, and work out any kinks that might prevent the lesson from running smoothly.
Be prepared! Via email, phone, or Skype, decide on the content and agenda of each lesson. Understand your students’ goals clearly, and make sure they understand what means you plan to use to help them accomplish those goals.
Correspond with your students between lessons. Send occasional emails to check up on their practicing. Encourage them to let you know any time they have questions. Since they’re using Skype, they’re probably tech-savvy, so try to get them using any online materials you have available: website, blog, web apps, email list, etc.
I tend to treat my Skype students a little differently than my Seattle students. I encourage them to develop a firm grasp of what they want to learn and to treat me as a consultant. I let them steer the direction of their own progress as opposed to taking them through any predetermined lesson plan, as I might do with beginners. My Skype lessons often resemble a question and answer session, in which I give advice and feedback on students’ composition, improvisation, technique, phrasing, ear training, and overall direction for musical development.
The easiest and most popular option is PayPal. Again, it’s nice to have an account name that matches your business name. For whatever pay structure you choose, you can set up scheduled invoices and reminders. PayPal takes a small cut, but I find the convenience well worth it.
Couple the above information with all the amazing advice here at Start Teaching Guitar, and you’re well on your way to success. To give yourself the opportunity to jump into this right away, I suggest looking up a few musical friends and offering a free Skype lesson. You’ll get a good idea of whether you enjoy it, what you could improve, and whether your equipment is up to the task, all without the pressure of working for a paying customer.
Thanks for reading, thanks to Donnie at Start Teaching Guitar for the opportunity to write here, and good luck!