Do you buy things online? Do you order pizza on an app? Have you ever taken an online class? Do you use Skype or FaceTime? Technology allows us to do things from the comfort of our own home with ease, and we can interact with people far away.
One of the many ways technologies have impacted music is teaching lessons through Skype. A recent article in the Kansas City Star describes how a new technology allows for long distance piano lessons. This newly developed system connects pianos using “fiber-optic sensing systems, high-performance solenoids and state-of-the-art computer technology.”[i] Essentially, when one person presses a key on her own piano, the technology moves the same key on the other person’s piano.
This is a major advancement from exclusively relying on a couple laptops’ cameras and mediocre sound quality. Instead of trying to point out a certain key on the piano through the screen, the student can see the key move on his own keyboard.
Reasons why people may take Skype lessons range from wanting to take a single lesson with a famous performer in New York or Los Angles to get some special insight and a known name to add to their resume to wanting to keep up with lessons while their regular teacher is out of town.
While this new technology is fun and exciting, it is important to be aware of its drawbacks. Despite the advancements, it is still best to have a lesson in person. Traditional lessons make it easier for instructors to see if the student is developing bad habits that may later cause difficulty in performing or even injury. Both student and instructor can focus more on the music rather than worrying about the angle of the camera or a delay in picture or sound. The bond that is built between teacher and student is not as strong if they never actually meet. Finally, location makes for less competition between teachers. With virtual lessons, we want to make sure the prices for lessons are still high enough for teachers to make a decent living and the market does not move out of balance. The teachers in small towns or even small cities shouldn’t get put out of business.
Even more importantly, there have been more and more teach-yourself instruction videos or games available online. These are by far the worst and shouldn’t be used at all. These do not give the student individualized feedback, and the student has no idea when it is time to move forward to the next lesson. They may not practice or reflect long enough on the music or information given. As Daniel Barenboim, pianist and conductor, writes, “Information is presented on television and on the Internet in a way that does not allow enough time for reflection and comprehension, thus turning powerful and potentially very positive inventions into the ideal tools for the manipulation of the general public.”[ii]
We can be happy that technologies are making their way to musicians, but let’s remember the importance of personal interactions to make the most of the music we live and learn.
By Anna Brake, author of Music Trends of the 21st Century: Technology Influencing Culture, available on Amazon.
[i] Mará Rose Williams, “Technology is key to piano lessons for select KCK students” The Kansas City Star, October 28, 2015, http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article41744646.html
[ii] Daniel Barenboim, Music Quickens Time, (London: Verso Books, 2008), 41.