Are Online Lessons for the Birds?

Thanks to a slightly skeptical nature, I've held little interest in virtual long-distant lessons for three reasons.1320790122282390135Bird on

  1. Full Roster: My studio stays full thanks to living in a large metropolitan area so it seems pointless to look for online customers.
  2. Time: With the commitment of a full-time organist/pianist position, it would be difficult to squeeze in more practice time if I committed to lessons for myself--locally or beyond my bubble--with a master teacher.
  3. Trouble:  Why would anyone wish to trouble shoot their way through an hour-long battle with camera angles, band width limitations and WiFi glitches?

My view of online teaching changed drastically thanks to a recent business partnership with master improv teacher Bradley Sowash and our venture called 88 Creative Keys (camps and clinics for creativity at the keys.)  I realized that if I was to achieve a higher level of improvisational skills, it was paramount for me to study with Bradley who happens to live in Ohio. Not willing to make a commute from Colorado to Ohio every other Wednesday morning, it was clear I must submit to the "wonders" of technology yet once again.

For some odd reason, Bradley and I take pride in the fact that we have matching equipment (not on purpose): we both own a Macbook Pro and the iPhone 4s so he thought it wise for me to purchase an identical camera that he already owned. With a recommendation and a price tag of only $17, the Macally Camera was a practical and economical choice.

610dxttsWCL._SL1500_Finding a way to hoist the camera in the correct position over the keyboard so that Bradley would have a visual of my hands during the lesson was an interesting adventure. Following his advice, I purchased a boom mic stand for $32 from Guitar Center and thanks to the magic of duct tape the camera found its perfect position above the keyboard.

Prior to our lesson we had tested our connection and determined that FaceTime would be our designated Wi-Fi video chatting platform.

After the first lesson a couple of days ago, my skepticism about this whole process took a turn, a complete turn. Why? Mmmm.... I bet I can come up with three reasons.

  1. Trouble-free: FaceTime made it incredibly easy to switch between the iSight webcam on my MacBook and the one hanging above. A glitch in the Wi-Fi connection never occurred. We tested the possible lag time between sight and sound. It was amazing how there was virtually no delay between his clapping while listening to the tapping of my keyboard metronome across the Wi-Fi.

    photo (1) 2

  2. Virtual Reality: It seemed a little strange to think that I "stepped" into Bradley's studio for an hour while staying put in the comfort of my own piano bench.
  3. Brain Training: I'm getting close to the age where igniting new neuron pathways (synapses, to be scientific!) is nothing but beneficial. (Read The Brain That Changes Itself and you'll learn why.) Embracing this commitment means a new type of practice. Instead of mastering whats on the page, my head is spinning with chord symbols, roman numerals and scales. It requires quick thinking to make my fingers find the right keys all in good time, of course. I'm feeling younger already :-) I'll keep this up for a while before switching to crochet needles.

It's doubtful that I'm the only "bird on a wire"? Have you been teaching or taking online lessons? I'm sure you may have some helpful hints and tips about your experience. Perhaps a better solution to my inexpensive camera mounted with duct tape? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Interested in learning from Bradley yourself? His technique and teaching methods for jazz improvisation and improv in general are truly world class. Click here to learn more about Bradley's online lessons.

My parting words: it was fascinating to be treated to a lesson and not be the "treater" or teacher.  Have you ever thought of yourself as one who treats others? If you are a teacher you ARE a TREATER!

Stay tuned for a follow-up post sharing my ongoing online-lesson saga.

Don't be fooled, you know I'm a fan of technology and especially of the iPad. I'd love to have you share in my adventures with the unique gadget. Please visit to pre-order the book.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

Need to get in touch? Leave a question or comment below.

[contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]