Remote piano teaching: Jarrod Rachnich, MIDI, Skype

remote piano teaching midi skypeHaving recently tried my own experience of Skype piano lessons with a student in America, I came across these two clips by well-known US teacher Jarrod Radnich and his high-tech system of remote piano teaching.

This technology not only allows you to communicate with a remote student by video, but to also see what your student is playing using MIDI-based virtual player piano technology.

You have to see it to believe it!


Also check this follow-up live skype interview with Jarrod about the above clip on NBC.

I must say that I found teaching Skype lessons (thanks for being my test student, Brian!) a really interesting (and in some ways frustrating) experience. Firstly, it has definitely confirmed for me that being physically present with a student is the ultimate way to teach and that Skype is a very poor second cousin. However, Skype is definitely an option for distant students and does have its merits (particularly when it comes to scheduling students in alternate time zones to fill your empty days).

Firstly, the sound and video quality, for a free service, was pretty good and adequate for teaching. I could see my student and his hand position and he could see what I was doing. Secondly, we had no problems with delays and echos which I was expecting. It also didn’t crash.

But I did learn a few things on the way: The first thing that I realised was that you need to make sure you have exactly the same music as your student in order to know whether what they are playing is actually correct! I also found myself writing on paper and holding that up to the camera to show music student something I’d written: perhaps a rhythm, some chords, the circle of 5ths, etc. A bit of a pain, but manageable.

Probably the hardest thing is not being able to demonstrate a particular touch or gesture up close or being able to manipulate your students hands, arms or fingers. The subtleties of performance do have a habit of getting lost in the internet ether! I also really wanted software which could display the music we were working on, on both our screens so that annotations I made at my end would show up for my student and vice versa. Perhaps you can already do this, but I’m not sure how it would work given you need to also see you student on your screen!

In any case, I haven’t written it off yet, and would encourage other teachers to give it a go if the opportunity arises. Technology for this sort of stuff will only get better. I hear that doctors are already performing remote surgery with distant robots acting in their place. If they can operate on people, surely we can teach an instrument!

Let me know your experiences and whether you’ve found any other technology which can help.