Top tips for online music lessons

Image Credit: Ivanna Blinova

Keen to learn how to play a musical instrument from an expert? Read our guide for students learning remotely with music teachers.

If you’ve been thinking of filling extra time during isolation in the pandemic by learning to play a musical instrument, it’s worth remembering that everyone learns in different ways. Some flourish with a DIY self-taught approach, but others prefer to be guided by an expert. If you like a bit of direction, investing in lessons from a music teacher is a great idea.

As things are a little different at the moment, social distancing measures have forced music educators online. Luckily for students they’ve taken to it like ducks to water, and have even found that in some ways it has improved the lesson experience; as RouteNote learnt in our interview with music teachers Denis Scully and Jonny Enser of afro-jazz band Nubiyan Twist.

Maybe you’d like to take a few lessons to get you started with the basics or you’d like to learn more about music theory. You might be picking up an instrument you bought on a whim years ago, or on a quest to become a multi-instrumentalist to make your compositions really sing. Whatever your reasons for finding a music teacher, first read our tips of how to get the best from taking online music lessons in lockdown.

Be ready for your lesson

First make sure your instrument is in a good working condition. Then have everything you need ready for your lesson ten minutes beforehand – instrument set up, any sheet music you need. Check your microphone and video. Know which platform your teacher uses – Zoom, Google Meets, Skype, Facebook – and have it loaded up and unmuted.

Check your internet is behaving

We’re all well versed in the irritations of Zoom by now, but try to make sure you’re in the best spot for your internet connection. Music teacher and Nubiyan Twist trumpet player Jonny Enser suggests getting an LAN cable: ‘Anyone using online video software should invest in one. WIFI doesn’t cut it and leads to too many frustrating circumstances.’

Practise!

Try and practise your instrument every day in the gap between lessons. It’s the best way to avoid getting disheartened. It can be frustrating if you feel you aren’t making progress, but having a good teacher means you’ve got a cheerleader tracking your development – pointing out what you’re doing well and encouraging you to keep going.

…and record yourself

Music teacher and Nubiyan Twist tenor sax player Denis Scully encourages his students to video or record themselves practising in between lessons. Record a couple of takes until you’re confident and send it over to your teacher, giving them a chance to fully analyse where you’re at with your playing.

Take a set of lessons

Denis recommends investing in a bulk of lessons from a music teacher. ‘Give it a good trial,’ he says. ‘Both you and your teacher get a better opportunity to focus on the long game and there’s more chance of you improving properly.’ Have a chat with them and work out a package of lessons that works for you – it could be four lessons to start with, or more. You also gain bonus smug points for providing the teacher with a steady source of income at a time when musicians are really struggling.

Remember remote learning is different than in person

If you’ve learnt music in a lesson setting before, it might seem a little different that you remember. For one thing, the lag of platforms like Zoom means that teacher and student can’t play along together. Jonny stresses there’s a lot more talking involved and Denis agrees, saying, ‘Just be wary that sometimes it might come across more as like a lecture that you’re watching, with a few little demos.’

Don’t leave a big gap between lessons

Of course everyone is different, but there’s more chance of you losing the progress you’ve made in a lesson if you’re only seeing your teacher once a month or longer. You might well end up needing to repeat the previous lesson, which is a waste of time and money.

Record the lesson

If the teacher allows, get them to record your lesson so you can play it back later. Denis suggests you can then ‘spend the week going back over your lesson, not being worried about forgetting everything that was said.’ If recording is a no-go, try and take notes in the lesson to refresh your memory as you practise.

Remember it’s supposed to be fun!

Learning something new as an adult doesn’t have to be the drag it was back in school. You wanted to learn an instrument because you’re looking for a fun challenge, so take charge of your own growth – think about what you want to get out of the lessons and talk to your teacher to work out a target or plan so it never gets boring.


Now is the perfect time to take up a musical instrument – with time on our hands and activities outside the house temporarily out of reach. It’s also the perfect time to find a fantastic music teacher, because so many expert musicians are turning to education for extra income whilst they can’t play live. Who knows, the routine of regular online music lessons might well help you get through these stressful times.

If you’re a musician thinking of taking up teaching in lockdown, check out our full interview with Nubiyan Twist.

I write about music for RouteNote, sharing fun stuff, news, and tips and tricks for musicians and producers. Also a saxophonist and hater of marmalade.

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