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  • Neil Kimel, French Horn

Teaching on Zoom

“Nope, I still can’t hear you.” “You’re on mute!!” “Your camera isn’t on.” “My internet is out.” These are the primary hurdles we have all faced on Zoom for the last couple of years. Having a meeting is one thing but attempting to hear the delicate refinements of a musical instrument over Zoom is another level of difficulty. While teaching music online is by no means optimum, it was a way many of us maintained some semblance of normalcy during the height of the pandemic.

Like all of us, I began teaching my students as if it were just a meeting, using Zoom and my computer’s microphone and speakers. I soon realized that what I was hearing from and transmitting to my students was not optimum at all. We all began to up our game with more knowledge and better tools. I recommend always testing input levels on both ends, so the instruments aren’t under or over modulating. DePaul University, where I teach, supplied high-quality external microphones so my students could hear me better and we could demonstrate for them more clearly. Playing for students saves so much time as they can listen to what you are asking of them instead of trying to communicate it in words that can be challenging.

I then added headphones to hear as much detail of their sound, phrasing, breathing, pitch and technique as possible. After some time and very attentive listening, I was able to hear through the technology to make very pinpointed comments, suggestions and fixes for things that my students were surprised I could hear. One Zoom tip for musicians and non-musicians alike is to use the “original sound” audio setting, which does away with adjustments in the program and makes details easier to hear.

Having the exact edition to the music my student is playing in front of me helps me further expedite my comments, so each week, each student is required to send me PDFs of the music that they have prepared so we can literally be on the same page. It takes time to say, “please start on page 2, line 6, bar 3, beat 4 and play until 1 bar before C,” where we used to be able to point to their music, but these are new hurdles we must face.

On the bright side, with Zoom being ubiquitous now is that with the push of a button, students can easily study with the finest teachers and players around the world without leaving their homes.

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