Teaching Video Lessons with Zoom or Skype
What is Zoom:
Most of us are familiar with Skype for video calling, and it can work very well.
Zoom is a platform for group meetings that also works great for individual or group lessons. I’ve used it about 2-3 years now, with up to 40+ people in a class.
Gear you need:
On the most basic level, any camera or microphone so people can see and hear you. Many laptops have a built in webcam or microphone, you can test yours.
You CAN use your phone, for both audio and video. Zoom has an app, like Skype does.
I’ll give other options below for connecting instruments, higher quality mics.
What it costs:
Free version – You can have 1-on-1 calls, for free, with no time limit. For groups, there is a 40 minute limit per call.
$15 /per month – ONLY you pay this, the students do not have to. Removes the time limit on group calls, gives cloud recording and some other tools.
If you want to do the lecture style for larger classes (there will be a link to a demo of this), that will add approx $40 a month. Only necessary for those specific circumstances.
Some benefits of Zoom I like are:
1. One button recording inside the program will give you both an audio and video file to send to students or upload. If you prefer Skype, there is a program called “MP3 Skype Recorder” that works well for me to generate an MP3.
2. Easy connection on many devices from phones to tablets. I have used it with ages 19-75+ without issues.
3. Easily switch microphones, audio input and camera sources during call.
4. Screen sharing, different open programs or images, while keeping video of you. Students can also show you their screens.
5. Teach large classes in lecture style, where students only see you, cannot see each other, can ask questions only to you, and many other features including live broadcast to Facebook or YouTube- this is a paid upgrade.
I use Zoom over Skype if I am recording, have multiple users, need any of the Zoom-only things mentioned above, or the person(s) I’m interacting with are not as tech-savvy, as it seems to be very easy to get going with. Most of the Audio, Video and other tips should apply to both Zoom and Skype, as I do use both.
**Note that with Zoom, you can start a meeting with no one but you in it, in order to get some basic test of your video and audio, and see if things are behaving well before you have anyone else join. Very useful if this is your first time.
You can use any valid email address for your Zoom account, it’s free to register:
Equipment tips and recommendations
1. In many cases, equipment built into your laptop or computer will look and sound fine. Also, for my musician friends, many of you already own gear for performing that will work well either as is or with an adapter.
You CAN use Zoom via an app on your phone, and use the phones built in video and microphone! If it does the job for your purposes, it’s all you need.
2. Do not use anything wireless. Lag and delay is already a challenge when working over the internet.
3. If you are able to, plug your computer directly into your modem with an Ethernet cable (will link below) vs. using the wireless network. It can help with the connection and speed. If you cannot do this, don’t sweat it.
4. Do not plug the webcam, microphone and/or anything else into one of those small USB hubs before your computer. My webcam wouldn’t focus at first and I couldn’t figure out why. It was not getting enough power. Plug direct into the computer if you can, or if you need a hub, use a powered one, meaning you have to plug it into the wall.
Settings in Zoom
These settings in Zoom may help, especially if you are dealing with playing instruments into a mic in the room.
You get here via:
Preferences (in the menu) – Audio – Advanced
“Suppress Persistent Background Noise” – Disable
“Suppress Intermittent Background Noise” – Disable
“Echo Cancellation” to “Auto” vs. “Aggressive” (Thanks to Brian Woodruff for this)
As we look at cameras, audio and other equipment below, further down on this page you will see videos of me using what I mention to help give you a better sense of it. If you want to see any comparisons or anything in more detail, just let me know in a comment.
Your built-in laptop camera may work just fine, or you can use the phone (only for both audio and video, so far. I have not had success trying to use the phone in my camera as a video source for a computer.)
Here are some specifics. You can also search for them on eBay or Craigslist. The Amazon links are referral links to me, full disclosure.
If you’d like a webcam, the best in terms of quality of picture right into zoom for me has been this:
The Razor Kiyo:
The Kiyo worked much better for my taste than the Logitech or Microsoft at similar or even higher price. It also has a light built into it that can be helpful.
Less expensive, but I’ve heard is good is model from Logitech:
If you already have a nice camera or camcorder with an HDMI out, you can use this adapter and Zoom will see your camera.
Microphones, Audio Interfaces
If you are not using your phone or built-in microphones, and want different microphone options, and/or the ability to plug your instrument(s) in, here are some options.
This plugs right into your computer USB, and Zoom or Skype recognizes it as a microphone. Anything you plug into this box, will be played out to the person listening. In the demo videos below where I pluck a few notes on an electric bass while speaking, this is what I am doing – bass in one channel, speaking microphone in another.
You can put a full audio mixer into the interface and have all the mics, instruments etc. play through. I have done this successfully.
Here is the one I use. The inputs accept both XLR (mic cable) or Quarter Inch (regular guitar cable).
Headset Mic with USB, plugs directly into your computer, no interface needed. It is the one I am using in the first video I streamed:
Microphone to go into XLR Interface that has worked really well for me. You or someone you know probably has one of these!
HOW TO HEAR Your instrument, yourself, and your students
If you plug your headphones into the Scarlett instead of your computer, turn on the switch that says ‘direct monitor’ and choose the Scarlett as the ‘speaker’ in Zoom, that will accomplish this. Here is a video of this in action:
How to have music playing, for backing tracks, yoga/exercise classes, plus mic
It’s the same concept as above, use an external device like your phone to play the music, and use a cable to go from the phone to the Scarlett. You can go to a single channel (microphone in one channel, phone in the other,) or use a Scarlett model with more inputs, or a mixer or device in between. See the video below.
Your Zoom recording won’t convert – windows?
This is a solution I found if this happens to you. Unfortunately I do not know what works for a Mac!
Can we play along with each other in time?
No, there will be too many issues with delay for an exact timing that would be necessary to play together.
I don’t believe this is an issue specific to Zoom, Skype, or any program.
I am skeptical of any software saying this would be possible, because no matter what software you are using, the amount of bandwidth speed, as well as speed of both individuals’ computers would have to be very high and ideal to have instant transmission of sound back and forth. If either of you has a slow connection or a hiccup for even a moment, it wouldn’t work.
However I would be happy to be wrong about this if someone has a solution – but the laws and hiccups of internet connection especially depending on region, are what they are at this point.
You will have to be creative and use more of a listen, then play type of situation.
Challenges with Piano
I’ve had a few musicians comment on challenges with getting the volume or sound decent for piano. Unless it HAS to be a real piano for what you teach, I believe a digital keyboard going direct is going to make your life SO much easier.
It’s going to be a direct digital signal going to the student. If you use the scarlett above for example, the keyboard can go into one input and a speaking mic another, which means your student is going to hear it very clearly. If it’s too soft or loud relative to your speaking voice, it’s as simple as turning a volume knob vs. dealing with mic placement.
In the current world of digital conferencing and streaming, a lot of the harmonics and nuances of piano are not going to translate anyway, unfortunately.
Zoom is completely free if you would like to play around with it. You can teach 1-1 lessons with no time limit for free.