BY SARAH MAISEL | FROM THE FALL 2016 ISSUE OF UKULELE MAGAZINE
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in fall 2016. It was updated in August 2023. Products mentioned here may no longer be available, or their prices may have changed.
Given how much of our lives has shifted online, learning the uke through online classes or live video lessons with teachers has become part of the norm. With all the different ways to learn through online instruction, I’ve discovered that there are some key factors to getting the most out of your learning experience. Whether you’re studying with a teacher through one-on-one video lessons or taking an online course, a few simple things, such as preparation, equipment considerations, and practice regimens, can help you get the most out of your instruction.
SIGHTS & SOUNDS
Before you even start looking for a teacher, be sure you have the best internet connection possible for your online and videochat lessons. The minimum upload speed is 3–5Mbps and the minimum download speed is 15–20Mbps. The higher your upload and download numbers are, the less likely you’ll have glitches during your session. (You can check your connection using free tools like speedtest.net.)
Once you know your connection is good, look at your microphone and camera options. Most computers come with built-in cameras and microphones, but those may not be the right tools to get the most out of your interactive experience. So, you may want to find another camera or microphone to optimize your lessons. Many built-in cameras don’t have very good light sensors, so depending on your lighting your image may get too dark or, conversely, blasted-out. Aiming a built-in camera can also be a little difficult. Though I love seeing my students’ faces, that’s not the most important thing for me to see. I want to be able to see exactly what they’re doing during lessons, so having a full view of both hands and the instrument is important. Many webcams show the image in a square, and this can limit the view, so look for a camera that can go into landscape mode to show the maximum amount of instrument in the shot.
There are many good web cameras out there; one of my favorites is the Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam. I find that this camera gives me a wider angle, so I get the entire ukulele in frame. It connects to your computer with a USB port and it’s also adjustable and can mount onto your monitor.
When you set up your camera for a lesson, the best angle for it will be looking down at your uke. Having it point up toward you may not allow your teacher to see your hands fully. Remember, the most important parts to see are your hands and the instrument.
A microphone upgrade may be another consideration if you want your teacher to be able to hear everything, including your nuances. There is no need to go overboard getting a high-end mic; I find that the Blue Mic Snowball microphone does the job very well. From voice to instrument, everything was much clearer once I switched to this microphone. And like the webcam, this microphone connects to your computer via USB.
Picking the right teacher can be a very big decision. If you do not have a teacher in mind already, now is the time to start looking for the teacher and teaching style that’s right for you. What style of music do you want to learn? Who was your favorite teacher at the most recent festival you attended? Do you want online lessons that let you work at your own pace, such as Ukulele Underground or ArtistWorks, or do you need one-on-one experience with a teacher to get you motivated? These are all questions to think about as you choose your teacher or teaching method. Don’t be afraid to ask your potential teacher questions.
Once you find your teacher, do some prep work before meeting with her or him for the first time. Be sure to have an idea in mind of what you’d like to learn. The lessons are for you, so maximize your time with your teacher by having an idea of what you want to accomplish. Write down goals for yourself and share them with your instructor. Remember that those goals may be out of reach for the moment, but it’s always good to know where you’re heading. Your goals may be songs, or techniques, or even just being able to play and sing at the same time. If your teacher knows your goals, he or she will be able to prepare better for your lessons.
Make lists of questions before meeting with the teacher. This will help you keep your focus on the lesson and allow you to make the most of your time with this teacher. With your list, have a pencil handy to jot down their answers. You want to be prepared to take notes, just as you would for any class.
Recording your lessons is also another great way to look back at your progress. You’ll be surprised at how much you gain from your lessons after you practice. Try to record your videochat lessons—but only after you ask your teacher if you may do so. Most teachers are amenable to recording lessons, as long as it’s for personal use only. [See “Record Your Lessons” section below.]
After your lessons, take time to review your notes and get everything in order. There is a good chance you’ll forget a lot of information if you wait a few hours to do so. If there is something you’ve forgotten, ask your teacher via email. Most teachers are very happy to answer your questions.
Finally, the best thing you can do to prep for your classes is practice. Teacher and player Benny Chong is fond of saying, “I can’t practice for you.” You may have the best equipment and internet connection available, but if you do not practice, your gear will not make up for it. Even just 20–30 minutes a day will do wonders for your progress, versus cramming during a two-hour marathon on a Saturday. Take pride in your lessons and your teachers, and practice daily.
Record Your Lessons
[Editor’s note: it is now easier to record using Zoom or other videochat software. Some of the programs listed below may be obsolete or no longer supported.] Though there is no way to record your calls through Skype itself, you can use other programs that work with Skype. Here is a list of programs that Skype recommends:
Amolto Call Recorder Windows Vista or newer
Callnote Premium Call Recorder Windows or Mac OS X
eCamm Call Recorder for Skype Mac OS X
Evaer Windows XP or newer
G-Recorder Windows or Mac OS X
iRecorder Windows XP or newer
MP3 Skype Recorder Windows Vista or newer
Pamela Windows XP or newer
TalkHelper Windows Vista or newer
Tapur Windows or Mac OS X
Vodburner Windows or Mac OS X
Xsplit Windows XP or newer