Tech Lessons Learned during a Pandemic
Updated: Jan 27
What an insane eighteen months teaching voice and speech during a pandemic of Covid-19! Everyone has learned to adapt to new technology during 2020 but private music teachers faced a steep learning curve. While most students, businesses, and other professionals adapted to speaking over video conferencing platforms the music market was struggling to adapt to something else- the limits of the technology for the range of singers and other musical instruments.
Video conferencing platforms have limited capability with vocal/instrumental pitch range (sound frequencies exceeding speech limitations), dynamics (loudness), timbre (overtones and sound wave structures), and the texture ( layers of sound such as two hands playing piano to listening to a full orchestra or chorus.) Then we musicians became aware of something called latency (the time delay for the audio/video stream to transfer versus the time when the transfer is received.) Taking these limitations into consideration we music teachers had to become knowledgeable about audio/ video technology outside the realm of music to accommodate our new musical issues.
First let’s look at most of the video conferencing platforms: They are made for communication of speech by one person at a time, taking turns speaking. These platforms work best when voices resonate within certain formants or overtones. As you sing or play at a higher range than the speech register the built in microphones “drop” the sound out. But, that is only the first problem. Video conferencing equipment, like Zoom, hears sound (music) outside the speaking range and it decides that it is “noise” so it compresses the sound waves. The normal perception of the music is very distorted to the ear at that point.
Secondly, consider dynamics: The louder you perform music the more overloaded the tiny microphone becomes. The volume pushes the mic beyond its limits and clips the sound.
Thirdly, timbre is a major issue. The quality of sound is compressed as the upper overtones are muted so the voice or instrument may sound “tinny.”
Texture, the fourth issue, is the ability to hear several voices or instruments at the same time. Remember that these platforms were created for one to one communication, not “everyone talking at the same time.” Think of performing voices or instruments all at the same time. Most of the sound would be considered “noise” and compressed.
Lastly, the biggest problem we face as streaming live music teachers is latency. In my case it is impossible to accompany a singer over a conferencing platform because these is a time delay between what I play, the student singing, and when I hear it on my end. This rules out any possibility of performing in unison so I have to pre-record my accompaniment and send it to the student to perform a sort of karaoke during the lesson. Teaching a class of more than one is a challenge but nonetheless achievable with some modifications.
After considering these six problems with conferencing platforms we music teachers had to do a lot of research online and talk to numerous audio/video professionals to learn about purchasing good web cameras, audio/video interfaces, headphones, microphones, filters, and digital instruments ( such as my Roland Go: Piano 88 digital keyboard.)
Utilizing my chosen platform, Zoom, has become simple and easy. I am now adept at online voice lessons and most of my pre-pandemic students prefer to continue utilizing online lessons because it saves students and/or parents driving time, gas, not to mention waiting around for the student to finish the lesson in person. Also, the lesson can be recorded so the student can practice with the video and re-watch the online voice lessons more than once.
At the beginning of the pandemic I learned so much about audio/visual technology in such a short time. It was a learning curve but it was well worth the time, effort, and financial investment to develop my own online studio. Thank you to the audio engineers and sales personnel who assisted me in my quest.