If you’ve never used Skype (or Facetime, or Zoom, or Google Hangout, or Facebook Video Chat) for your harp lesson before, here are some tips on how to set up your device for a successful lesson.
Skype: Download and install the application before your lesson. You’ll have to create a username and password. Once you’ve done that, add your teacher as a contact. If you can’t find them, email or call them ahead of time and ask them to add you.
FaceTime: FaceTime automatically comes with Apple devices such as iphones, ipads and computers. This option will not work on non-Apple products. You’ll need to be signed into your Apple account before your lesson. You can make calls using either a phone number or the email related to the other person’s account.
Zoom, Google Hangout, Facebook Video Chat: I don’t have personal experience with these, so I won’t include details here, but I know many teachers use these options. Depending on the internet connection and the devices involved, different platforms work better than others. If you’re not having success with one platform, try another!
One of my students and I contemplated the difficulties involved in letter-writing as a harp lesson format and agreed it would be … challenging.
I recommend placing your device on the left-hand side of the harp, preferably not on the music stand currently holding your music. It’s a tortuous feat to angle a music stand to accommodate both your need to see the music and the teacher’s need to see your hands.
Set your computer on a chair (perhaps on a stack of Physics textbooks or a sturdy box of some sort) angled so the teacher can see both of your hands and your face.
If using a phone, turning the phone on its side (horizontally) will help your teacher to see both of your hands while you play.
Some ideas about how to prop up a phone:
Rest it against a laptop screen. (If for some reason your prefer using your phone over your computer.)
Lean it against a freestanding picture frame, or place it in a mini easel if you have one handy.
If you have a spare music stand to hold your device, even better!
Working on a piece of music that your teacher doesn’t own? Snap a photo of the page or scan it (make sure you don’t crop any of the notes by accident) and email or text it to your teacher ahead of time.
Photocopies sent via the post office work too, however you are technically violating copyright law by making a copy. If you choose this option both you and your teacher should understand that you are using these copies only for temporary, educational purposes and that they need to be destroyed or purchased after the fact.
During the lesson you will find yourself using terms like “in measure 55” or “page 2, line 3, 2nd measure” or “the last measure of line 5.” The need to describe every location rather than simply pointing at it takes a bit of getting used to, but ultimately becomes comfortable.
Your teacher will likely take notes for their own reference, but you should plan to write your own lesson notes as well (so you know what to practice). Have a pencil ready to write in your own brackets and fingering (often guided by your teacher if you’re not an advanced player).
Ask your teacher for a moment to write something down or make a mark in your music. This is good experience for you! You are the master of your own musical destiny and taking online lessons gives you an opportunity to flex your fingering/bracketing/dynamics-writing abilities.
Take a look at your own image on the screen and make sure you can see the strings of your harp. Adjust lamps or curtains as necessary until you are not backlit or flooded with brilliant rays of sunshine.
Using headphones can sometimes help reduce feedback. If you’re wearing headphones and having difficulty hearing your own harp, try playing with one ear uncovered, or with only one earbud in. (This is often how artists deal with headphones in the recording studio.)
Don’t set your volume any higher than you absolutely need to, as this can cause feedback.
Take turns talking or playing. Sometimes there is a delay that requires a dash of patience.
If the video freezes, try turning the video off and on again. If that doesn’t help, end the call and try again.
Make sure you don’t have other applications running in the background as that can reduce your device’s speed. It can also be helpful to plug your device in to a power source.
This is by no means an exhaustive article. If you’d like more information, an internet search will bring you to an increasing number of helpful articles about online harp lessons, some of them very detailed! I encourage you to do some research. And if you discover additional tips that you’d like to share, please comment below!
Twin-Cities harpist Stephanie Claussen invites audiences to explore new locales and eras through her music. Influenced by her love of fairy tales, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the world music section at her local library, she performs a unique mixture of Scottish tunes, J.S. Bach, and anything rich in medieval or French harmonies. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter to receive notifications of upcoming performances and other announcements.