Archive for the ‘Music & Technology’ Category

Teaching Lessons through Online Video Chat: An Interview with Kathy Parsons

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Kathy Parsons
Republished with permission from Music Teacher’s Helper

In case you haven’t heard, it’s a WONDERFUL time to be alive and involved in the world of music!

With the continual advancements in technology, the way that we create music, share it, and teach it is so incredibly different than how it was only just 10-15 years ago.

kathy1Meet Kathy Parsons – a piano teacher from Florence, Oregon who recently relocated from the San Francisco area. Not only does she teach, but she heads a website called where she writes music reviews for a plethora of renowned musicians. She has had the pleasure of working with artists like David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani, and Spencer Brewer to name only a few.

And what is even more intriguing, is that despite having recently left California to move an entire state away to her Oregon coastal home, Kathy still teaches a good number of her Californian students by way of modern technology and the internet.

How is this done? Find out as I share my interview with Kathy Parsons on how she utilizes technology to advance her teaching studio…

JT: You have been teaching piano for many years. How did you decide to become a teacher, and was it something you had always planned to do?

KP: As a young person, I divided my time fairly equally between the piano and visual arts. My plan was to teach piano and continue doing my artwork part-time, but, as so often happens, life had other plans. I have been a full-time piano teacher for 27 years and part-time for the past two. I’ll have my 29th anniversary in January. I’d say it was more of a calling than a plan.

JT: You recently relocated to the central Oregon coast. While this was a huge undertaking for you, you managed to come up with a way to retain some of your piano students despite living in a different city. Can you explain how you were able to do this?

1KP: When I decided to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to the central Oregon Coast, I knew it would be difficult to find new students and I hated to leave some of my students in CA. I was talking to one of my adult students about moving one day, and she told me about her video chat conversations with her brother in Spain over Skype. I had never heard of video chat at that point, so I started doing some investigating since this student was confident that we could continue lessons that way. I have some good contacts at Yamaha in the academic division, and they were kind enough to put me in touch with their “internet guru,” who was doing online lessons. He sent me some very helpful info and once I understood the basics, it was actually easier to work things out on my own.

I started talking up internet lessons with my students and their parents before I moved. When I left CA, it sounded like close to twenty of my existing students would continue lessons over the internet, but once we got down to reality, only a few followed through.

JT: Did the thought of using the internet and video seem intimidating at all? How was the learning curve?

KP: Starting anything this new and different is intimidating, especially when so few other people have tried it. At the same time, it is very exciting to be a trail-blazer of sorts. Learning how to do remote lessons was really fairly easy – it was convincing the parents to try it that was difficult. Early on, the pianos sounded like they were under water, which was obviously a big problem. The video feeds had good and bad days, and initially, the service froze up quite often. The service has improved tremendously over the past couple of years.

2-300x225JT: Is there a specific internet service or software that you use in order to teach this way? Can you list the equipment involved?

KP: I have been using Skype, iChat, and Google video chat services. They all have good and bad points. iChat has the clearest video by far, and the sound quality is usually quite good. For Mac users, it seems to be the best option. Google’s video chat seems to be very stable and the sound quality is really good. The video is so-so, but adequate. Skype is very good, but is prone to freezes and dropped calls from time to time. Skype and Google are both free services.

Most laptops now come with cameras built in, so that makes it easy. Students who don’t have those use the separate webcams. On my end, I’m using a MacBook laptop with a 13” screen. I hope to upgrade to a bigger screen next year, but the 13” screen is fine. The most important ingredient seems to be a fast internet service. I’m using wireless broadband and am very lucky to be working with a small local company called OregonFast. They are very interested in what I’m doing with the technology and have been extremely helpful and supportive.

JT: Okay, so I’m starting to understand what equipment it takes to do this, but, explain this to me: How do you have this set up? Both you and the student have pianos at each end of the camera. The student plays as you watch, and vice versa?

KP: Yes. When I am talking to students or watching or listening to them play, I have the camera aimed at my face. When I am playing for students, I angle the camera so that it is on my hands. Students have their cameras positioned so I can see exactly what they are doing. On the screen, from my end, the video of the student fills most of the screen, and then there is a smaller box inset so I can see what they are seeing from their end.

Piano2JT: Do you charge the normal amount for these lessons? I thought perhaps they might cost a bit more because of the equipment involved, but I don’t know.

KP: I have been charging the same rates I was charging before. I used to travel to lessons, so even though there are some expenses on this end for lessons, I’m saving a lot of travel time and gas.

JT: Do these types of lessons take the same amount of time as traditional in-person lessons?

KP: Yes. I still do 45-60 minute lessons weekly.

JT: How do your students enjoy doing lessons this way? Were they pretty open to the idea?

KP: My students seem to really enjoy online lessons. One of my adult students absolutely loves that she can do her lessons in her pajamas after work! My youngest students right now are twelve, but they have been doing lessons online for a couple of years. At least for now, I wouldn’t take any very young beginners. I think the teacher should be there and very hands-on for beginners. The kids I have now started with me when I was in CA. My adult students say they think this is just as good as having me in the room with them. In some ways, it ’s actually better since it is so focused and adult students don’t seem to get nearly as nervous.

JT: Have you obtained new students through this method, or do you only retain the previous students?

KP: I started the mother of one of my younger students online once she could see that it was working well for her daughter. So far, I have only started one student who found me on my website. He is a retired man who lives in Wisconsin. We’ve been doing lessons for about eight months, and he says he just loves it.

JT: Do you feel that you are able to teach as effectively using this method as you would if you were right there in person? For either/or, can you please explain the differences, pro’s, con’s, etc.?

KP: It’s a little hard to say because I was getting very discouraged as a teacher in CA. There is just too much competition for time and students seemed to be less and less willing to practice enough to advance very well. I’m not sure if I’m enjoying teaching online more because it is going well or because I’m no longer teaching 43 lessons a week! For adult students, I think this method is just as effective as being in the room. They don’t seem to get nearly as nervous, which is a plus. I feel there is still a very big distrust of the technology from people who have not tried it. This will change over time, but right now it’s a bit of a hard sell.

JT: Do you think that this method will be the “way of the future” in the teaching world? For example, perhaps instead of searching for a local teacher, a person would just be able to go online and take piano lessons from a music professor in Italy.

KP: I think that’s possible, but piano teaching seems to be very tradition-bound in a lot of ways. I saw a demonstration awhile back where a pianist in NY was playing a Yamaha piano with a computer hook up to a piano in Los Angeles with the same hook up. The pianist in NY was actually able to play the LA piano remotely. It was astounding! The keys on the LA piano moved, as did the pedals! With that technology, there would be very little difference in doing lessons in person or remotely, but not a whole lot of people have the kind of money it would take buy the equipment.

JT: Well thank you for taking the time to talk with me, and for giving your perspective and valuable insights to the readers of The Music Teacher Helper’s Blog. This has been very fascinating for me, and I think it will be equally so for other piano teachers out there as well.

If you have any further questions for Kathy Parsons, you can contact her via her website at

“Forte” Notation Software: A Review

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

By Ronnie Currey

Republished with permission from Music Teachers Helper

I recently began using Forte notation software to compose or write sheet music especially tailored for my students. Forte not only records tracks and allows you to play back your creation, you can also use the software to edit MIDI files.

Some of the many features of Forte is it’s ability to  Sequence and transpose by Instrument. The software also has a MIDI in & out, as as Punch Record, Loop Record & Playback. The list goes on and on.You can go to and check it out for yourself.

I was a little hesitant at first, as I thought software with these feature would take time to learn. I then learned that there was a program you could download called “Forte in Ten Minutes”. Without too much work or studying the manual I was up to speed writing out my music for the students. Forte provides a good music teacher resource for their students.

I have tried several programs, especially ones in the music departments of schools, and I found them a little expensive to purchase as well as a little time consuming to learn. Forte is downloaded from their site and has a freeware version as well as a standard version you can try for 30 days. After trying it I had to get it and use it in my studio. Forte Light is $60, and the Standard version is $180. You can also download a feature comparison chart so you can decide which version is right for you.

Has anyone else used Forte? What is your opinion as a music teacher?

MySpace Fundamentals

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Promote Your Music : Myspace Fundamentals
By Liam McCormack
Republished with permission from Artists House Music

Ok, I’ll admit it. I am addicted to MySpace. I love it. I’m on MySpace everyday and can’t get enough of it. The more I use MySpace as a promotional tool and a way to communicate with fans, promoters, industry contacts, bands, etc. I’ve found that many of the business ethics and concepts of professionalism that lead to success in the music business world are mirrored in the business relations of the online world. In respect to these ethics, here are some essential tips on how to build, design, and format your MySpace page correctly. I hope my insights will inspire new ideas and beneficial changes to your MySpace page.

Your Bread and Butter
Ignore all the cool site designs, flyers, links, and banners for a second. What is the most important thing on your page? The answer is your MUSIC!! The songs you post on MySpace are your page’s bread and butter. Your music will make fans or lose them. Just like the “real world,” you want to present your songs in the best form possible; so you should record professional demos of your songs and post them on your page. It’s hard to comprehend a catchy, well-written song through layers of static and a guitar amp that drowns out the vocals from your one-mic recording done in your basement. Posting high quality recordings on your page will put you above the thousands of bands on MySpace who have posted mediocre tracks. If you don’t have the money to record professionally, record acoustic tracks with just a vocal accompanied by guitar or piano until you’ve saved enough money to produce better recordings. This allows your fans to get into your songs in their purest form and it keeps the recording process simple. Another tip to consider is the order of the songs you post. My suggestion is to post your best song first; just like the first song on your album, you want it to draw the listener in. Posting a variety of songs on your page is also a plus. Displaying a range in your music abilities will impress people as well. Maybe someone who doesn’t like your louder songs will fall in love with the ballad track and purchase your CD. One recent update to MySpace gives bands the ability to post five songs in their profile, instead of just four. MySpace has an advertising deal with Bodog Entertainment. All you have to do is go to, add Bodog as your friend and a fifth song option will appear for upload on your ‘Manage Your Songs’ admin page. Check it out!

Shows, Shows, Shows!
After you’ve posted some quality recordings on MySpace, there are still endless ways to improve your page and inform your fans about your band. Two important items for your MySpace page are your upcoming shows and your contact information. MySpace provides an easy way to enter show information and displays your upcoming shows in a calendar list on your page. Include as much information as possible about your shows so your fans don’t have any questions. Be sure to fully research the details of your gigs and list the date, time, venue address, price, other acts, etc. One possible way to draw more fans to your show is to list whom you’re playing with on the same line as the venue name that appears on your calendar. For Example: “June 22nd – The Avalon w/ The White Stripes.” If you are playing with a local band that you know has a good draw – it would be beneficial to list this right on your calendar to attract more fans to the event. The more information you give your fans about your gigs, the more you decrease the chance of people not coming because they don’t know how to get there, or how much it costs, or when you perform, and so on.

Where Can I Contact You?
Another important piece of information you’ll want to highlight on your MySpace page is your contact information. Just like promotional materials you send to people in the music business, you want your contact info on your MySpace page to be easy to find and easy to read. A club booker or label executive isn’t going to see your email address or phone number if its hiding down at the bottom of your page under your list of musical influences, so be sure to make it easy for visitors to find. Along with your email, website, phone number, and other contact information that you post, you could list your individual band member’s personal MySpace pages, emails and screen names as well. Putting your screen name on your MySpace page is another easy way for a fan to contact you. Sometimes people prefer to talk directly over instant messenger about booking shows, merchandise questions, or just to say they like your music. Who knows, having an instant messenger conversation with a fan might inspire them to tell even more people about your music and how they can ‘talk to you online!’

Behind The Music
In addition to this basic information, the supplemental content you can add to a MySpace page is literally endless. One piece of information most bands post is a biography. Your bio informs your visitors of your band’s story and can also document your achievements, for example, who you’ve recorded and performed with, past tours, etc. Along with a bio, press quotes from publications or popular music identities will attract attention to your group. This type of promotional content on your page has the ability to influence new fans to look further into your band and can also be beneficial if music industry professional check out your page. MySpace also makes it easy to inform your fans about your latest news by posting blogs that appear as links right on your page. Blogs are an ideal place to present exciting upcoming events, lyrics to your songs, member journals, track listings, and more. Your fans also have the ability to comment on these blogs, which can fuel the buzz around your band to an even greater degree.

Click Here!
On the technical side, one of MySpace’s greatest assets is the ability for bands to host graphics, linking, and image/video posting on their pages. You can provide links to your website, mailing list, your online store, online music stores for your music, press stories, videos, ring tones, and the list goes on (for posting tips check out the Graphics section of this article below). Having these types of resources available on the same page as your music is a priceless opportunity to present your fans with ways to learn more about you, buy your CD or contact you, all in one place. Posting upcoming show flyers and pictures of your merchandise on your page is also a great idea. Many bands utilize promotional tools like online map programs that represent their fans from all over the world by location (see an example at A similar program that is also becoming popular on band’s MySpace pages is Eventful’s “Demand” program ( This program allows fans to demand that an act perform in their area. A band can create a demand box for their group, post it on their page, and their fans can add to it depending on their location. The program counts and displays the number of fans in each area that “demand” the artist. Neither Frappr’s mapping technology nor Eventful’s demanding program are essential components to your MySpace page, but if you have a growing number of fans across the country that message you saying they wish you’d play in their hometown, why not document it on your page for people to see? It certainly can be impressive if you have many people supporting you across the globe, especially to a music industry professional that may have an interest in your band.

It’s Always the Little Things!
Two final topics that are subtle but important characteristics of your MySpace page are your “headline” and your “Top 8”. Your MySpace “headline” is the short quote that appears next to your profile image at the top of your page. This quote can be edited in the “Edit Profile” admin page on your MySpace. Since this little blurb is right next to your picture, people visiting your page are bound to see it, making it an excellent place for advertising. This is a prime promotional spot and you have the ability to write anything you like, from song lyrics to your album title. But choosing to write something like “Buy Our EP on iTunes!” or “Request Our Songs on 101.7 FM” are great messages to relay to your fans if you are really pushing something like a new record or looking for a new drummer. You can even take a larger step and post this information right in your band name appearing in your profile. For Example: “The Strokes *Have 2 New Songs*” or “John Mayer is LOOKING FOR A NEW BASSIST.” Many people will see this information attached to your name –whether it be on your page, above your picture, in comments you’ve left, next to messages you’ve sent them in your inbox, or a friend’s Top 8’s.

Speaking of Top 8’s, another MySpace page feature is the Top Friends list that is displayed on all MySpace pages. For non-musical personal MySpace pages the Top Friends list serves as a way to post pictures of your closest friends. With a band/music MySpace page, a band can choose to represent a number of profile types on their top friends list: fan’s profiles, bands, clothing companies, record labels, venues, and more. If you are at a level where you are playing music with notable bands and recording at recognized studios, its a good idea to list these up and coming bands and studios in your top friends list. When you display this relationship on your page, anyone in touch with the music scene in your area can see that you’re recording at top of the line studios, playing with successful bands, performing at great venues, and making the right choices that lead to a successful career. Ultimately, with all of these content, image, and linking ideas in mind, it is most important to keep your MySpace page looking professional. With all of these resources in your grasp it’s very easy to clutter your page with too much information and promotion. No one is going to want to scroll through your page if it is just a bunch of videos and advertisements. Keep your page organized and professional while still displaying your group’s important information and promotional resources. You may choose to design your page after your latest album’s artwork, or create a custom design to make your page stand apart from the default white MySpace background. Regardless of what you choose to put on your page, you’ll want the online representation of your band to be informative, user-friendly, and professional.

HTML What?
In order to maintain and update your page with links, flyers, text, and such, you will need to know some html coding basics. Fear not my friends, although computer coding may sound kind of scary, it really isn’t that complicated. There are a handful of free Websites that offer html basic how-to’s that can teach you a variety of linking and posting techniques. A great example of a free html site is: Another graphic design tip is to make friends with someone who can create flyers and banners for your band. Maybe someone in your band will take this on so you can keep it within the band. The last thing you want is a MySpace page with great music decorated with lame banners and show flyers that people find unattractive. Either research resources or take it upon yourself to make attractive advertisements for your band. Many artists, especially those with record label backing, have teams of people working to design their MySpace pages and promo content. Make sure you can compete with these pages by learning the fundamentals of advertising – through Google searches, advice from friends, or whatever it takes. One popular option for formatting your MySpace page is to use a free MySpace Page Generator. These are programs in which you enter information and then the generator formats your MySpace page with a certain background, font, font color, bordering colors, etc. Some artists choose to give their page a certain look to make their profile more unique. This is a great idea in my opinion as long as the page layout doesn’t interfere with the content on the page. You can find free MySpace Generators all over the web. Here is an example:

Remember, when designing your MySpace page, keep your page professional, informative, and organized. Best of luck!