Mu­sic by re­mote con­trol

Re­mote liv­ing or lack of trans­port need no longer be a bar to hav­ing mu­sic lessons. Claire Jack­son, who’s learn­ing the flute, is one of many to adopt on­line teach­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

It is pos­si­ble to learn an in­stru­ment on­line, re­ports Claire Jack­son

MY flute teacher asks me to play a piece I’ve been work­ing on. I mud­dle through a few lines of Fauré’s Morceau de Con­cours, then apol­o­gise pro­fusely for not prac­tis­ing enough. The teacher gen­tly of­fers con­struc­tive feed­back, re­peated per­for­mances yield in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments and I prom­ise to work on my scales. It’s like any other mu­sic les­son, ex­cept that El­lie Haines, my tu­tor, is peer­ing out at me from a lap­top. In this on­line era, al­most any­thing can be trans­lated to screen—in­clud­ing mu­sic lessons.

In 2013, pi­ano teacher Ol­wen Ma­cleod was strug­gling to find a vi­able busi­ness model—not sur­pris­ing, as she lives on North Uist in the Outer He­brides, where one-toone tu­tor­ing can be im­prac­ti­cal. How­ever, Mrs Ma­cleod was a reg­u­lar user of video­con­fer­enc­ing soft­ware Skype. She de­scribes the evening she and her sis­ter, Abi­gail Steele, were part of a 60th-birth­day cel­e­bra­tion via Skype as a light­bulb mo­ment; from that was born Your Space Mu­sic Lessons.

‘I re­alised that teach­ing via Skype would not only be great for me, but also for those liv­ing in sim­i­larly re­mote ar­eas or with dif­fi­cul­ties with ac­cess,’ she ex­plains, via Skype (nat­u­rally). How­ever, as re­cently as five years ago, few peo­ple on the Scot­tish is­lands had the band­width to sup­port on­line video calls. ‘The only peo­ple who had good con­nec­tions were those with satel­lites, but, in 2017, we got BT Broad­band, which has made a huge dif­fer­ence—the lessons have re­ally taken off.’

It’s not only far-flung places such as the Uists that have been held hostage by in­ter­net speeds. My Sur­rey vil­lage only got fast broad­band a few months ago (cue a cel­e­bra­tory street party). Of­com re­cently re­vealed that 67% of ru­ral ar­eas in the UK have an av­er­age speed of less than 10Mbit/s, whereas their ur­ban coun­ter­parts tend to en­joy 40Mbit/s. That said, progress is steady and more peo­ple are in a po­si­tion to tap into the Pan­dora’s Box of live stream­ing, blink-and-you’llmiss-it down­load speeds and video calls. This is hav­ing an im­pact on how we con­sume things: now, on­line con­sul­ta­tions with doc­tors, nurses and phar­ma­cists are be­com­ing com­mon­place and ‘how to’ Youtube videos and web tu­to­ri­als are be­ing re­placed by lessons in real time.

‘The growth in on­line learn­ing is amaz­ing,’ agrees Mrs Steele. ‘We started with pi­ano and ac­cor­dion and we now have 16 teach­ers with 18 dif­fer­ent spe­cialisms. Pi­ano is still the most pop­u­lar by far.’ Isn’t it com­plex to teach—and learn—on screen ? ‘If you’re an ex­pe­ri­enced teacher, you just adapt,’ ex­plains Mrs Ma­cleod. ‘I use an over­head cam­era, which gives a bird’s-eye view of the keys.’

It took some ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to get the view right for my flute les­son, but, once I’d propped the com­puter up on a chair, I could stand and play in a way that felt nat­u­ral. Larger in­stru­ments may re­quire a dif­fer­ent ap­proach. ‘We’ve left drums un­til last,’ says Mrs Steele, ‘but there’s de­mand—we’re work­ing out how to po­si­tion the cam­eras.’

We set up a call with five or six play­ers and it cre­ates a real sense of com­mu­nity

Joanne Laing, 16, lives in South Uist and, al­though it’s linked to North Uist by a cause­way, sin­gle-track roads and in­clement weather can make it a three-hour round trip to Mrs Ma­cleod’s house. Given that Miss Laing trav­els 50 miles a day to school, there’s not a lot of time left. ‘If it wasn’t for the on­line op­tion, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be able to have pi­ano lessons,’ she points out. ‘It works re­ally well and I don’t have to get some­one to drive me around all the time.’

Your Space Mu­sic Lessons has stu­dents who find the set-up more ef­fi­cient than tra­di­tional mod­els and the com­pany has at­tracted ex­pa­tri­ates who want to con­tinue their mu­si­cal devel­op­ment, in­clud­ing a stu­dent liv­ing in Iraq with her mil­i­tary fam­ily. It also works well for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from so­cial anx­i­eties and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties. One of Mrs Ma­cleod’s pi­ano stu­dents has a sin­gle hand, for ex­am­ple.

When Skype cre­ated the op­tion for mul­ti­ple users on the same video call, the de­vel­op­ers prob­a­bly didn’t en­vis­age it be­ing used for cham­ber-mu­sic con­certs, but that’s ex­actly what Your Space has adapted the plat­form for. ‘We set up a call with five or six play­ers

and it cre­ates a real sense of com­mu­nity,’ ex­plains Mrs Ma­cleod.

On­line tu­tors are find­ing that their pupils stay with them for the long haul and many go through the As­so­ci­ated Board of the Royal Schools of Mu­sic (ABRSM) ex­am­i­na­tions, al­though ex­am­in­ers still travel to in­vig­i­late for pupils.

‘I thought it [learn­ing on Skype] sounded a bit strange at first,’ says Miss Laing, who’s passed Grade IV and is now fo­cus­ing on tra­di­tional Scot­tish mu­sic, ‘but it’s re­ally no dif­fer­ent to hav­ing a les­son in real life.’

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