Creating a positive online group class experience requires a lot of forethought, planning, and preparation. Professionalism is the most critical piece in the delivery of the class itself. Your demeanor and execution will ultimately determine how successful a class becomes, regardless of the content covered. This may require some small investment to ensure you have the proper tools to succeed. In this article, we review tips for lighting, audio, and video, to get the most out of the experience.
Let There Be Light(ing)!
It’s difficult to follow an instructor – and mimic positions, fingering, and technique – if the student has difficulty seeing exactly what is being presented. Without proper lighting, the experience will frustrate students, and by extension, the teachers trying their best to teach them.
Backlighting will solve the majority of lighting issues in an online lesson. LED lamps are excellent tools to place behind the computer, illuminating everything in front of the camera. Avoid excessively warm lights low on the Kelvin scale, as they’re unlikely to add as much definition to what’s in the camera view.
If classes are being delivered during the daytime, consider placing the computer in front of a large window that lets in a large amount of natural light. If you decide to choose this method, be sure to carefully consider your professional background.
If possible, consider more than one extra means of lighting to enhance your appearance on screen. Test your lighting with several different placements to get the best arrangement.
Disclaimer: using earbuds with a microphone will provide very poor sound quality to class attendees. Since an external microphone will be critical to ensuring excellent sound quality and crispness, be sure to use headphones as a monitor.
For many classes, only one microphone may be needed (lessons on music theory, music history, digital production, trumpet). If only one microphone is needed, we recommend an external USB microphone with monitoring capabilities such as the AT2020 USB+ or Rode NT USB. Audio Technica makes great models with wonderful sound quality (example shown). While not cheap, the sound quality will be well worth the investment and its use will likely extend far beyond online classes. USB microphones are recognized by Macs and PC’s, and no additional software needed.
Some classes (guitar, piano, etc.) will require the use of multiple audio sources simultaneously. For acoustic instruments or amplifier cabinets, consider a separate instrument mic to optimize sound quality. If more than one audio source is needed (multiple mics, mic+instrument, mic+aux), this will likely require the use of an Audio interface.
An audio interface will give you the ability to connect professional microphones, instruments and other kinds of signals to a computer, and output a variety of signals as well (monitor, headphones, production software). Thankfully, Zoom will recognize an audio interface containing multiple sources without any additional software! Focusrite (example shown) and Personas are two excellent examples.
For more granular control of channel levels and your overall mix, consider a virtual mixer. Options are available online and run the gamut in pricing from free to hundreds of dollars. These tools will help you finely tune the volume and mix at any time and adjust as needed. And lastly, vocalists should always consider using windscreen!
Consider your video feed to be your window into the student’s home. Beyond the crucial lighting component (aforementioned), is the actual video camera used and any multiple camera arrangement, if needed.
First, consider your topic and lesson type in order to decide if a multi-camera set up is necessary. In addition to or in lieu of an additional camera, screen sharing is a useful tool, sometimes critical to explaining important information and concepts.
Classes for vocals, flute, music history and appreciation, and digital production, for example, may only require one camera. In this case, the built-in computer camera may very well suffice. Using screen sharing to show music examples and your DAW screen will be important additions to your class workflow.
Instruments like piano, guitar, upright bass, cello, and drums may necessitate the use of a second camera to deliver the best experience to students.
Thankfully, setting up a two camera experience is easy! For a brief and very helpful tutorial on setting up Multi Camera Meetings in Zoom, follow this youtube link (below). In the tutorial, you will learn how to use your default built-in computer camera as well as any external device (or exclusively external devices) both individually and simultaneously.
There are countless camera options available from $25 to around $100, many of which come with a flexible mounting device for tabletop use.
For more information and ideas regarding the content and delivery of successful online lessons, refer to our previous articles Conducting Successful Virtual Lessons and Preparing for Virtual Music Lessons. Both have good ideas that can be applied to conducting classes. Preparation is key and will ultimately be the factor that determines how successful your class is!