5 Things to Expect when Moving to Online Music Lessons – for Teachers

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I, like most music teachers, have been teaching in-person music lessons for years. I’ve dabbled in online marketing for music lessons – built a website, utilized social media and other online marketing techniques, even dabbled in email marketing for my clients, but it was all to advertise and sell my in-person piano and voice lessons.

Now, like all other music teachers, I’ve had to move every single one of my students to online learning. Let me tell you, I have definitely had to reevaluate some of my expectations because I just didn’t have a full picture of what they were going to look like. Here are some key things I learned in the transition to online lessons:

Lessons have to look different

You can’t have your own finger and pencil in the room to point at your student’s music or write in helpful notes. With lag times on video chats, duets are out of the question unless pre-recorded. Theory assignments can’t be assessed in real time, but need to be done for homework and evaluated virtually, in a program like Google Classroom.

Even things like Vocal Warmups – I can’t play along with my students, but instead have them repeat their warmup after me, or sing along with a recording.

There are so many parts of the way music lessons usually go that just don’t work over video chat – and that’s ok. You can still have productive lessons, they will just look different from what you usually do.

You need an Online Payment System

Unfortunately, you can’t have the parent just hand you a couple of bills and call it good when you’re teaching over the internet – you need a way to collect and track payments online. While there are definitely pros and cons to cash payments vs. online payments, I personally think that the pros outweigh the cons. In this case, getting paid way outweighs… not getting paid.

There are several options out there for online payments – venmo, paypal, My Music Staff… here at C&S Music we use Square. For the whole process from appointment setting to invoicing to tracking payments, we’ve found Square to be the best fit for our music lessons business. As a plus, they partner with TurboTax to make paying taxes as little of a headache as possible.

Important Note: at the time of writing this, Covid-19 has forced most of the world into isolation, and small businesses are struggling. Square has put measures into place to help all of the small businesses who use it, like a waiving of fees and using social media to promote their customers. In a time of crisis when most large corporations are showing their true (selfish) colors, Square is taking care of their customers – speaking volumes to their ethics.

You will lose students

Online lessons aren’t for everyone, bottom line. Some kids (or adults) just don’t do well if their teacher isn’t physically sitting right beside them – and that’s ok!

You can still keep in touch, talk about resuming in-person lessons when possible, I’ve even put together a self-study curriculum for a few students using their lesson books to bridge the time gap (Pro tip: only give those to students who you know will use them).

You will run into technical difficulties

When using technology, it’s just going to happen. Slow internet speeds cause lags, parents or students will have trouble accessing your video chat platform, they’ll forget to upload theory homework or just plain old not be able to figure it out – it happens.

When you’re dealing almost exclusively with technology, it can feel overwhelming to try to overcome those issues, especially when they’re largely user error. The key to success – don’t hate me – is patience. Patience for your students and their parents – this technology stuff is just as new to them as it is to you, if not more so – and, most importantly, for yourself.

You need a space to Teach

Did you know that our brains associate certain activities with certain places? When you use one space to do one thing over and over and over again (like using your bed to sleep, your kitchen table to eat, your couch to veg out and watch TV, etc.) you start subconsciously expecting to do something when you get to that place. That’s why sleep experts recommend reserving your bed for sleep if you’re having trouble sleeping – it could be because your brain is a little bit confused.

The same goes for work and productivity. Yes, you need a quiet space, and yes, you need a space you are comfortable in, but you 100% need a space designated for work that you use day in and day out.

I have a desk set up in front of a window (helps the lighting for video, and I get a view of the outside) where I teach my lessons, send invoices, and write every day. My computer stays there, and I don’t let myself bring work outside of that desk.

And you know what? My productivity and focus has improved drastically from when I would do my work on the couch.

Aside from just designating a space, you do need to follow all of the guidelines you have in place during in-person lessons: no phone, no social media, no distractions… your student should be your only focus, and all these things help with that.


Whether you are looking to expand into online music lessons out of necessity or just as a way to bring in some extra money (if you’re just looking to widen your net for students, you’re going to need to do some online marketing. Check out our guide to marketing music lessons online), online lessons are an adjustment if you’ve been teaching in-person lessons for any length of time.

But I want to leave you with a few words of encouragement:

It may be different, it may be hard at times, but we are so lucky to be in a profession where we are able to adapt to changing times and come out OK on the other end! I remember thinking for a long time that pursuing a career in the arts meant that I would have very little job security, but I’ve found that as long as I can adapt my business, I will always be able to find students to fill my schedule – and so will you!

As always – if you have any questions, leave a comment or email us at alyssa.villagrana@gmail.com

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