In this article you’ll learn about the advantages and disadvantages of online singing lessons compared to real-life lessons. You'll also get an idea if and how to incorporate online lessons, depending on your situation.
Had you told me 15 years ago that people would be learning singing online, sitting in front of a screen, I wouldn’t have laughed. ‘Cuz it’s not funny. I would be horrified.
But these days, so many people, and not only the younger generations, will first try to learn something by looking it up online.
Is the singing world rising to the occasion? Well, there are online singing tutorials and online courses on the web, an entire ocean. I also have an online course and literally share hours of vocal exercises videos. More teachers are also teaching private lessons online, including me.
Can we put our trust in this form of learning when it comes to singing? Where I come from, the classical old-fashioned vocal training, I needed some serious convincing. But, after diving into this online world for a few years now, I’m impressed.
How it began in 2017: Nick's online call for help
The first online lesson I gave was in 2017. Former student Nick wrote me a message on Facebook, after I moved from Berlin to Amsterdam, and could no longer teach him:
It was 40 minutes before Nick would have to go on stage. A severe case of reflux put him in pain whenever he swallowed and in a state of near panic. There were three choices I had:
I could send him away, saying I am a great believer in real time teaching and don’t think online teaching is applicable to voice studies.
I could write down a few exercises he could do and wish him luck
I could Skype with him for 10 minutes and try to help him by seeing what he does, instructing him on how to relax the muscles which bother him, and demonstrate to him what he could do.
I chose the third option. My 10 minute online emergency advice proved to be a quick fix and it helped him relax his throat and breathing. I showed him how to relax the muscles and he later said it helped him perform.
My tips helped him a lot and that got me rethinking my stand on online lessons. It kicked off my online singing teaching career.
Positively surprised with online singing teaching
The first full online singing lesson I gave after the Nick event, I was surprised by how much I could contribute to the student without being able to approach him. Most “wrongs” I had to “right” were audible and visible. I have been training myself to detect difficulties in the voice, and it is possible, I’d say 90% of the time, to do it online as well. Through online experience, I can detect vocal issues by watching at the singer's posture - that can be helpful if the sound fails on us for a split second.
Explaining something to an online student
The limitations of online singing lessons
Still, that 10 percent. Some people look like they are doing everything right, and still their sound isn’t free. In person I could go up to them, put my hand on their neck, shoulders, chest, and see what’s going on. If it’s an online lesson, how will I figure it out?
If my method goes hand in hand with body awareness, which it does, teaching through a screen sounds really tricky to me. I work a lot with placing my hands on the student’s body and guiding them to correct bad posture, breathe properly, release tension etc.
But let’s assess for a moment what I need as a teacher, and if there is a way to do it “hands-off” (besides, my student might be ultra orthodox and won’t be interested in me touching them anyway).
Pros and cons
Keep the process going You can keep seeing your teacher, even if you're travelling or tied to your home. No gaps in the continuity of your practice.
Recording the lessons is easy Online tools such as Skype make it super easy to record and review your lessons. Be reminded of the exercises and instructions, hear your own voice.
Be spontaneous with appointments As in my example with Nick, you can do an 'emergency' video call without scheduling far in advance, or travelling far.
Can feel less personal Singing is an intimate activity. Physical closeness helps.
Singing together not possible Simultaneous audio is not an option in most apps
No hands-on feedback Correcting posture can't be done by the teacher's hands.
Ceiling effect There's a limit of what you can learn by ONLY taking online lessons.
How to make up for the limitations of online singing lessons
When a student makes a sound, I look and listen. I first make sure that the visible behavior of the body is healthy. I also listen for a healthy functioning of the vocal cords, and work on that if needed. I ask the student to turn and show me their posture from the side as well as the front. These are the 90% that are manageable so far.
When the student’s voice sounds forced to me, but looking at them I don’t see any muscle tension manifesting itself (this is less common), I need to find the source of the tension in another way.
The tension could come from any number of areas in the body: The back of the neck, the throat, the jaw, the tongue, the shoulders, the chest or any combination thereof. Of course I have exercises for releasing each and every part, so I go one by one, and see which one creates the biggest different in the sound. And then I know the source of the problem and can target it.
Yes, it’s a longer process, but it’s also more thorough.
But fear not. It is, as said, usually not that challenging. With my online student Ido, a dream come true of any teacher, an online lesson is pretty close to what it would be in real life, I would assume. His ability to develop body awareness is above average, so he will understand quickly what I mean and inform me of that. Then he takes the new pointers he learned and works on them throughout the week, coming to the next lesson 70% better already. With a student like that it’s relatively easy to get the information across, and even an obstacle like compromised sound quality (which can happen if there is WIFI trouble) is not a big problem.
The bottom line is that the success of the lesson depends on both the teacher and the student, just like in live, in-person lessons. It depends on how developed a student’s awareness of their body is, and how helpful the teacher’s advice is. For some it will take longer than for others, but that’s true for offline lessons as well.
Real-life singing lessons
Personal Singing is an emotionally intimate activity. Closeness can help.
Hands-on Inspection and adjustment of posture is better done in real life.
Good connection Wifi issues are not a thing when two people talk in real-life.
Fewer teachers to choose from Not every teacher that you click with or offers the specialty you need lives close.
Colds, infections, allergies In a small space, both your and your teacher's voice are sensitive to infections and allergens.
Travelling Travelling to your teacher takes time that you could have spent on... practicing.
When you should take online lessons
Based on the pros and cons of both online and real-life singing lessons, I've worked out a few scenarios for different kinds of imaginary students. How can they incorporate online lessons in their singing training?
A person like John I would recommend that he takes online lessons with a teacher of his choice. If, after reaching a decent level, he is still ambitious, John should definitely get out of his bubble and go to a singing school or start doing workshops, in addition to his (online or offline) lessons.
As Vincent is not on the other side of the country, I would advise him to start with a couple of real-life lessons. Get the fundamentals in order. Then, he can sustain himself with online lessons. Whenever he needs a higher level of personal attention, he can travel for the occasional real-life lesson.
Coco can start with real-life lessons and continue taking these whenever it suits both her and her teacher. If she has a long day at work, she could win some time by doing an online lesson for a change. Same if she feels a bit ill or if her or her teacher are out of town.
“During my performances in the past, nerves would take over, and I could not deliver the aria from a place of confidence and know-how. But in a recent performance, thanks to Linors course and online lessons, I sang like a resurrected being! The exact tricks from her course, elaborated in private Skype lessons, and her support as a teacher, made the performance stellar – internally and for the audience as well.”
Radha Natasha Kadic, amateur opera singer
“After my first lesson in Linors studio, we had an online lesson through video calling. I thought music lessons could only be worthwhile when done live, but I came out positively surprised. Even online, Linor was still able to correct my posture, accompany me on the piano, and provide meaningful feedback on my technique. And as a complete beginner, I definitely need all of that. Even though I still prefer live lessons, I do feel the online sessions are just as productive and helpful. Now I can schedule my classes in a much more flexible way.”
Michel Ivulic, beginning singer
Online singing lessons for beginners?
For beginners, online singing lessons lower the threshold of taking that first step. They don't have to go to a house and sing in front of another person. In the comfort of their own home, they can make their first baby steps.
There's an interesting flipside to this though. A lot of beginners feel shy about singing in their own home. Will my boyfriend/mother/neighbor hear me? The discomfort around this can border on anxiety. An online lesson can take this shyness away: there is no way around it! It forces beginners to sing in their own home, but with the gentle guidance of their teacher. Home practice is necessary if you want to make progress.
Online singing lessons for kids
For kids, the medium online poses no problems. They have quite literally been trained since birth, really. I had a 13-year old starting online with me a few years ago. It felt completely natural from the first lesson.
So what's the verdict on online singing lessons?
Online lessons are not as effective but almost as effective as real-life lessons (90% I would say). And they can be useful in a practical sense.
From my experience, teacher and student will be positively surprised about how much can be learnt.
Online lessons urge beginning singers to sing in their own homes: necessary for future practice/improvement.