Why I Don’t Teach Video Lessons

I guess it would be more accurate to say I don’t charge for video lessons, rather than say I don’t teach them.  And since I don’t charge for them, I don’t do this very often.  When I can afford the time, I will try to help people online as much as possible.  Obviously I’m an advocate for using the internet as a pedagogical tool for brass instruction.  I’ve a whole bunch of videos on brass pedagogy on YouTube, for example.  I’ve worked with students via video chat before, I’ve taken video lessons myself, and I even had a student of mine take a video lesson so we both could get a different take on making the corrections he needed to make at that time.

Ultimately, I’ve found video lessons to be too limiting to be reliable, so I have never charged for a video consultation and don’t have any plans to ever do so.  There’s just too many things that can be missed or misinterpreted.  I’ve met with brass players via video chat and then later saw them in person and also worked with players in person first and then later with video.  While video is helpful because you can look over and over at the exact same thing, I know that personally I miss too much on video that I don’t in person.  Here are some of the many reasons why I find video lessons to not be worth paying for.

  1. Camera resolution is usually poor and the video is frequently “choppy.”  It’s hard to get a look at what a player is doing when changing partials, for example, when you can get a clear view of what he or she is doing at that exact time because of a poor frame rate.
  2. Microphones are rarely of high enough quality to get an accurate depiction of what a player sounds like.  The microphone input levels set usually end up with being able to understand the student’s voice but with a distorted sound on the instrument or OK sound of the instrument but the voice is too faint.  A compromise between the two is hard, and both usually suffer.
  3. The further away the student and teacher are, the longer the delay between the video feeds.  You might not consider this to be important, but there are often times when I’ll ask a student to freeze with his or her instrument up to the lips, but if the teacher and student are on different continents (I’ve consulted this way a couple of times from the U.S. to Europe) the delay is such that the student doesn’t hear the instructions until a few seconds after the teacher spoke.  By that point the moment is gone and you have to start over.
  4. There are other situations where I want to physically interact with the student by moving their horn angle for them, resetting their mouthpiece placement for them, or feel on their body where they are concentrating their muscular effort (both in the embouchure muscles and breathing).  This is, obviously, not possible to do in a video chat and it’s a pretty useful tool for certain situations.
  5. Then there’s simply the ability to be able to move around and change where you’re looking at any time.  Putting the student’s camera where I can get a good look at the embouchure means that I can’t check the student’s posture, breathing, fingering/slide positions, etc.  I can’t move from one side of the face to the other to compare the mouth corners.  You just can’t see enough with a video camera.
  6. The need for the teacher to get a clear look at the student in a video lesson usually also means that the student isn’t going to be able to easily get to a mirror at the same time.  Mirror observations can be a very useful tool for certain corrections and I will frequently use a mirror in lessons to show the student exactly what needs work and how to use a mirror for feedback.  If you’re recording the video lesson I suppose the student could go back and take a look later, but then it would be harder for the teacher to point out specific issues.  Using a mirror in a lesson can teach the student how to make real time corrections while practicing, without needing to resort to the notoriously unreliable playing sensations or having to always go back and watch video in between.

All that said, I don’t think video lessons are worthless.  In many cases there simply aren’t people in a particular area that have the background to help players dealing with certain issues and traveling to meet a specialist simply isn’t feasible for everyone.  They can make an excellent supplement to in-person lessons in many cases.  There are many things that can be covered in a video lesson, like expressive playing or playing the correct notes with the right rhythm, that are pretty easy to deal with by video chat.  However, in general I find that video lessons are rarely close to being the same value as an in-person lesson and I don’t feel that I could honestly charge someone money for one.

Those are just my thoughts and I know many people feel differently.  Have you ever taken a video lesson and found it to be worth the fee you paid?  Have you ever taken a video lesson that left you disappointed with the time and money you spent on it?  Do you teach video lessons and feel they are worth the same value as one of your in-person lessons?  Have you even consulted with me via one of my free video chats and can attest that its value was exactly what you paid?  Please leave your comments and let us know your thoughts.

Paul T.

Interesting post, Dave.

I’ve considered taking a video lesson a few times, but always had doubts about doing so, for exactly the reasons you describe.

The distortion of the sound due to microphone characteristics is a particular issue, especially in musical contexts. We rely so heavily on hearing sounds and then imitating them for the subconscious aspects of our technique… I wonder how this would impact the teaching and learning process.

That said, there are many, many important musical topics (e.g. theory, improvisation, breathing, phrasing, certain aspects of technique, music business) which could, no doubt, be usefully taught over a video link. I’ve had many good teachers who spent most of our lesson time talking or listening to examples together, with my horn waiting in my case.

For the kind of detailed and technical teaching we’re talking about on this blog, however, video lessons pose a very significant challenge.

I like your policy of not charging for video lessons, and plan to adopt the same practice.