From the July 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY LOUISE LEE

Thanks to today’s technology, players don’t have to limit themselves to traditional face-to-face lessons. Whether or not you have a local teacher whom you see regularly, you can still take advantage of videoconferencing technologies, such as Skype or FaceTime, to have a lesson with any teacher anywhere in the world.

Here are five ways to get the most out of virtual lessons.

1. Embrace the Virtual World
If you’re an absolute beginner, you’re likely to need an in-person teacher who can literally reach out and physically help you with the basics of posture, hand and body positions, and other playing technique. But once you’re beyond that beginner stage, “more important than skill level is the mindset you bring and being excited to learn,” says Grant Gordy, a Brooklyn-based performer and guitar instructor. As long as you don’t need someone physically guiding you and you can play, at the very least, simple songs, chords, and scales, you can benefit from virtual lessons. However, says Gordy, playing for a camera instead of a live person can feel strange at first, so before your first virtual lesson, practice playing in front of your laptop or other device just to overcome any initial feelings of awkwardness.

‘With a strong Internet connection and high-quality speakers, you can even work on improving your tone and your intonation.’

—Grant Gordy

2. Be Prepared
Make sure you have a reliable—that means fast—internet connection. Otherwise, you and your teacher will waste a lot of time struggling to hear and see each other, says Eric Skye, a recording artist and guitar instructor based in Portland, Oregon. While it’s possible to use just your smartphone and its built-in microphone and camera for your virtual lesson, the sound and video quality will be better if you use a laptop computer, especially one connected to an external microphone and web camera. Get everything set up before your lesson starts. Turn up the microphone and speakers, and make sure there’s sufficient lighting. Position the computer on a sturdy surface, so that your teacher can see you and your hands. Have your chair, instrument, music stand, and any other gear all set up. Using a good set of headphones will help you focus and allow you to hear the instructor better. And ideally, make sure your teacher has a copy of your sheet music, so when you ask about “bar 25,” you don’t have to pick up your score and flash it in front of the camera.

Also, figure out in advance how to record the lesson—ideally, both the audio and video—so that you can go back later and review what you’ve learned. And before recording, be sure to get the instructor’s permission.

3. Ask Big-Picture Questions
If you’re taking a virtual lesson with someone whom you’re unlikely to encounter in person, such as someone who’s halfway around the globe or who teaches infrequently, you might want to skip questions about specific matters like the harmony and fingering for a particular piece (things you could easily ask a local teacher). Rather, you might want to talk to this virtual teacher about big-picture issues. “For instance,” says Skye, “you can ask, ‘How do you practice? How do you prepare for a performance?’ or ‘What are you listening to?’”

With the added skills you learn through virtual lessons, you’re likely to get even more out of your local get-togethers.

4. Customize Your Lesson
If you do want to learn about specific techniques or musical concepts, you’re in luck, because those matters lend themselves well to a virtual lesson. With a strong internet connection and high-quality speakers, you can even work on improving your tone and your intonation, says Gordy. “It’s not quite the same as sitting in the same room, but it’s close,” he adds. However, because of transmission delays and other technological limitations, you and your instructor can’t both play at the same time, so a virtual lesson unfortunately doesn’t lend itself to playing duos.   

5. Now Reach Out to Others
Once you’ve gotten comfortable with virtual lessons, reach out to a range of teachers to see if they’d be willing to teach just a one-off session. There’s value in playing for a variety of people, and videoconferencing technology lets you do that without the cost of travel. Because you’re saving on driving time, gas, and parking fees, you might want to take virtual lessons more frequently or take longer lessons (or both). So if you regularly see a local teacher or attend neighborhood jam sessions, keep on going. With the added skills you learn through virtual lessons, you’re likely to get even more out of your local get-togethers. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.