Guest blog: A new dawn in music education as internet lessons fight back

Corporate members Your Space Music Lessons introduce the different motivations driving some of their learners

For purist musicians, music technology can leave a bad taste in their mouth.  But what would it have been like if their own musical start in life was missed? If Mozart had not been taught, or Bach or Beethoven!

For people cut off from mainstream music education due to lack of local funding, medical conditions, geographical location or lack of time, a new digital dawn has arrived to make personal music lessons accessible to diverse groups of people who share the same passion and determination to learn. 

Take these four beginner pupils learning to play a musical instrument with ‘Your Space Music Lessons’. Discover their motivations for choosing an online music teacher to help them pursue their dream.

Aimée Barton – Age 8 Toulouse France, Bilingual

Aimée with her clarinet at her home

‘If you choose something because it is geographically close to you I think it really hinders your choices.’

Jemma Barton and her husband moved from the UK to live in a small town south east of Toulouse 10 years ago.  They made the move to enjoy ‘a different type of life’ as the houses were much bigger than what was affordable in the UK, and they enjoy ‘better living’ and a wonderful climate.  Jemma works as an English teacher for people in and around the French town, but also as a Skype English teacher.

Their daughter Aimée, who was born in France, had been given a clarinet as a gift by her Grandfather, so the hunt was on to find Aimée a music teacher.

We have a music school in the town, but they are very structured and very rigid in their way of teaching.  The children are obliged to go to a separate hour lesson per week just for reading music and singing. So whatever instrument they learn they must also do the extra hour per week.  There is no access to music at school at all, it doesn’t exist.  So, it’s really very difficult for parents who work as the sessions are always after school.  It’s very restrictive.  Also, I personally believe that children should learn to read music whilst learning the instrument.  Otherwise it feels like torture to them rather than fun and a part of learning the instrument, so I looked for other alternatives’

Jemma felt there were advantages to Skype lessons having used the medium herself for teaching, and principally the flexibility that it gave, but also the benefit of having an instrument taught in English to a bi-lingual student who has everything else taught in French. 

Jemma also explained ‘I could probably find a local clarinet teacher but whether they would be a good teacher or whether I would be doing it because they were within driving distance would be another matter. When you do it by Skype it means you can have a fantastic teacher and it doesn’t matter where they live.

If you choose something because it is geographically close to you I think it really hinders your choices.’

Aimée is taking weekly clarinet lessons with online woodwind tutor Jillian, who is based in Aberdeen.

‘For us it’s a real pleasure every week.’

Rebecca Nowell – Age 34 Tamworth – Adult Learner

Online piano student Rebecca with her dog Toby

‘I feel like myself when I have music and the animals’

Rebecca started learning the piano when she was 8 years old when her Grandad started to teach her.  He was a big influence on Rebecca as he played classical pieces to her, of which Beethoven was a favourite. ‘I miss him playing and he helped me to learn the notes’. Sadly, he passed away and Rebecca found she was struggling on her own.

Rebecca has always had a learning disability which makes it difficult for her to learn new skills and retain information.  Rebecca also suffered from terrifying epileptic fits as a child as well as experiencing every childhood illness going; Chickenpox, German Measles and Hooping Cough, all of which severely disrupted her development at a young age.

Rebecca isn’t able to work and spends most of the time at home with her mum and her animals.  Some days she walks a few minutes up the road to help her Nan with her shopping and washing.

Happiness for Rebecca is sharing her days with her animals. She has 8 cockatiels (Tom, Snowball, Snowflakes, Bertie, Coco, Honey, Max and Mango).  ‘I also have my two dogs Toby and George, and my cat ‘Tiger’ who sits on the bed’ she says smiling.  Her animals really matter to her ‘I like their nature’.  They don’t talk back and love her whatever - I’m sure most people could relate to that.

She says ‘I feel like myself when I have music and the animals’ and that is a simple wonderful and revealing revelation.

Rebecca looked for a music teacher after her Grandad passed away, but she specifically wanted someone to come to her.  She didn’t feel comfortable going out for lessons ‘I don’t know different areas’ and she felt nervous and awkward around other people. ‘I had a teacher who came to my house every Thursday from Lichfield, around half an hour’s drive.  I wanted to find another teacher because she was retiring, and I was going to be stuck then.’ 

She started to look for another teacher and soon found an online school that she felt comfortable about approaching.  Her music lessons with her online teacher Alex ‘have been very helpful and it’s not difficult for me to learn through a screen.’

Rebecca’s favourite music style is pop music, enthusiastically tackling Adele songs and her favourite artist Meatloaf, ‘I have the book, but I haven’t started on Bat out of Hell yet!’

She does find parts of reading music quite difficult ‘mainly when you get double notes and the sharps and flats, they’re the main ones I’m struggling with.’ But an online teacher can be as patient as any other personal teacher to give their student the support they need.

Music seems to take Rebecca away from her learning difficulties, when asked she said ‘yes, that’s how I feel, it really helps me’.  She wants other people with learning disabilities never to give up even if they are scared ‘they should take online lessons, you get the encouragement you need.’

Rebecca has booked in to take her grade 1 piano exam soon.

Haseeb Zeeshan – Age 8 - London Home Educated.

Haseeb playing the piano

‘We didn’t need to travel yet we get a professional music teacher during the daytime’

Eight year old Haseeb lives in London with his Mum and Dad.

‘A little time after Haseeb started reception class at school it was becoming clear that mainstream school was not helping him to learn at his pace.’ Explains his mum Nazia.  ‘Already he could write and read and was extremely bright for his age, so we had to look for other activities around school that would stretch his mind and help him develop.

‘It was becoming difficult to manage so we decided after quite a while that we would home school Haseeb and support his progressive learning with a one to one approach.’  Haseeb has a number of academic tutors for English, Maths teacher and German teacher and goes to other local classes.

‘My husband wanted to play the piano so he bought a piano and originally thought I could learn, but Haseeb was also interested at a young age.  At first we looked for a local piano teacher close to home in London but all that was available was group keyboard classes, and this was not suitable for us as I felt the teacher could not see if pupils were going wrong, just telling the whole class to follow.’ 

Having originally come from Pakistan, Nazia had experience of an unstructured music teaching market, ‘you were lucky to find anyone remotely close’, so I felt in the UK there would be a solution and made every effort into making it happen for Haseeb.  So she found an online music school with personal teachers. ‘This was the best solution for us where we didn’t need to travel yet we get a professional music teacher during the daytime.’

‘Haseeb loves his lessons with Olwen at Your Space and gets on with her very well. He hasn’t got on with some of his other subject tutors!’

Haseeb has been having online lessons for 3 years and has taken the ABRSM prep test, Grade 1 and is working towards Grade 2 at a local ABRSM examination centre.  He participates enthusiastically in online concerts where he gets to see and hear other pupils learning in the same way.

Shirley Wallace –  Crewe  - Adult learner

Alex Chisholm Loxley online piano teacher with Your Space Music Lessons

‘Learning music takes me away from the illnesses’

Shirley is an inspiring, glass half full kind of person.  Whilst she is constantly dependent on an oxygen supply and housebound, due to many health conditions, she is determined to do what she can to make the most of her life. She had always dreamed of learning the piano and as an absolute beginner she set about making it happen.

‘We bought a second-hand piano from a charity shop.  When the piano tuner came out and tuned it and he said it was a very good piano which was a good start. Then it was a case of looking for a music teacher.’

She looked around locally for a teacher who could visit her house, but this was not an easy task.  Finding a teacher who will travel a distance can be difficult and more costly for a pupil. Having had several failed attempts to source a teacher, doing an online search Shirley discovered she could take online lessons with a personal tutor in a live online class, and this idea appealed to her; ‘I didn’t realise you could take music lessons online…it’s amazing!’

Shirley began lessons with online piano teacher Alex Chisholm-Loxley ‘At first I was very nervous, he was just like a stranger like it would be with any tutor, but now I’ve got used to him we have a good rapport. I’ve said to Alex if you were in the room with me you would probably be clapping me round the head!’

‘It’s important to me to have a live tutor because he picks you up straight away if you do something right or if you do it wrong, but with a video you’ve only got yourself.  With this it feels like its face to face lessons.

Since I have been learning the piano I have been listening to more music and have been learning pieces by Bach and the Schindlers List piece.  I get a bit of lift if Alex says I’ve done it really well. 

Learning music takes me away from the illnesses.  Learning the music takes me away and I don’t think of anything but the music.’

The Changing Face of Music Education

With a good Internet connection and a tablet or laptop these pupils, and many more besides, have discovered they can connect with professional teachers and learn within a controlled environment, where they feel most comfortable.  With continuously improving internet speeds and online classroom software readily available, online lessons are a working solution for access now and in the future for diverse sectors of people.  In an age of cuts to music education in schools, at least access to online music lessons is expanding and evolving and this is where we will find our music stars of the future.