Ahead of a new online violin academy and masterclass series that he is running later this month, the Royal Academy of Music professor and former New York Philharmonic concertmaster explains the advantages of the online teaching format

Rodney Friend

Rodney Friend

There are many things I don’t like about modern technology; for a start, I like to to know that the person I’m talking to online isn’t having a conversation with someone else at the same time. But can you imagine what life without the internet would have been like over the last few months? Personally, it has enabled me to teach students from all over the world, students who, in pre-coronavirus times, would have come to stay with me for a while, so that we could study together for a few days at a time.

I’m not saying that online teaching is the best way of teaching. The disadvantages are obvious. You can’t hear all the nuances in the sound that you’re producing or receiving; there can be interferences in the wifi; there is no physical contact with the student, which can make it more difficult to know which muscles are working, say, or how loose the wrist it. And it’s just not the same as being in the same physical space and breathing the same air:

When I see my grandchildren online, it’s lovely, but it’s not as nice as when they come running up the garden path and you give them a hug. You can’t replicate that feeling. You can’t even get close to it, and to a lesser degree, online teaching has the same downside. That said, if you are prepared to set yourself up properly and spend a little bit of money on getting a good microphone and speakers, I think the advantages of it outweigh the disadvantages.

1. There is a certain kind of intimacy to online teaching, which I don’t think we would experience if we were in a room together, where one might feel more awkward about making eye contact. You may be in New York, while I’m in Timbuktu, but on a screen you’re only 24 inches from me, not 4000 miles, not even a couple of metres as you would be if we were in the same room. And that kind of intense one-on-one setting can help you to feel more focused, both as a teacher and as a student.

2. There is less time wasting: you don’t have to travel for hours to get to your lesson, which means that you can immediately practise what you’ve just been taught. And I don’t have to keep coming over to make markings in the music, because I can just email across any notes and fingerings in 30 seconds. The days feel very short when I’m teaching online.

3. The sound quality can actually be pretty good. When I was a child, the early recordings I listened to were 78’s. I wore out my records of Jascha Heifetz and Yehudi Menuhin; I listened to them non stop, and it never bothered me that the sound I was hearing was far removed from the sound of their Strads in real life. I still learnt an enormous amount from them; they were more important to me at the time than my violin lessons. And the technology we have now is far superior. Yes, listening to music online is not the same as listening to a live performance. But, with a good camera, microphone and speakers, you can tell what is coordinated, what is in tune, what the dynamic range is, whether there is an unnatural design in the bow stroke; you can see all of that, and I think you can get fairly close to the real thing.

Read: What does it feel like to give an online chamber concert?

Read: How to record chamber music in lockdown

Read: Running an educational chamber music programme remotely

4. You can get immediate solutions to problems. If I have a lesson in which I’ve had to convey some complicated information, or where there’s been some struggle, it’s very easy just to say, ‘if something hurts or you run into difficulties, just email me and I can Zoom you as soon as possible. You don’t have to wait until next week, while this problem gets worse and worse, let’s just have ten minutes now and I’ll take a look at it.’

5. You feel more relaxed. Sometimes kids can come into my teaching room, and you can see they’re a bit tense. With online teaching, you’re both at home, in your own setting where you feel secure. I don’t need to sit on the Marylebone Flyover for 30 minutes, with people shouting from other cars. It cuts out a whole level of stress.

Rodney Friend’s International Violin Academy and Masterclass Series, featuring violinists Pinchas Zukerman, Augustin Hadelich, Rodney Friend, Yuzuko Horigome, Joel Smirnoff, Dong-Suk Kang, Cho-Liang Lin, Cihat Askin, Siyeon Ryu and So-Ock Kim runs from 30 July to 5 August. Visit http:www.friendsviolin.com for more information. Observer tickets are available from https://www.tickettailor.com/events/fiva