Like it or not, online learning is the new reality for millions of people around the world – and it’s here to stay! Music lessons have certainly not escaped this new trend, but the question many music teachers, students, and parents are asking is: how effective are online music lessons vs. traditional, in-person lessons?
In this article, we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of online vs. in-person music lessons and give you our own take on how to best decide between the two options. Most importantly, we want to help parents and students make an informed decision as to what type of lessons work best for them!
Defining "online lessons" as they relate to music
First, let’s clarify what we mean by “online lessons”. In the context of music learning, the term can mean of three things:
1) learning from videos (e.g. YouTube, music-based websites)
2) learning from apps (applications) on the smartphone or tablet
3) learning from a teacher via a video connection (Skype, Zoom, etc.)
In this article, we are using the third meaning of “online lessons” – learning one-on-one from a teacher via a video connection.
In-Person Music Lessons: Pros and Cons
- teacher able to physically correct student’s body posture, hand position, and technique as needed
- easier to keep young children focused, parent presence less necessary
- no need to worry about connection issues or slow connection speed
- audio quality is not a factor
- require travel time
- scheduling options might be more restricted
- limited to teachers who live/work in your approximate geographical location
- might be more expensive than online lessons, but not always
Online Music Lessons: Pros and Cons
- no travel time required, learn from the comfort of your home
- more flexibility in terms of scheduling
- ability to learn from anyone in the world, no matter their geographical location
- might be less expensive than in-person lessons, but not always
- teacher not able to physically correct student’s body posture, hand position, and technique
- young children require parent’s presence and assistance during lessons
- lesson quality can suffer if either side has problem with internet connection or connection speed
- sound quality of musical instrument might not be great even with good connection speed
What science is telling us
A proper discussion of this topic would not be complete without some solid, science-backed evidence. We reviewed two studies* that compared online and face-to-face learning to get better understanding of the two learning formats. Both studies compared two groups of students – an “online learning group” and a “classroom learning group” – on two measures: their perception of how their teacher and course was and their actual grades for the course.
For both studies, student perceptions of their teacher and of the effectiveness of their course in general was slightly higher for the “classroom” group than the “online” group. But when researchers compared the two groups on “learning outcomes” (i.e. their actual test results and final grades), they did not find any significant differences.
In simple terms, what these results tell us is that although students appear to enjoy in-person lessons slightly more than online lessons, the amount of learning that takes place is essentially the same. This is an important point, as many parents wrongly assume that children don’t learn as much from online lessons as from in-person lessons.
* Study 1: “A Comparison of University Student Perceptions and Success Learning Music Online and Face-to-face” by A. Horspool and S. S. Yang. Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 2010.
Study 2: “Comparative Analysis of Learner Satisfaction and Learning Outcomes in Online and Face-to-Face Learning Environments” by S. D. Johnson, S. R. Aragon, N. Shaik, and N. Palma-Rivas. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 2000.
When in-person lessons are the best option
Although most music students would benefit equally well from any of the two lesson formats, here are two situations where we strongly recommend in-person lessons:
1. Small children just starting out on their instrument (and to a lesser degree, beginner adult students)
The reason for this simple: it is critical that a student forms correct playing habits (mainly posture, hand position, finger technique) from the very beginning of their musical studies, as these can significantly enhance or hinder their future progress as musicians. For this to happen correctly and effectively, teachers must have the ability to physically correct (and keep correcting for as long as necessary) any perceivable mistakes in these three areas. Once correct foundational habits have been put into place, students should be able to benefit from online lessons just as much as from in-person lessons.
2. Students intending to pursue music professionally
For children whose parents want them to pursue musical professionally, in-person lessons with a well-qualified instructor are their best option. At the end of the day, online lessons simply cannot provide the amount of detailed feedback necessary for absolute musical mastery as traditional, in-person lessons.