Camera Aiming Solutions
As outlined in Properly Framing Yourself on Camera, it is important to present to your teacher (or student) a clear view of you and your instrument. However, if you are using a device like a tablet or smartphone, getting an unobstructed view can be finicky without a bit of help. Here, we will present some solutions for small devices so that you can dive right into lessons without wasting precious time getting your camera aimed properly.
The piano and keyboard presents its own set of camera aiming problems due to the size and playable area of the instrument. However, depending on the model of piano/keyboard, you may already have access to a usable camera angle: a side view.
If your piano/keyboard has a large, protruding sidewall along either end, you can easily prop your smartphone or tablet along it as shown below.
Although the angle limits your ability to see which keys your fingers are resting on, it does provide the perfect view to examine the posture of the wrist and fingers. This makes it a great option for younger/beginner students that are prone to having their wrists hang off the keys and/or playing flat-fingered. If you can raise the camera a little more, you should be able to see the exact position of the fingers better. Best of all, its a free and easy solution as long as your piano/keyboard can accommodate it.
Owning a case with rubber-like grips can really help keep the device in place. If this type of placement is not possible on your piano/keyboard, we can explore other options that work for most instruments.
Depending on your device, you may be able to capture a decent angle by using a case with a built in stand, such as the tablet case below.
You may be limited to only one angle (usually an upward angle), so be sure that you can place your phone or tablet low enough to capture you and your instrument. Please note that this type of angle is not the greatest for piano, as you are not able to see the tops of the keys.
You can also use a sheet music stand to hold your device. Depending on type of stand, you may experience a bit of placement difficulty with smaller tablets and smartphones. The example below shows a 10" tablet on a standard symphony stand (with a solid back).
Although symphony stands can be expensive (if you don't already own one), the solid back makes them perfect for devices of all sizes. If your smartphone or tablet has a case with rubber or soft plastic grips (such as a case made of TPU), you can rely less on the back of the stand and adjust the stand to try even more aggressive angles.
If you own a basic collapsible stand (as shown below), you may need to rest your device along the frames of the stand as these stands generally lack the solid back of a symphony-grade stand.
The one huge benefit to using this type of stand is that a downward camera angle is possible, either by using the rear camera, or placing the phone or tablet backwards and using the front facing camera (while still being able to see the screen). However, since these stands are compact and lightweight, be sure that the legs are placed properly to prevent the stand from tipping over.
If you are willing to spend a little bit of money, you can purchase a tablet/smartphone stand or mount with the required articulation to aim your camera. These can range from repurposed dash mounts for cars, to dedicated stands meant for office use. The stands or mounts that are best suited for recording instrument performances should have the right combination of stability (such as a heavy base) alongside articulating arms, ball-joints, or goosenecks.
Other Free Options
If you aren't prepared to spend any extra money for a stand/mount and don't have an extra music stand lying around, there are many creative options that don't require a single penny if you have the right things around the house.
Many families have had great success with a properly placed stack of books or magazines to rest their device on. Office organizers such as letter holders or pen containers can be repurposed as tablet or smartphone stands. Vertical napkin holders can also accomplish the same thing.
If you or your children own building toys, such as Lego, K'Nex, or Meccano, you can even create your own tablet or smartphone stand using the pieces you have available. The sky and your imagination are the limit with building toys. If you are handy and have some carpentry/metalworking experience, you can also make a robust stand with any scrap materials lying around the yard or shed.