Simple Tips to Improve Online Lesson Quality

Online lessons present a new set of problems that many of us are not prepared for. Have you already ensured that you're on the best internet plan your money can afford, and still seem to suffer from subpar lesson quality? Or are you looking to give the best quality lessons possible without spending more cash for expensive equipment? Many of us do not live in a recording or broadcasting studio, or own the type of equipment used by the professionals. Furthermore, whether teacher or student, we don't expect to have any professional training or experience in a recording or broadcasting context. However, we can borrow of simple and straightforward tips from the pros to get the most out of the most humble of home recording setups. Best of all, many of them don't require you to spend a penny.

1 - Ensure you have a well lit lesson space.

Ever watch footage of a film crew recording your favorite movie or show? Or are you a budding social media guru who loves posting high quality photos and videos? You may have noticed that when it comes to quality photo or video, proper lighting is key. Many of our consumer grade video cameras, such as webcams or phone/tablet cameras, do not handle low light situations very well, so providing a well lit room with properly aimed lighting can help with capture quality immensely. Make sure, however, that your lighting solution is not overly bright, or cause unnecessary glare. Use lamp shades or sufficient ambient lighting when needed to avoid such problems.

2 - Ensure you have a quiet lesson space.

We may not own a proper studio space at home complete with insulated walls, sound dampening foams and sound diffusing fixtures, but it doesn't mean that we can benefit from simplest of audio recording practices: silence. Even without high quality condenser or dynamic microphones, having a quiet room for recording lessons will help the microphone on your device capture what matters: your voice and instrument sounds.

If you are in an environment where noise is still an issue, consider moving your setup if possible. If this is not possible, such as cases where an acoustic piano is in a family space, try arranging for quiet time during lesson time to avoid your microphone picking up external noise.

3 - Ensure your instrument volume is set properly.

Some of us may be tempted to set our keyboards or guitar amps to much higher volume levels in order to be heard, but for many consumer grade microphones, they will hit a threshold where they cannot handle anymore volume. This can lead to distortion and even volume loss as the microphone tries to control the high sound levels that it's exposed to. The best practice is to set your instrument volume just right, or to the loudest your device can handle without suffering sound degradation. You may have to consult with your teacher or student to ensure that the volume works for the both of you.

If you have an instrument that you cannot control without affecting dynamics (such as an acoustic piano without a practice pedal, or a violin or saxophone), you can try to place your recording device a little farther way to capture more room sound rather than the instrument directly.

4 - Ensure your instrument sound source is placed properly.

The microphones on certain devices, like laptops, can have directional pick up patterns. This means that if your instrument's sound source falls outside of the microphone's pickup range, you will not have optimal recording quality. Poor placement of your instrument or speaker (such as a guitar amp) relative to your device's microphone can cause unwanted sound issues, such as inconsistent instrument volume or no sound at all.

For these types of microphones, it is best to have the instrument sound source and the device microphone facing each other, with at least 1 feet of space between them (further if the instrument is louder or microphone is of poor quality). For example, if you play electric guitar, have the guitar amp elevated and slightly behind you so that the microphone can pick up your voice and instrument in the same recording space. If you imagine the microphone as a camera, you want it to be able to see you and your instrument/amp. More information on properly aiming your microphone based on it's pickup pattern can be found in this article.

Also avoid placing the microphone DIRECTLY in front, behind, or beside the sound source (and vice-versa). Unless you own a quality condenser or dynamic microphone, the small microphones on mobile devices and laptops normally do not handle loud proximity recording very well.