The Virtual Studio – Guide To Teaching Guitar Online
Today was a typical day for me as a guitar teacher. I woke up, drank my coffee, answered some emails and got ready to start my day in the studio teaching guitar and helping students become better guitarists.
My first student was in Adelaide, Australia. We chatted about his day, his was ending as mine was beginning, and then dove into our lesson. After our hour was up we bid farewell and I moved on to my next student, this time in Nashville, Tennessee.
An early riser, my student in Nashville likes to do his lessons before the crack of dawn, which is fine by me as I’m already on my second cup of coffee by then. When our lesson winds down we go over his assignments for the coming week and after he leaves I sit down to record some audio examples and put together a short PDF of the lesson material that he can take home with him to work on before our next lesson.
The day continues with students in Sweden, Los Angeles, Montreal and finally Hawaii.
As my teaching schedule comes to a close for the day I start to plan my lessons for the following day, when I will be teaching in Brazil, India, England and Canada, all without leaving the comfort of my own home.
You see, the day I just described is my average workday as a guitar teacher. But, unlike how I did business in the past, or how many people teach lessons today, I work and teach entirely online.
I run my own virtual guitar studio on my laptop with the help of two free programs, Skype and Paypal, alongside my guitar and amp of course.
I don’t pay for gas to get to work each day. I can write off my internet and computer expenses on my taxes, and I can recruit students from just about every country on the planet.
I don’t have to pay rent for a studio or give a cut of my lessons to a store, music school or academy.
I am entirely self-sufficient and I have more students asking for lessons than I ever had when I only taught at home in person.
And I put all this together in under six months for an initial investment of $270 (1 year fee to pay for my website hosting and the cost of my WordPress Theme).
In this article, we will look at what it takes to build and maintain a virtual guitar teaching studio, as well as address the pros and cons of running an online guitar teaching business.
Have a question or comment about this article? Visit the Virtual Studio - Teaching Guitar Online thread in the MWG Forum.
Teaching Guitar Online – Studio Setup
Computer and Internet Connection
The first thing you will need to set up your virtual teaching studio is a computer with an internet connection of at least 0.5 MB upload and 1 MB download speed. You can test your internet speed at Speedtest.net to see how fast your internet connection is.
You can use a slower connection, but to ensure that you have the best video quality for both you and your students, this is the minimum recommended speed.
Mic and Camera
You will also need a microphone and webcam (digital camera) so that you can transmit audio and video signals to your students.
Most laptop and desktop computers manufactured in the last 5 years will have these built-in to them already, and the quality is perfectly fine for teaching online.
But, if you do not have a built in camera or microphone, you will need to purchase these items before you can get started teaching online.
Skype and Google Video Chat
Skype and Google Video Chat are two popular video conferencing programs that are free to download and use for your online guitar lessons.
To use Skype, you simply download the program, set up a free account, and then either add or accept your students into your contact list. You can only call or receive calls from people in your contact list, so make sure that any students you are teaching have been added before your first lesson begins to avoid any delays.
To access Google Video Chat, a plugin must be installed to your web browser that is run through your Gmail account inbox. You need to have a Gmail account, as does your student, to use this plugin, so it is a less popular option compared to Skype. But, it is worth having as a backup even if you do use Skype.
Late in 2011, Skype made an overhaul in the program that caused some unforeseen glitches, and it was unusable for nearly a week. Many online teachers used Google Video Chat as an alternative and avoided losses in revenue and student loyalty.
Probably the most important tool you and your students will need is a verified account with PayPal.
PayPal is a website that allows you to accept payment from students across the world (with the exception of a few countries that don’t allow foreign transactions), and it is free to sign up.
Once you have a PayPal account, you will need to attach it to your bank account.
PayPal guides you through this easy process step by step, and it allows you to transfer money from PayPal to a personal bank account whenever you please.
Note: there is a small fee for some transactions on PayPal (not all), but it is not usually more than a few dollars per $100 that you accept from students.
As well, if you do enough business through PayPal you will need to pay taxes on that money if you haven’t claimed it in another section of your tax return.
Keeping reliable records of this income and making sure to claim it at the end of the year is not only good practice, but ethical practice, and one that will avoid an unwanted visit from the taxman down the road.
Band-in-a-Box – Sibelius/Finale – Recording Software
Because these video lessons take place online, you won’t be able to write down notes in a student’s notebook for them to look at between lessons.
But, what you can do is provide the student with supplemental materials following each lesson to allow them to have a reference to the lesson material.
Sibelius, Finale, or other notational software is a must-have for any online teacher.
These programs allow you to quickly write out notation, tab and chord charts for students, as well as put together lead sheets for songs they are working on in your lessons.
Though these programs are a bit pricey, there is an education discount offered for teachers, even private instructors, and so it is a worthwhile investment for any guitarist looking to branch off into the world of online teaching.
Band-in-a-Box is a great tool that allows you to create jam tracks for your students to practice with during the week.
You can add in any chord changes you want, adjust the form length, transpose to different keys, use a variety of grooves and styles as well as slow down or speed up any track.
If the student doesn’t have BIAB, you can easily export the files as either .wav, .mp3, or .midi files that they can then play with any media player on their computers.
Finally, many students prefer to learn by ear, rather than from a page, so being able to quickly record and email audio examples of rhythm parts, licks, melody lines or any other idea from your lessons to your students is also helpful.
Both Windows and Mac computers come with free software that allows you to do this, but if you want to get more into editing and other options, downloading a free program like Audacity for Windows or GarageBand for Mac will allow you to go further with your audio editing capabilities.
Teaching Guitar Online – Finding Students
Once you have all the main ingredients lined up to teach guitar lessons online, you then need to do the hard part—finding students.
Even though there are thousands, if not millions, of potential guitarists out there in the world, reaching these people and having them enter your virtual studio is not as easy as it sounds.
There are many ways that you can promote your business, develop relationships with potential students and build your virtual studio.
From handing out business cards with your website on it, to putting your web address on your CDs and on posters for shows around town, you can think small or big with self-promotion and find ways to make it successful for your situation.
Here are the most popular resources that many online guitar teachers use to promote their business and recruit students.
Not all of these will be right for you, but check them out and see which ones fit your current situation and could be effective in reaching out to find potential students for your virtual studio.
Probably the most useful of all the online tools, a personal website is a great way to showcase who you are, what you do, and provide value to your readers through video, audio clips, free lessons and more.
Though it can be the best tool you have to reach out to new students, if it isn’t maintained properly or updated regularly, a personal website can also be the biggest reason why you can’t find any new students to join your virtual guitar studio.
You will need to build a site that you can update regularly, and do so yourself, so that it is up to date and doesn’t cost you money when you want to post a new video or announce an upcoming gig.
WP is free, easy to use, and easy to upload onto a server and start up right away.
If you can use Microsoft Word, you can figure out WordPress well enough to run your site.
While WP is free, buying your domain name is not, so you will have to spend some money here.
Usually domain names are cheap, but you never know.
If you share the name of a celebrity, you may have to be creative to find an address that’s not already used or doesn’t cost a ton of money to buy.
As well, you will have to pay for server space to host your site. This is relatively cheap, from $5-20 per month for a shared server, which has enough space for any start-up site to function properly without issue.
As your site grows, you may want to expand your server space, but your host company (such as HostGator or Media Temple) can do that for you.
Think of your personal website as a digital business card.
Keep it looking nice, current, and easy to browse, and it can be the best tool in your online marketing toolbox.
But, if you ignore it, if you don’t update it, if it is overcrowded or jumbled-looking, you can do more harm than good.
It is not good enough to simply have a website anymore, you need to have one that reflects the professional level of your lessons, so keep this in mind when you are starting or running your own website.
Facebook Business Page
Not only is it a free resource, but many people spend most of their internet time hanging around on their newsfeed, in groups, on other people’s pages, and generally roaming around Facebook.
When you start a business page, make sure to do a couple of things right off the bat to help you develop your brand and get your message across the right way.
Choose a URL name that reflects not only who you are, but what you do.
For example, mine is www.facebook.com/mattwarnockguitar.
This tells people that my name is Matt Warnock and that I play and/or teach guitar.
It also helps search engines to find me easily when people are looking for me, as it differentiates me from any other Matt Warnock in the world.
You should also put a link to your website in the About section of your page, and write a bio that focuses on your teaching career.
Some people write about their schooling and playing experience, which is okay, but if you are advertising yourself as a top-rate teacher, then use this space to tell people about the success you’ve had in that area of your career.
Twitter Business Page
A Twitter Business Page is pretty much the same idea as your business page on Facebook—it is a resource that you use to promote your business and not your personal life (you can see my Twitter feed here).
Make sure to use the same approach with the URL and title of your Twitter page so that people know who you are and what you do.
Since you are only allowed 140 characters or less when posting in Twitter, it is a bit trickier to get across what you want to communicate to your followers.
For this reason, it is best not to use programs that post the same thing for you in Facebook and Twitter.
Since these are separate pages, and usually have separate followers, use Twitter to come up with ways of communicating to your followers that you don’t do or can’t do on Facebook.
LinkedIn is more of a digital CV, and is much more formal in nature than Facebook and Twitter (you can see my profile here).
For this reason, it is a great place to network with other teachers, find companies that might want to work with you as sponsors or in other capacities, and to promote yourself among other professional musicians and educators.
Because it is more professional in nature, you really need to consider carefully how you interact with others on LinkedIn.
Think of it as walking into a company and talking to the employees that are there, rather than just shooting the breeze with your friends, as is acceptable on Facebook and Twitter.
The most important thing is to fill out your profile in full, list all of your relevant qualifications, and ask for and give recommendations in order to allow your page to be found by other people.
LinkedIn is less popular than Facebook and Twitter, but it is an important tool for anyone looking to expand their careers into the online realm, and is therefore worth taking the time to setup properly and use on a daily basis.
YouTube Demo Videos
When looking to recruit students online there are few better resources than YouTube (you can check out my channel here).
The problem is, most teachers aren’t using it properly.
If you are looking to get gigs, YouTube is great for posting videos of jams, rehearsals, shows and other performance situations.
But, if you are looking to get students, then you need to show off your skills as a teacher, not only a performer.
As we all know, not all performers are blessed with the skills to pass on their experience in an effective manner.
YouTube demo videos are most successful in one of two ways.
First, record a video of yourself actually teaching a student, either on Skype using real-time video recording software, or an in-person lesson.
Both of these situations will give your potential students enough of an idea about who you are, what you teach, and how you teach to entice them to sign up for that all important first lesson.
The second option, which is the more popular of the two right now, is to post videos of you teaching to the camera on a particular topic.
Pick a topic that you think you have a solid grasp on and have taught many times, record a video of it, and use it to promote your online teaching studio.
Though YouTube can be a very positive thing for many teachers, it is good to be realistic of your skills in a video lesson setting before you upload a video.
For example, I had already taught dozens of workshops and wrote hundreds of text lessons before I ever recorded my first YouTube video lesson.
By that time, I was comfortable in front of the camera, knew how to teach the material, understood the greatest challenges to the student, and could be confident with the final product.
Recently, I have seen teachers posting videos and unfortunately they are still learning as they go. YouTube is not a one-way street—people will comment on your videos, so having thick skin and knowing when to interact with commenters (and when not to) is valuable.
The way you react to positive and negative feedback will have a direct impact on how people view you as a teacher.
Guitar Lesson Newsletter
The last item we’ll look at in promoting yourself online in order to recruit guitar students is an email newsletter (you can see my newsletter page here).
Though email is taking a backseat to social networking as far as its popularity, email newsletters are still the most direct—and according to many online marketers—the best way to reach out to your potential students.
To run a well-read newsletter, you will first need to find a host—such as MailChimp—which will handle your signups, and send out your newsletter each week.
You can do this from your Inbox, but when you reach a list in the hundreds, most services such as Gmail and Hotmail won’t let you send that many emails at once.
Step two is to get people to sign up. Most people won’t sign up for a newsletter or other email subscription unless they are getting value in return.
One thing you can do is put together a short eBook on a guitar related topic and give it away as a gift for those that subscribe to your newsletter.
Then, when you do send out the letter, don’t just tell people what you are up to or why they should study with you; give them more value by providing them with exclusive lessons or tips that you don’t post anywhere else on the web.
When you give people value they are more likely to read your newsletter, follow what you do, and when ready, sign up for online lessons through your virtual studio.
A well put together and managed newsletter can help build the trust needed to form the teacher-student relationship, something that can be hard to do in the online environment.
Social Networking Do’s and Don’ts
As social networking is a key component to building a virtual studio, teachers will have to learn what works—and what doesn’t—when promoting their business through social networking.
Many teachers think of Facebook, Twitter and other social media as a way of connecting with friends.
But here are some quick tips for how to connect with clients in the world of social media business promotion.
Social Network Do’s
- Provide value for your followers by providing free tips and pointers related to music and particularly the guitar
- Engage your followers by asking them questions and answering every question and comment that they post on your pages
- Update the posts to your social networks regularly. I recommend at least once a day, but not more than 4 times a day to avoid oversaturation
- Post links to your own material, but also to the material from other artists and teachers. Your followers will enjoy a wide variety of engagement and not just your own thoughts and links
- Post a variety of items, including video links, pictures, comments, questions, links to articles, free tips and pointers, inspirational quotes and more
- Follow other teachers and important figures in your area and regularly comment and interact with them through social networks
Social Network Don’ts
- Only talk about yourself and only promote your online teaching services
- Be overly political or personal on your business page. Save that for your personal pages
- Ignore comments or questions from readers. This is an easy way to lose followers and potential students
- Directly sell or ask for new students more than once per quarter, instead promote yourself as a teacher and expert in your field and let the students come to you through your website
- Let your page stagnate! Post regularly by varying the type or style of your daily posts
- Underestimate the power of social networks. They are not only fun ways to kill time, but they are also powerful tools that you can use to grow your virtual studio
Advantages to Teaching Guitar Online
Teaching online has its definite advantages and disadvantages over teaching in person.
Let’s first start by looking at some of the advantages teaching online has over the traditional practice of teaching in person.
- No need to rent a studio or teaching space. Teach from home!
- Keep 100% of the income. No need for a store, academy or school to take a cut of your lesson fee
- Teach students across the globe, opening up your potential market from your local area to the whole world
- Monthly internet service fees are going down each year and are now cheaper than paying for gas and upkeep for a car to drive to a teaching studio each day, or even cheaper than most monthly bus or metro cards
- Students often feel more comfortable if they are in their own homes for the lessons, makes them more at ease and there is often less nervousness on the part of the student
- Recruit students through social media, your website and other online mediums at no cost to you, as opposed to buying local advertising space to find students in your immediate area
Disadvantages to Teaching Guitar Online
- Now let’s look at some of the disadvantages to teaching guitar online and building a virtual studio.
- Must have a relatively fast and reliable internet connection to avoid missing lessons or poor audio and video quality during lessons
- Need to recruit students on your own as there is no school or academy to provide them for you
- Must relate with students that aren’t in the same room as you, and some teachers and students might not make this adjustment easily
- Some countries do not allow foreign money transfers
- Must keep up to date with changes in technology as well as new website and social networking platforms in order to make sure that your online recruiting plans aren’t falling out of date with current trends
- Schedules can be tricky when working with students from across the globe! You may work at odd hours, or turn down students that can’t compromise on time restraints
The Future of Guitar Teaching is Now
Many teachers have weighed the pros and cons and have already taken the dive into teaching guitar online.
For those that are still unsure if this is a viable option or if it is right for you, I would say that it is not only a viable option, but in the near future it may become a necessity for any guitar teacher looking to make a living by teaching private lessons.
Building a virtual studio online, and doing all of the work to recruit students and maintain those relationships, is not an easy task.
But, like anything we do as guitar teachers, once you take off your shoes and get your feet wet, you’ll be asking yourself, “How did I ever get on before without having an online guitar studio?”
Do you have a question or comment about teaching guitar online? Share your thoughts in the comments thread below.