All Things Vocal Blog & Podcast by Judy Rodman: February 2017

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Online Vocal Lessons... Pros and Cons [updated 2020]

Want to see online lesson in action? 
Go to my YouTube playlist for several free webcam vocal lessons 
like this one with Silvana del Campo in Lima, Peru
NOTE: The audio player should appear above, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
Available also on iTunes, Google Play, Tunein Radio and Android podcast apps
I am updating this post in 2020, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Using the voice for talking or singing - especially singing - propels respiratory droplets and viral particles much farther than just silently breathing. And wearing a mask for vocal lessons just doesn't work. So vocal lessons have gone online as the norm in this era. I hope this article can provide some helpful tips for vocal lessons as well as other virtual teaching situations. 

In the not-so-distant past, you were limited to vocal lessons with coaches whose offices you could physically get to. Now quite literally, the sky's the limit! I have been teaching online for years; during the 2020 pandemic I teach exclusively online. Here are some things I've learned from my experience:

First, let’s cut some confusion and look at several terms people use for this type of meeting:
  • Meeting apps: communication software you can use on computer and mobile devices. The most common ones are...
    • Skype: This was the first most widely known software program or application (called an app on your mobile), that you can use to meet over the internet. But there are now several other alternatives.
    • Zoom, which is my preferred software. I'll tell you about it a little later in this post.
  • Online: Because of course, you have to be online to connect.
  • Virtual: Because teacher and student are not actually in the same room.
  • Webcam: This is hardware you need to capture audio and/or video. It can be an external or internal mic/camera on your computer or can be the mic/camera on your phone or tablet.
Would online lessons work for you? Here are some pros, cons and workarounds to consider:


It's better to work with a higher level vocal coach over Skype than a lesser quality coach in person. So there's no need to settle for bad or mediocre vocal lessons.


A high-end vocal coach usually charges more, sometimes quite a bit more. You also could miss out on local networking.


In my experience, it's usually best to work with one coach at a time. You could take a trial lesson or two with multiple coaches. But then I'd suggest you decide whose approach works best for you, and stick with them as your main source of training. You can always take from another coach later if you wish.

That said, some people really like meeting in person with a local vocal coach who can also provide local performance opportunities. And it is certainly not my intention to suggest you can't find a world-class vocal coach where you live... because sometimes you truly can! My hat is off to all caring, intuitive, awesome local coaches. These are folks I love to discuss 'all things vocal' with! The point is, if you can't find a good local coach, virtual accessibility means you are no longer limited in your choices.

As long as you don't get confused or pulled between opposing advice, you can try using both coaches. It's a good idea to stay transparent about what you're doing so that if there is confusion about a vocal technique or concept it can be sorted out. Sometimes a student will devote their lesson with me to a conference call (phone or webcam) with their local coach, which I'm very happy to do. Good teachers are always up for learning something new that works for their students!



You can get to your lesson from any device that will run the communication application... your desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. You can take your lesson from anywhere in the world as long as you have internet connection with adequate signal strength. You don't need to factor in travel time or gas mileage. And most communication apps have a free option that is all you'll need.


You have to have a device that the webcam application works on... and it won't work on a landline phone. You need to be able to install the app software, know how to set it up and work it, or know someone who can help you. And you do need internet access with strong enough signal. If not adequate, the video will freeze, be very pixilated and the audio will skip badly, or the internet call will be disconnected altogether.


Other apps:
Skype is no longer the only game in town; now there are several alternatives for online meetings. Most are about the same or worse audio/video quality, and some like Google Hangouts require both parties to sign up to the application. Facetime only works between Apple gadgets; no good if you're an Android user. But there is another option that works on everything: It's called Zoom. The audio and video are better quality than Skype. It's very simple to connect... either party can send a link to the other through email to join the conversation. There are paid versions but it's free to use at the basic level, which has more than enough functionality for vocal lessons. Because of how well Zoom is performing for me and my students, it's currently my exclusive way of teaching over webcam.

Before Skype and Zoom, I used to teach distance lessons by phone. The tone, inflection and other sound nuances in the voice of my student can tell me what they need to change. For instance I, like other intuitive vocal coaches, can tell by the sound of the student's voice whether their eyebrows are active or frozen! Now when our internet connection gets too sketchy, I ask the student to call me on the phone, put their phone on speaker mode and we just work the old way.

If it's mainly the internet audio that is corrupted but video signal is clear enough to be useful, my student and I leave our screens up but turn our computer speakers off. Then we can watch each other on screen, but listen and talk by phone. 



It's not my thing (Rob Jackson and the Diehards)

Not all good vocal coaches work online. Because audio and video on any app are frequently digitally corrupt, some vocal coaches don't like using it. Others like me can take a signal that's a bit corrupted, fill in the aural and visual blanks as we do with picture pixels, and still have enough information to assess and correct the student's technique.

You can't touch this (MC Hammer)...

Sometime vocal coaches use touch tactics. I often give subtle suggestions with a gentle poke between the shoulder blades, taps under the occipital bone or on a tight jaw hinge. Can't do that over webcam of course. But when working in virtual conditions, I can suggest other bio-feedback tactics students can apply to themselves. For instance, I often ask students to lightly touch a spot that is counterproductively tense, and purpose it to relax. In this way, the student can become aware and relax tension in such places as:
  • the front of the Adam's apple, 
  • the squint zone of the upper cheek 
  • shoulder or neck muscles and ligaments 
  • tongue base (under the chin) 
  • jaw hinge 
Play it again, Sam...

A bit of rabbit trail trivia... did you know that no one ever uttered that exact phrase in Casablanca?

It is important to be able to record vocal exercises and any other thing the coach wants the student to practice or focus on between lessons. For Skype, there are several programs that you or your coach can use to record audio and/or video. Zoom has built-in functionality for recording audio and video. The record button is right there at the bottom of the screen, and if my student is connecting via computer (can't record via phone on the app) I can hit 'allow record' and they can record directly to their device. Both Skype and Zoom have texting and attachment capabilities.

You can also record your online lesson in other ways, including
  • ...from computer speaker right into the memo app of your phone, 
  • When video is glitching so badly that we're having to use the phone for audio speaker, neither teacher nor student can record through the Zoom software. So I record my side of vocal exercise instruction through my external podcasting mic, running it through an audio interface into 'Audacity' free software.  From there, I export the file as mp3 that I email my student. If the file is too large, I upload it to my Dropbox and send my student the download link from there. The only downside is that I don't get the student's voice recorded, but that can actually work better. They just get silent space to sing the exercise after me. Bottom line... there's always a way to record the lesson!

Call me... (Blonde)
Speaking of phones... you can always work over a simple phone! You don't need a 'smartphone'; a landline or basic cellphone works just fine! With all the free and low-cost phonecall programs like Vonage, Viber and the like, when you need your vocal coach to warm you up for your gig from a parking lot or green room in TimbucTu Arkanscavia, you can reach them! Need a vocal lesson? Where there's a phone, with or without a webcam, there's a way!


For a closer look, check out my Youtube vocal lessons to watch me work over Zoom with several students with different vocal issues. If you'd like to try an online lesson with me, contact me and let me know your best time frames. I'll get back to you asap. If you have questions or comments about online lessons, please post them here!

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