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Online Learning Tips and Tools

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How to enhance your online video lesson experience by developing new habits and incorporating helpful tools.

by Scott Nygaard
January 17, 2016

Learning to play music through online lessons has opened new and exciting opportunities for music students, as many of you are discovering at Peghead Nation. There are obvious benefits to learning from expert and experienced instructors who may not live near you, or who may not have time in their schedules, etc. It also allows you to learn at your own pace, whenever (and wherever) you have time in your day.

But there are advantages to a weekly in-person meeting with a teacher that online lessons can’t always provide. The deadline of a weekly (or even monthly) lesson can keep you on track in your learning. If you know you’re going to have to play that new tune for (and/or) with your instructor, you’re likely to make time for regular practice time in your weekly and daily schedule. And the opportunity to play along with an instructor is a great way to solidify what you’ve learned, as well as get advice and feedback about how your playing is progressing.

If your learning is primarily done online (or with DVDs, books, etc.) you need to become a little more self-directed. You’ll have to find reasons not to watch the latest cat video or Netflix series instead of buckling down and practicing your new fiddle tune or slide guitar lesson.  Try enlisting your partner or roommate in your musical endeavor and make it a goal to play what you’ve learned for them once a week (or month).  If they balk, just remind them that you’re only paying $20 a month for your Peghead lessons, not $60–$75 a week for private lessons, and taking a few minutes a week to listen to you will save you a pile of money. And who knows, you might even get them to start playing an instrument to accompany you. Or, if you attend a regular jam session, make it a goal to bring in the new tune(s) you’ve learned each session. You can also just make a simple audio or video recording of yourself playing your new tune. You don’t need to post it on YouTube or share it with friends. The simple act of getting all the way through a tune, whether it’s at a jam session or casual gig, or in front of a friend or a recording device, will solidify your knowledge of what you’ve learned.

The Play-Along Tracks we provide here at Peghead Nation for many of the tunes you’re learning are also a great resource. Having a guitarist’s fingers to watch (rather than just an audio recording to play along to) mimics the way you might play with another musician in real time. And there are other resources that can be very helpful. The transcription program Transcribe (seventhstring.com) has some great features for students. Its basic function is as a “slow downer,” allowing you to slow down recordings so you can try to figure out what is happening in the music at a slower tempo. But you can also record directly into Transcribe from your computer’s speakers, and then slow down the recording, create loops of the passage you’re learning, etc. So if you’re having trouble getting every last note down of one of your Peghead Nation lessons, or you’re not great at reading notation/tablature, you can play the lesson directly into Transcribe, find the section you’re interested in, and have it played back slowly, and repeatedly, just like that! The Amazing Slow Downer is another great resource for slowing down recordings, but you can’t record directly into it like you can with Transcribe.

Another great play-along resource is iRealPro, an app that allows you to play along with electronic rhythm tracks. You can change tempos and keys, and they even have a library of bluegrass tunes you can play along with (complete with electronic banjo rolls!). Granted, it’s a little cheesy (iRealPro is geared more for jazz students), but it’s a huge improvement over playing with a metronome.

These are just a few ideas for enhancing your online learning experience. Let us know if you have more.



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Comments and Discussion

Posted by John Goold on
Recording can be a great help in training yourself to keep honest and not make the same mistake. We use it at work for our employees and showing them their speech affects or bodily mannerisms is so much more impactful than just telling them.
Posted by skunz2138@charter.net on
Recording yourself is a great feedback tool, lets you evaluate your progress and sometimes friends and family enjoy listening too.
Posted by grazzo707@yahoo.com on
Good tips. I regularly use my iPhone to record a video of myself playing. It keeps me honest. Also, there are websites that cheaply sell full band backing tracks for bluegrass classics and fiddle tunes. They're only a few dollars, and they typically contain 6-8 tracks of a tune at varying speeds.
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