‘Your Stories’ Tracy Rose – Music Lessons Anywhere
I look back with fond memories to a time when there were no web search engines, when I kept a notebook of interesting websites to visit, which I would browse through my dial-up internet connection. Back then, in the early 1990s, I never imagined that in years to come, I would be using this same technology, in its more advanced state, to run an online music school, teaching students around the world with a group of brilliant teachers located in different countries.
My love for music began when I started playing the piano at the age of six, quickly working through the ABRSM Exam Grades while at school in Barnsley (South Yorkshire, UK), a small town who’s principal industry was, for many years, coal mining. Once hooked and knowing that music was where my life would be, I moved to London to study piano with world renowned teachers at the London College Of Music (UK).
My mission to share my love of music through teaching piano professionally, has taken me through various schools while working for the local government’s Manchester Music Services (UK) and working as a Secondary and Primary School Music Teacher, while all the time, teaching private lessons.
Before I became a full time online teacher, my last post was Head Of Music at a large International School in Málaga, Spain. I was there from its inauguration in 2000 and solely in charge of building a large music department from the ground up.
Wherever I was teaching, I never had enough hours in the week to meet the demand for private piano lessons. Working full time at the International School, I had filled, with private lessons, all my ‘free’ time during the working day and hours before and after school. The school was a very long drive from my home which is in a small rural village, so taking on more students at weekends was impossible. Then it dawned on me that I could make a dent in my student waiting list, by teaching students from my home, online. Fortunately by this time, 2013, the internet had speeded up since the days of my old dial-up connection and supported an array of free tools, some enabling live, real-time video links, ideal for teaching online.
Three of my students, all sisters, were thrilled to pioneer this 21st century teaching medium, when I asked if they would like to try an online lesson. With my many years of teaching experience, I was slightly sceptical and felt I was demanding a lot from the technology. When it came to it, I actually found that I couldn’t fault any aspect of this first online lesson. On the contrary, many advantages unfolded; no travelling time to lessons for me or students was needed and students, who otherwise might have had to travel to my studio, could take lessons at home, working better in their own environments. Above all, I could reach students who might not have access to a local music teacher, or have demanding lifestyles or relocate often, and students could reach me and stay with me as their teacher, wherever they were or wherever they moved to. Online lessons were so successful, that I soon opted to resign from the school and teach online from home.
After a lot of careful consideration, especially for the name of my essential website, I opted to call the new venture ‘Music Lessons Anywhere’.
At the outset, I didn’t want to restrict the concept of the venture to just piano lessons. Although using ‘Music Lessons anywhere’ as the domain name for the website, it made it slightly more difficult to target specifically piano students looking for online piano lessons. However, I wanted to keep the door open for other online instrumental and music lessons in the future.
My existing students switched to online lessons with ease and my new website quickly started to generate enquiries from students all over the world.
It was essential to make the technology work for me and so a standard practise is to provide formatted lesson notes, typed out roughly during lessons on a tablet and honed and emailed to each student after each lesson. These provide the student with a record of what was covered during the lesson, outlines strengths and weaknesses, and where their all important practise should be focussed between lessons. Students can also easily track their progress over the weeks. I can record short digital movies to email to students, demonstrating how to tackle difficult parts of their playing. Students can play these over and over at will, of course. Whole or parts of lessons can be captured as videos, simply by students taking screen video recordings, students can email audio records of extracts of their pieces for me to check… with the tools available and more being developed all the time, we have a very powerful medium to exploit.
Working online means it’s possible to take instrumental and music lessons to parts of the world where it’s difficult to find instrumental and music teachers. Some smaller international schools aren’t able to offer music as a subject, so music lessons can be brought in from outside as and when needed, without any long term investment or commitment.
When I was a classroom music teacher, one of my duties was to organise and stage an annual concert for my students. I realised I could do the same now, with all my online students. as distance was no object, by beaming their performances from wherever they were through the internet, onto a screen in a venue in my small town.
I staged my first online concert in 2014. The online students were joined by some of my local students, physically in the venue. So the event, with a live audience in the venue actually felt like a conventional concert, despite most performers being thousands of miles away in different time zones all over the world. The remote students were able to watch the concert as it was streamed, live online as a webcast. Their friends and families, wherever they were, could also watch the entire concert live. We have a chat facility open as part of the webcast and at the third annual concert, I received a message from my music teacher from my school days, Mr Jeff Tyler, who was watching the concert in my home town of Barnsley, UK! I hadn’t seen nor heard from Mr Tyler since I left school but he had read about the ground breaking concert in an article on the local newspaper.
Keeping the sense that Music Lessons Anywhere is a school and a community of teachers and students, is an essential part of what makes it special for me and I’m sure, all who are involved. We are distinctly different from the many online music lessons agencies. So the concert is a regular annual Music Lessons Anywhere flagship event. Around that and throughout the year, I organise online workshops which cover a wide range of activities from subjects geared towards exam students like Theory and Aural Workshops, to fun Musical Get-Togethers where students can play their pieces to other students around the world, Practise Partners, Masterclasses and even the ever popular educational game, Online Musical Bingo! Workshops are completely free of charge for regular Music Lessons Anywhere students, so they are inclusive and are part of what makes students feel that they are part of the school; meeting, learning and interacting with other students, no matter where they are located.
Within less than a year, all my teaching hours (and more!) were at capacity. With a steady pace of enquiries, I decided it was time to take on another teacher.
Working online, with the world is at your fingertips, means there are no restrictions of working with people locally. I found myself talking with potential piano teachers where distance was no obstacle for them to work alongside me. All of us in our different geographical locations would be under one virtual ‘Music Lessons Anywhere’ roof.
Chris, became my first new found piano teacher. I had shortlisted Chris from several candidates and it was obvious he shared my approach to teaching, primarily serving students’ needs, making lessons fun and working outside of the box, while also embracing the technology. I set him up with a trial lesson with some of my students, which I sat in on (all of us in different locations around the world of course). Chris easily proved himself and I was both overjoyed and relieved that I had found someone I could work with. I was no longer alone… well in distance maybe, but that was irrelevant.
Although we covered all aspects of what teaching piano could offer, from ABRSM and other exam courses, to teaching students who just wanted to learn one piece or take lessons just for fun, even tailor making lessons geared towards individual students’ needs, I realised our potential was more than just that. So I added several subjects to the website, including a Fast Track Grade 5 Theory course, group piano lessons, theory and homeschool music.
Not long after Chris had joined, through my Music Lessons Anywhere Facebook page, I met an exceptionally talented singer and song writer, Carol. I set up a singing lesson for her to conduct, with one of my piano students who was keen to learn to sing proficiently and was also keen on song writing. The lesson was outstanding. Carol, our new singing teacher was extraordinary and transformed my student’s voice in one session alone! Chris, Carol and I had the beginnings of an online music school.
Over the next few months we were joined by Liz, a violin teacher based in Spain, Mix, a saxophone & clarinet teacher currently not based in any one country but heading for Spain, Kate, a bassoon and clarinet teacher from the UK and most recently, Stefan, a piano accordion teacher in Macedonia, Adriaan a drum teacher in Holland and Stephie, a piano teacher of exceptional talent, who teaches at the highest levels possible. All essentially share my teaching philosophy.
Dan, a guitar, violin and piano teacher, and composer, joined us after I received an enquiry from someone in the USA needing music dictation practise, on the run up to taking his ‘Fellowship of the American Organ Guild’ written exam (one of the highest music exam levels attainable). Dan was recommended to me for this work by Liz and through Dan’s intimate knowledge and experience of composing using music technology and his exceptional teaching skills, we have now added notation and composing software, Sibelius, Cubase and composition lessons to the already comprehensive list of instrumental lessons that Music Lessons Anywhere is able to provide. Chris, wrote of his lessons with Dan, “Now I can pretty much do anything with Sibelius. Dan taught me in so short a time not only the program, but many proper orchestral writing concepts. Dan is endlessly enthusiastic and never wastes time; he answers lists of questions quickly and makes sure I know the answers. I couldn’t imagine a better teacher anywhere.
Over the last couple of years I have noticed a significant change in attitude towards online teaching. At times I felt that potential students who were sceptical of online teaching needed to try an online lesson to convince themselves it actually worked. Now it feels it has become an important part of mainstream education.
Meeting new people from all over the world, students and teachers alike, is one of the biggest highlights of teaching online for me. Bringing them into our global school, whether it’s for just a handful of lessons or for years, for them to become part of Music Lessons Anywhere instead of working in isolation, is also special to me.
With opportunities for us that are boundless and ‘boundaryless’, it is a very exciting time for Music Lessons Anywhere and for live, online education generally. As technology improves and provides more powerful and innovative tools, so we seek new, innovative, creative and engaging ways of teaching and bringing people together to learn and realise their potential, where not so long ago, it was perhaps not possible.