Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guitar lessons through skype

New York based classical guitarist and pedagogue Kevin R. Gallagher is one of the world's leading classical guitarists. He was the first-prize winner in the 1993 Guitar Foundation of America, the 1994 American String Teachers Association, the 1993 Artists International Competition, and most notably, the only American classical guitarist ever to win first prize in the prestigious Francisco Tárrega Guitar Competition in Spain (1997). He has recorded four classical guitar CDs and his recording for Naxos Records Guitar Recital- Music from the Renaissance and Baroque was hailed as " of the very best NAXOS guitar recordings" by Classical Guitar Magazine (London) in 2000.

Kevin Gallagher also teaches several students guitar, as well as teaches lessons through webcams and skype over the internet. Since private instrument lessons rely heavily on physical placement of the hands and body, the sound quality, and what the teacher is seeing, my initial reaction about private instrument lessons was that digital media and the internet would not be able to replace lessons in their current form, and that it was one of those “have to be there” type situations. However, Mr. Gallagher provides these internet lessons on a weekly basis. Here are a few of his thoughts:

EM: Why did you start doing skype lessons?

KG: It’s a great opportunity for students when they couldn’t connect with teachers who are close by. The physical distance is removed through the video. Also while skype has been around for a while, the sound and visual quality is now good enough to make these lessons possible.

EM: Is there any other reason why you would give a lesson through skype aside from distance?

KG: It’s only because they are far away. Sometimes students will come to NYC and make having a lesson a day of it, and alternate in-person lessons with skype.

EM: Do you teach all levels through skype?

KG: Yes, all levels, but they have to be able to read music. Especially since what we study is through digital scans/pdfs of the sheet music.

EM: Is there anything that you feel that you can’t do? I ask because I initially thought that it was important for a teacher to be able to physically place someone’s fingers and direct them to the right position.

KG: You do it without being there, because you have to do it. You adapt. For example, if you took my blender away, I would figure out how to do the same thing without a blender. So I improvise with my directions in order to get the students to do what I’m talking about. It’s important for the students to have an open mind so that they are able to experiment and figure it out for themselves. I can also give them references to use online- such as videos of other people playing in order for them to be able to see what it is that I am trying to communicate.

EM: Are there any disadvantages of skype versus an in-person lesson?

KG: For the teacher, it is very similar to a regular lesson. You are relying on the student hearing the sound you are trying to convey. So the problem becomes when you think the student sounds one way that they actually don’t. In order to deal with this, I have the student send me a higher quality recording of their playing before the lesson that we can both review. You can’t be in front of the students with your sound and presence resonating in their eardrums, and sometimes that’s what they need, but you work with what you have. Another problem is when the technology stops working; students don't accidentally disappear for a few minutes during a regular lesson.

EM: Are there any advantages over an in-person lesson?

KG: The weekly recording is an advantage, so that the student can hear their own work. It also becomes an interactive hour, where we can bring the huge library of resources on the internet into the lesson. There are so many video and audio resources that we can take advantage of, which are not usually used during an in-person lesson.

Mr. Gallagher has also posted various lessons on his YouTube channel. Learn from his lesson on Classical Guitar Counterpoint here:

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