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Brave New Life Online

Manchester Piano Tutor closed suddenly at the end of March when one of my students late-cancelled. He wasn't feeling well and his symptoms were similar to hay fever, so he wasn't concerned. The pollen count wasn't yet high, so I was concerned. I had been sitting next to him the week before and I had 24 other students, who came to my home studio for one-to-one piano lessons, to consider.

This is me, Diane Paul from Manchester Piano Tutor with one of my Chinese genius students - Sue went to live abroad after her grade 3 exam - if you see this Sue, I still have your certificate - you got a distinction!

Moving online

I self-isolated, cancelled lessons and, like many other music teachers, moved online. It took a while to get used to the anxiety induced by not having a clue what I was doing and pretending I did. Some students opted out, citing nerves, although a couple are now hinting at opting in 'when I can get the kids off my hands'. 'Better than nothing,' said another, who promptly dropped his mobile on the floor and broke his camera. My top Chinese genius was instantly poached by a pianist 'friend' to whom I sent him for a Master Class before his Grade 8 exam. (No worries - I specialise in Chinese geniuses. It won't happen again.)

I immediately enrolled on an online course showing me how to teach online and spent three weeks absorbed on this, until I realised it was more appropriate for teaching large classes and not one-to-one online. The language was too jargony and buzzwordy for my creative soul. I took advice from my professional organisations and went straight in, learning by trial and error and drawing up legal agreements on Social Media and Online Teaching Policies, Safeguarding and contracts on Online Teaching. I chose Skype because it was more intimate and I reserved Zoom for larger meetings.

Since then, MPT Online has gone from strength to strength and, as I'm not sure when it will be safe for me to invite people into my home studio once more, online I will remain. You can see on the website, the recommendations made by my students and the videos showing those who learned their exam pieces online so well. I'm very proud of them and grateful to them for their dedication and support.

What they all like about it most is the flexibility - they can come whenever they want to. Although weekly lessons are best to keep the momentum going, some do come fortnightly or dip in and out; I can fit them in any time and on any weekday because I can't go out, other than for shopping. They don't have to drive here and back, getting cross in traffic jams and arriving stressed out after work or school. And they can play on their own pianos or keyboards, which they're used to, without having to adapt every lesson to my Bechstein Grand. (Poor piano gets blamed for everything. 'The keys are wider than mine.' (Really?) 'The pedal makes a noise when I press it down. Mine doesn't do that.' (Really?) ) The main thing is they don't have to sit next to me with shaking hands, afraid to make a mistake and be judged (all in their imagination!) and they can relax online. I like it because I don't have to wait for people who are stuck in traffic jams or bus queues and because it's flexible.

You will need to use a laptop but if you don't have one available you can use an ipad or mobile phone - as long as it contains a video camera and sound. Whatever you use will need to be placed by the side of your instrument and angled onto the keyboard - it doesn't matter if I can't see your head. If you haven't used Skype before, you will need to sign up and let me have your Skype name so I can message you a few minutes before your first lesson. You simply click on the link and will come in and join me. We make sure we can see each other's keyboards and off we go. We need to have the same music and if I use a tutor book, I will tell you which one to get. We will begin with some scales, which I will build with you each lesson and then your exercises and theory or your pieces.

It isn't that easy to teach total beginners online, especially young children, from scratch. I've ruled it out with the children but it's easier for adult beginners to understand and you will need to have an instrument, either a fully weighted keyboard or an acoustic or electric piano. If you've played before, then it's no problem whatever your standard and children come from the age of seven.

To book a half-price trial lesson for July, you can email me at or phone 0161 445 0159 - if you get my message taker, please do leave a message as I'll get back to you pretty quickly.


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