Adapting to a New Reality
The foundation is an HP desktop computer (refurbished) with an i5 processor and 8gig memory (RAM). It also has a wired connection to cable broadband. It can be done via wifi, but a wired connection will be a bit more stable and possibly a little faster. Broadband is, of course, essential.
I use webcams (Logitech 615 & 920, $35-$70). One is hanging from a microphone stand just behind the blue microphone. It's pointed down to my piano keyboard. The other sits atop my monitor pointed towards me. More about how I use both together below.
Though you can certainly use a smart phone or a DSLR camera, I choose not to because I wanted something more permanent so I wouldn't have to set it up and take it down frequently.
The blue microphone is a Blue Yeti model that hangs from the microphone stand. It's near my mouth and it's set to "omnidirectional," so it can pick up sound from me and the keyboard anywhere around. It has a USB connection so it's connected directly to my computer, which I have set as the default recording device. It's around $100 currently.
I always use headphones to hear the student as it helps to not confuse the video conferencing system as far as who's speaking at each moment.
I have also chosen to use a simple Logitech powered speaker system ($40) and I put the speakers up close to the Blue Yeti. The small subwoofer sits on the floor. It works okay using the regular piano keyboard speakers but I think it's a bit better being closer the microphone.
Let's start with video conferencing. Like many others, I use Zoom.us for connecting to students. Keep in mind that most or all of these apps/services are for talk - not music. The major issue for us is that the microphones on both sides of the conversation cannot be open simultaneously - because, for speakers, it would allow multiple people to talk over each other - a nasty thing for business meetings. For the past two years, I've searched for one that is "full duplex," meaning all microphones are open at the same time. So far, no luck. A Facebook-type service for musicians used to have one but they abandoned it. Also, I think Teacherzone may have had one, but I'm not sure.
Until a full-duplex system comes along, we're really blocked from playing or singing together in any useful way. Perhaps 5G will change that - not sure right now.
My second most-used app is manycam.com. It allows me to overlay multiple cameras, a camera plus my screen, a camera and my phone, and offers many other customizations. I can also "preset" these scene arrangements for quick access. Just choose manycam as your camera on Zoom and you can control everything else from Manycam. I find it very useful and mostly user-friendly.
Just as an FYI, I use Tonara for assignments and Fons for student scheduling/payments.
I hope this helps. Please leave any comments or questions here or on my Facebook page.
Terry Smith teaches piano and voice privately in the Phoenix, AZ area and online anywhere using an innovative approach called "PLAY NOW!"