Teaching Ukulele Online: Five Steps to Success

pedagogy corner Apr 24, 2024

By Catherine Goykhman

Like many people, I have been teaching ukulele online with both my group and private lessons since the pandemic began. Thanks to platforms like Zoom, teaching and learning the ukulele online has become not only possible but highly effective. It has never been easier to connect with ukulele students around the world! The strategies and tips below have worked well for me and I hope they can also help you to make your online ukulele lessons engaging and successful.


1. Set Up Your Virtual Classroom

Before your first online lesson, create a space where you will teach your virtual lessons and practice using the technology on your own. Start a new meeting and look at yourself on the screen. Can you see your ukulele? Can you see both your hands? How is the lighting? Is there clutter in the background? Making sure your students can see you and your ukulele clearly will help to create a professional online learning environment.


2. Check Your Tech

When you are first getting started with teaching online, you don’t need to go out and get all new gear. The webcam on your laptop is probably just fine with good lighting. As you begin to teach more, you might find you want to upgrade to a better camera and microphone, but that is not necessary.

When you are ready to upgrade your tech, you could consider getting a microphone such as the Blue Yeti or this one by Audio-Technica. For upgrading your webcam, you could try the Lumina 4K Webcam or the Logitech Brio. These are great for the next step in your online teaching gear, but won’t totally break the bank.

One piece of gear I do highly recommend is headphones for both you and your students. This will help you to hear each other better and minimize feedback that happens when the audio comes out of your students’ speakers and then goes back into their microphones. When you practice using Zoom, don’t forget to wear your headphones too! If your headphone cable is short, it will affect how close you are to the camera. Make sure you can sit comfortably with the headphones attached to your computer, and that you and your ukulele are both visible on the screen.


3. Plan Your Online Lesson

Just like an in-person lesson, you’ll want to have your resources prepared ahead of time. For me, that means having a copy of the Ukulele in the Classroom ebook and any other PDFs or sheet music I will need open on my computer.

During online lessons, I share my screen to the page we are working on so I can point to things with my mouse. Have your files open and ready ahead of time. You can also use resources like backing tracks from the Teacher Toolkit. When you want you students to play along with backing tracks or other audio files, make sure to click share “share audio” so your students will be able to hear the music too.

During your practice Zoom call, make sure to practice sharing your screen and audio too so that you get comfortable finding the files and buttons.


4. Final Checks

Before your first online lesson, test out your setup. Start a new Zoom meeting by yourself.
Check for the following:

  • Put on your headphones. Are you able to sit comfortably with the headphones attached to
    your computer?
  • Can you clearly see your ukulele and your hands?
  • Practice sharing the screen with your sheet music.
  • Practice sharing the audio with any backing tracks you want to use.
  • Do a practice recording. Hit the record button. Talk, play and sing to the camera for a
    moment. Stop the recording and end the call. Once the file is ready, watch and listen to
    yourself. Can you see your hands and ukulele clearly? Can you hear your voice and ukulele clearly? If not, make some adjustments and try again!


Pro Tip: Recording Your Lessons

One of the advantages of teaching on a platform like Zoom is that you can record your lessons. I use Zoom’s record feature for all my group online lessons. If anyone misses the class, they can watch the recording afterwards and it is useful for students who want to review.

So how do you save your meeting videos and share them with your students? When you press record, Zoom will give you two options: "Record on this Computer" or "Record to the Cloud." What you choose will determine how you will share your videos with your students.

Anytime you record a meeting in Zoom, you can access your videos in the Zoom app. Go to the “Meetings” and choose “Recorded”. You should see a list of all your recorded meetings. If you chose “Record on this Computer” when you select that meeting a folder will open and you will have access to your video. From there, you will have to upload the video to your Google drive, YouTube or another file sharing service and then share a link with your students. If you chose “Record to the Cloud”, a window will open and provide you with a link to your video on Zoom’s website. You can share this link directly with your students, or use it to download the video and then share it on your Google drive, YouTube, etc.

Another advantage of being able to record lessons is that you can test your audio and video quality ahead of time. Hit the record button. Talk, play and sing to the camera for a moment. Stop the recording and end the call. Once the file is ready, watch and listen to yourself. Can you see your hands and ukulele clearly? Can you hear your voice and ukulele clearly? If not, make some adjustments and try again!


5. Teaching Your Lesson

You’ve got your ukulele, computer, headphones, and resources all lined up. Now it’s time to start your first online lesson!

A significant difference between teaching online and in-person is that when you teach online, you can’t really play together at the same time and both hear each other. If you do try to play together unmuted, your student will not be in sync with you. This time delay is called "latency."

I handle not being able to play together in two ways:

  1. I do a lot of “I play then you play” while we are both unmuted. For example, you might play a few measures of the sheet music and then ask your student to have a turn and play it back to you. (But remember, they will probably start playing a second later than you expect because of the time delay.)
  2. If you want your student to play along with you, ask them to mute for a moment. Then, you count in for your duet and your student plays along with you. You won’t hear them, but they will hear you. After the duet is over, ask them to unmute and share how they feel it went. Sometimes when I am teaching, I want my students to be looking at the sheet music. In an online lesson, I do this by sharing my screen and using my mouse to point to the sheet music.

When I want to highlight a playing technique, I stop sharing the screen to demonstrate the technique. This makes my video larger so my student can see me more easily.


A World of Possibilities

Teaching ukulele online opens up a world of possibilities for both students and teachers. By incorporating these tips, your online lessons can be as engaging and effective as in-person lessons. You can use technology to cultivate a dynamic, captivating learning environment and connect with ukulele students all over the globe.

Catherine Goykhman is an ukulele teacher from Toronto, Canada. She is a JHUI level 3 certified ukulele teacher and a mentor for JHUI teachers-in-training. You can find her online at www.catplaysukulele.com.

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