Originally posted on 2/21/20 as 'Artist-in-Residence' for the American Viola Society:
It was around a decade ago that I first heard about the possibility of taking viola lessons via Skype. Once I thought about it a bit and saw the possibilities, I thought surely this will be the way of the future. Yet so far, I would say it still has not entered the general public's consciousness as a viable option.
I've had many good experiences teaching online. Provided the equipment is in good shape and the internet connection is fast enough, there's very little you can't do.
But as a naturally skeptical person, let me start off with what you can't do: Because of a slight delay, the sort of delay you have (but don't really notice) while talking on the phone, you can't play duos. You also (obviously) can't play/tune the student's instrument, and it's also hard to assess the quality of the instrument, as a microphone--- no matter how good--- will always color the sound somewhat. It's not something for absolute beginners.
Outside of this though, it's pretty much like being in the same room. Online lessons have allowed me to teach students on five continents. Some had recordings of mine or were working on music I had written. A couple lived out in the sticks where there simply were no teachers at all. And it also happens that sometimes someone locally starts taking lessons... but then has to move away; this way you're able to continue. While I have had a few people travel regularly from as far away as Boston, Cape Cod, and New Hampshire for lessons at my studio in western Mass... (roughly three or four hours roundtrip in a car)... the reality is most people don't want to spend so much time traveling.
There's also the possibility to use online lessons as an extra for your normal "in person" studio. I would say this has become quite common among private teachers and is likely on the way to becoming standard. If two feet of snow just fell out of the sky, you and your student can still keep your lesson time (assuming the electricity hasn't gone out) and do it this week over Skype. If one of you is sick (but well enough to play), you can do it this week over Skype so as not to infect the other person. Just this morning, there was a piece in the news about students in quarantined cities in Asia covering their normal school subjects online so that the coronavirus doesn't spread further.
"Online Lessons: Avoiding Traffic Accidents and Preventing Disease."
When I think of the hours spent parked in traffic in Weehawken, NJ with my mother driving me into NYC for lessons as a kid.... and missing the lesson entirely... I think we could have really made use of this technology back then! I would have had more access to one-off lessons, too, with composers and violists around the world whose work I admired.
So, I still think it will only become more and more mainstream. The Classical world is slow to change. Check back with me in another decade!