9 minutes reading time (1866 words)

Flipping piano classes and lessons with rich online video content

Mario-article

This is the ScreenFlow editing environment. Mario has captured the animated, on-screen keyboard as well as his own hands on a real keyboard. He has additionally added fingerings to the video using the annotation tools of ScreenFlow. 

Over the past several years, enrollment in my group piano classes at Stephen F. Austin State University has steadily increased. The majority of the classes are full, with sixteen students in each section. Finding the time to listen to so many students and assess their keyboard skills and the quality of their practicing is a significant challenge. If this assessment is done during class time, the amount of time available for introducing new concepts is reduced. 

Studio teachers face similar issues. No matter whether a lesson is scheduled for 30, 45, or 60 minutes, there is never enough time to cover everything! 

One way to deal with the time-management issue is to flip the expectations of the classroom/ studio with those of the practice room. 

Flipping the teaching model

The traditional pattern of teaching has been to give lectures within the classroom or studio, and then assign homework, with the expectation that the students work on problems outside of school. In flipped teaching, students consume lectures outside of school by watching video lessons prepared by the teacher or supplied by other sources. In the classroom or studio, students apply the knowledge by doing homework and solving problems, and the teacher works with them when they encounter difficulties.

I have been creating video tutorials for my Piano Podcast for almost ten years. The Podcast is syndicated both on YouTube and iTunes. By way of experimentation with camera angles, keyboard visualization, and video editing software, I have developed techniques to easily create media-rich piano video tutorials that can be used to supplement either traditional piano lessons and/or piano classes, thus creating a hybrid online learning experience that benefits both students and teachers. The goals of an online video piano lesson should be similar to those of a traditional piano lesson or group class, and, in both cases, we should aspire to deliver information in the most efficient manner possible. Students will consume these videos when it is most convenient for them, and it is important for these videos to be concise.

We must also recognize that our students learn in many different ways. Some students learn best by listening, and others learn best by watching or even learning by rote. Other students require an intellectual framework that puts the subject matter in a larger, connected context. It is therefore important to present information in a variety of ways so that we can address a broad spectrum of learning styles.

It is therefore important to present information in a variety of ways so that we can address a broad spectrum of learning styles.


Mario's tools

In our piano labs at Stephen F. Austin State University, I use the keyboard visualization software program Classroom Maestro from TimeWarp Technologies (www.timewarptech.com) to project an interactive keyboard and musical staff for the students. Whatever I play on the teacher keyboard is instantly shown on the screen in real time. Rather than going to each student's piano to demonstrate, I can address the entire class so that every student sees what keys I am playing as they are lit up on the full eighty-eight-key on-screen keyboard. If I choose, I can even display how notes are represented on the staff simultaneously. 

One of the unique perspectives that can be displayed in Classroom Maestro is the way in which the pedals are engaged when I am playing a piece at the keyboard. When students view a person playing a real piano, it is difficult for them to see both the keyboard and the pedals at the same time. This software program, however, makes it both possible and easy to see the synchronous movements of keys and pedals that effectively demonstrate the proper mechanics of a performance. 

I have discovered that the Classroom Maestro software app works perfectly for creating piano video tutorials. When used in conjunction with screen recording software, everything played through Classroom Maestro can be captured on video for later viewing on demand. 

If you have a Mac computer running one of the most recent operating systems, you already have a screen recording program pre-installed called QuickTime Player. Simply go into the File menu in QuickTime Player and select "New Screen Recording." It will record everything on your computer's screen or an area that you select. From there you can edit your captured video in another pre-installed Mac application called iMovie. 

Better yet, I discovered another software application a few years ago that enables me to cut down the time spent both recording and editing the final video product. ScreenFlow by Telestream (www. telestream.net) is a Mac OS X application that can not only record everything that occurs on your computer screen, but it can also record another video source simultaneously, such as your computer's built-in web camera or an external USB video camera. 

In the photo, you can see that I have my MacBook Pro computer sitting on top of my Yamaha NU1 Hybrid Piano. This piano has MIDI capabilities, and I can connect it to my computer with a simple USB cable so that everything that I play on the piano is displayed in Classroom Maestro. Above me is a Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 (www.logitech.com) that is mounted to a microphone stand. This setup enables me to record video of my hands at the piano keyboard, thus providing yet another perspective to model a performance for students.

Creating a video lesson

When you are done recording a video segment with ScreenFlow, the program loads your video clip into a new project. For those of you who enjoyed using the early versions of iMovie ca. 2000–2007, you will be happy to know that ScreenFlow offers a similar user-friendly experience with a familiar linear timeline format and clip tray (Media Library). 

Once all of your clips are imported into Video : A valuable tool for teachers ScreenFlow, you become a virtual "director," telling each of your "actors" where to go on the "stage." Each element, including the screen recording of Classroom Maestro and the video of your hands at the keyboard, can be easily resized, cropped, and moved wherever you want on the video canvas. 

As I assemble and edit my video, I try to keep the focus on what is important, just as I do in my traditional teaching. For example, if the focal point of the video is fingering, I may crop the video frame and zoom in so that my hands dominate the screen. As I continue to edit, I try to keep in mind the fact that students may view the finished product on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or iPad, in which case it is important to make optimal use of the screen real estate. 

In ScreenFlow, you can add text to reinforce concepts. For example, in the photo on the next page, I added the finger numbers for the B-flat Major arpeggio underneath my hands. I found that using different colors for fingers that play on black keys and fingers that play on white keys was effective in helping students to recognize the fingering patterns when they came back to play them in class. 

I also use ScreenFlow's "Video Actions" as a way to manipulate and move elements on my screen so that smooth transitions are created for the viewer. For example, if I want the Classroom Maestro keyboard to become invisible momentarily, I click on the "+Action" button and then drag the keyboard off the screen in order to make it disappear. If I want to bring it back, I simply add another "Video Action" and drag the keyboard back onto the screen so viewers can see it.

Capturing great piano sound

It helps to have a good quality microphone, especially if you want to capture your piano performances faithfully. However, it can be challenging to capture a good piano sound with a microphone. In my case, I often capture the piano audio directly from my hybrid piano, which generates the piano sound digitally. One reason I purchased the Yamaha NU1 Hybrid Piano was that the piano's sound was captured from the top-of-the-line Yamaha CFX Concert Grand Piano. If I run the audio from my hybrid piano into my computer through an audio interface, I can record a much higher quality piano sound in my tutorial videos, where changes in dynamics and color are captured much more faithfully than they would be with a simple microphone. If you don't have an audio interface, the NU1 Hybrid Piano has a USB port that enables you to record your performances to a portable flash drive. It saves your recordings as a digital audio (.wav) file. This file can be imported into ScreenFlow and synchronized fairly easily with the recorded video. If you use the .wav file generated by the piano, be aware that you will probably have to add some "Audio actions" to mute your microphone's audio while the file is playing in order to bring out the pristine quality of the hybrid piano. 

Saving and uploading your video

Rendering your project as a final video is a simple matter with ScreenFlow. There are various presets optimized for devices such as iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV. I choose the AppleTV preset so that the video is compressed to a relatively small file size for online delivery. With this setting, the rendered video is also beautiful enough to watch on a high-definition television set. ScreenFlow even offers the option to publish directly to YouTube, Vimeo, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Facebook. I have private Facebook groups for my college group piano students where they can view these tutorial videos. Alternatively, you can mark your videos as "private" or "unlisted" on YouTube, which will prevent them from showing up in search results. Sometimes I share my college class videos with my YouTube channel so that other piano students may learn from these lessons.

Final tips

With the right combination of tools and software, it is easy to make professional-looking lesson videos on a limited budget. Each of the software applications that I mentioned in this article costs less than $100. I recommend that teachers limit the length of their online video content. Since the videos represent a one-way type of communication, you cannot expect students to stay with you through a long video, no matter how engaging your content may be. If you wouldn't lecture to students face-to-face for more than five minutes at a time, try not to do it in a video. I've tried to limit most of my video tutorials to five minutes or less. If one of my videos ends up longer than that, I consider breaking it up into two or more videos so the student can digest a smaller amount of information and put it into practice before moving on. For better or worse, today's students expect more of an online presence from their instructors. Accordingly, it's becoming increasingly important for teachers to acquire the technological skills and knowledge needed to engage students in these new and perhaps unconventional ways.

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