The pandemic cost André van Berlo his music instructor job at Selkirk College in March. That meant the loss of about two-thirds of his income.
He also taught guitar lessons in Nelson, and he had to switch his private students to Zoom lessons.
“I was quite scared because at first I was afraid I would lose all my students because I was like, how many students are going to stick with me online? So that was scary.”
But he needn’t have worried.
“Within a week, I had all my students switched to online lessons with a schedule that worked and with a system that made it really easy for them.”
That’s because van Berlo was not an online novice. He had already been doing some teaching and performing on his YouTube channel, and at yourguitarworkshop.com. So it was a matter of scaling that up and making improvements he’d always wanted to make but hadn’t taken the time. The pandemic handed him the opportunity.
He often refers his students to those online resources for further study. Now, for his enhanced online pandemic career, he is revisiting some of those lessons, improving them and creating new ones.
Van Berlo now has more private guitar students than before the pandemic, and he thinks teaching them on Zoom works very well.
For his 50 online students (most of them local), he often records the entire lesson and then teaches a short summary at the end, which he also records. These recordings are immediately available to the students.
“I think that has helped a lot of students, and at the same time, the parents know what is going on in the lesson, which is something they usually they never see,” he says.
The main disadvantage of teaching online, he says, is that if a student doesn’t have a good internet connection or hardware, the visual resolution or the sound may not be the best.
What about the human connection between teacher and student? Doesn’t teaching online sacrifice that?
Van Berlo says it doesn’t, and he says his students feel the same way.
“I still make the same stupid dad jokes I do in a lesson, and that kind of stuff. In the in-person lesson I want the student to feel comfortable and have a good time, and when we’re on Zoom it’s the same thing. So it’s maybe sometimes a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s pretty good.”
Before the pandemic van Berlo played a few gigs around town, most notably in a guitar duo with Paul Landsberg. But with live performance opportunities at near zero, that’s on hold, and it’s hard for him to get excited about rehearsing for a concert that could be a year away.
But he’s started creating some online performances and hopes to do more in the new year.
Meanwhile, his YouTube channel, which contains instructional and performance videos, now has 123,000 subscribers.
What would van Berlo say to musicians and music teachers who are not as conversant with the online world and who are struggling to adapt?
“When you look at my YouTube channel, and you go to my very first videos, which I don’t think I could dare to look at anymore, they look pretty hideous. But when I was doing those early videos I would look at it and be like, what can I do differently next time? How could I improve it?”
The videos gradually got better over time. You just have to get started, he says.
“A lot of people think that it has to look perfect, that it has to be live up to whatever. But actually, the most important thing is that you have content that [shows you are] genuine. People quickly notice whether you’re a fake or something they can relate to.
“Get started and learn from it. Produce as much as you can. You’ll figure out the tech part along the way.”