How to teach music remotely

ICMP drums tutor Gabor Dornyei gives us his top tips to teach music online...


While the UK braces for several weeks of social distancing, much music education including our own will be delivered online for the foreseeable future.

And with brilliant technology now available at our finger tips, working remotely and learning online is a great way of studying music.

ICMP drum tutor Gabor Dornyei is one of the world's experts when it comes to delivering remote lessons. With over 30 years of experience as an innovative player and educator, Gabor's experience is second to none when it comes to rhythm and utilising the latest technology to share his expertise. At the same time, he's travelled the world to perform and offer drum clinics, as one half of the acclaimed tHUNder Duo and on his own solo adventures. 

We caught up with Gabor to learn more about his experiences as an online educator and his tips for both students and teachers... 

How long have you been giving remote lessons?

I've been offering drum lessons over Skype for six to seven years now, since the very beginning of my private Gabbey Road Studio in London.

Over the last couple of decades I've been fortunate enough to travel the globe and students from all walks of life have approached me with their lesson requests. Since many had no opportunity to travel to London on a weekly basis, Skype lessons from my studio were the best solution. I've had students from USA, South America, Iceland, The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Norway, Hungary, Czech Rep, Australia and countless other places.  

What software platform do you use for teaching remotely? 

I have tried multiple platforms and applications in the past but have always returned to Skype. 


Are you teaching on an acoustic or electronic kit, and do you rely on the computer’s built-in hardware to capture the audio, or do you use external mics/interface for the drums and your voice?

I've been using the amazing Roland TD-30 KV V-Drums for my online/Skype drum lessons.

It's not only the endless array of unbelievable pre-programmed sound options, but the convenience of being able to play with comfortable physical involvement - while turning the volume down - the student can enjoy a brilliant drum sound without distortion while they can hear my acoustic voice talking over/giving instruction over my own playing.

My Roland kit offers enjoyable and great sound at a fairly low volume - which is an absolute winner, particularly if you have a good/busy day of eight or nine hours of private lessons."

This way I never have to use microphones or an interface for online teaching, thanks to the Roland gear.

On the other side, I'm using my Audix Microphones and Focusrite pre-amps set ups for online recording sessions on my acoustic Pearl kit.

Likewise, what are the audio requirements from the student? How do you make sure that you aren’t constantly playing/talking over each other? 

Some of my students have more advanced electronic gear, but some of them just play their acoustic kits. It's all fine with me, because I'm plugging my MacBook into the same PA system that I plug my Roland V-Drums kit into, so I can adjust separately a fairly/reasonably low volume at my end via a little Behringer mixer.

If they want to hear my voice while they’re playing - for example if I have to add something to what they play, or correct them - they either plug their laptops into the house PA or an amp they have, or they’ll wear isolation head phones, so they can hear my talking simultaneously with their own playing.


How do you ensure that you can keep an eye on the student’s technique? Do most people just position their computer suitably, or does this require an external webcam?

Since I’ve been teaching drums since I was 17 - YES, it was 277 years ago - I can see with my eyes closed if someone is struggling with their techniques. I personally use an overhead camera to give full spectrum with my methods and exercises to my students, but they really don’t need to have one. Occasionally I’ve asked my students to put their laptops/iPads down on the floor behind them, if I (or even they) felt, they’re struggling with their foot techniques.

Is latency (with internet connections) an issue?

Not really. I’m not going to deny it will take a little getting used to - that your students are NOT going to be able to play in sync with you, because what they hear from you is already couple of seconds delayed. As well as what you hear back from them is going to be even more delayed.

However, once you recognise this, then you’re good to go.

It’s really easy to overcome latency if your students have an amplified click - which you can hear too - so that way you can hear and double check whether they’re understanding and playing the right rhythm and whether they’re in time."

How does it work with collecting payments - do you insist on being paid beforehand? How do you handle cancellations?

All Skype lessons have to be fully paid in advance, because I simply have no time to chase “forgotten” or delayed payments afterwords.  This way you’ll see that suddenly the last minute cancellations/changes of times and availabilities are going to get close to zero as well. Of course, it can always happen that someone falls ill, but for that I keep a 48 hours cancellation/change of time period. 

Finally, what are the challenges and benefits of teaching remotely?

In my opinion, nothing is ever going to change the amazing feel of being in the same room with a real master of their art in a one-to-one situation in person. That is the best! But ... reality, travel and accommodation costs, not to mention visas or global viruses, can easily change the scope from the student point of view.

You’re willing to settle for the very close second best! (I’d personally always take Skype lessons with my favourites, such as Erskine or Cobham if they offered)

From the teacher point of view, I find the challenge can be to stay engaging and present the lesson with the same enthusiasm and excitement to a laptop screen like it was a keen, eager/hungry for knowledge individual.

It’s a slightly different vibe. The massive benefit can be - once you get your reliable set up going - if you have the international profile and requests for lessons,  it’s fairly easy to operate and maintain your gear and online set-up. Plus you can work from the comfort of your home. This will save you time, effort and energy on travel and setting up at outside venues.

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Drums make the world move

Drumming requires incredible coordination, a solid sense of time, and plenty of precision and finesse. Here at ICMP, we’ll pass on all the technical skills and performance, theory, business, production, marketing, and additional know-how you’ll need to fly ahead of the pack. Throughout your ICMP Drums course, you’ll also gain access to everything from rehearsal rooms, top-brand gear, and recording studios to industry events, masterclasses, and a one-of-a-kind community of contacts and collaborators.

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Drums Courses
by Jim Ottewill
March 31, 2020
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