You’re sitting at home with your five-year-old daughter in Argyle, Missouri.
Hardly a relatable story, I agree, as the town of Argyle has a population of less than 200, so it’s unlikely one of those 200 is sitting there reading this story.
But let’s just say there is, and let’s just say it’s you.
Well, you’re sitting at home with your daughter in Argyle, Missouri, when you notice her head tilt at the sound of a cello that suddenly strikes up a solo on the CD that’s currently playing. After she confides that she likes the sound it makes, you wonder if it might be worthwhile to nurture this interest and find the girl a cello teacher.
So, how many cello teachers are readily available to the good people of Argyle, Missouri? Answer: 78. And that’s a minimum.
Baby Beethovens Love Video Chatting
Of course the cello teachers mentioned above all work online via video conferencing, and these particular 78 can be found via a simple search on takelessons.com.
Hardly a mystery really, but that’s the point. There’s no reason why anybody living within wi-fi distance of a broadband internet connection can’t take up any musical instrument that tilts their head.
Takelessons.com lists 45 people who’ll teach you the mandolin online, 50 who’ll teach you the double bass, and of course hundreds offering piano lessons. As a side note, if you’re thinking entrepreneurially, there’s currently no one specializing in the balalaika.
Now, most of these teachers are relying on the sensitivities of some pretty basic video conferencing platforms to deliver their dulcet counsel, so there are going to a be a few audio hang-ups along the way.
Music is pretty time sensitive for an average connection to handle. The lag times of even just a second that dot most basic video calls are death knells to harmony. Even a one-way stream, when a teacher is listening to the progress of a pupil, can become stilted beyond recognition if the tech isn’t there to sustain it.
However, advances are being made in audio quality, and conservatory quality instruction is currently taking place via an exclusive, mysterious corner of the internet.
Video Conferencing with Internet2
Internet2 is a closed network of more than 200 universities working in partnership with private and public innovators to provide internet connections at the break-neck speed of 100 Gbps–thousands of time faster than any connection you’re currently using. While it sounds like an upgrade in speed comparable to that of shifting from a horse and cart to a modern supercar, it’s not so much a faster car as a vastly improved highway.
You can check out the specs for yourself, but suffice to say that when you have access to more than 15,000 miles of dark fiber–unused, private fiber optic networks–and dozens of single-purpose high performance routers and switches, you get where you’re going very quickly.
And it’s all this untamed highway that lets music schools, such as Northern Illinois University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln come together to collaborate via video conferencing.
Here, the signal delay gets crushed down to less than half a second. That’s still a little problematic if you are playing a duet or trio via video call, but it’s plenty fast enough to to-and-fro over the correct phrasing of even the most intricate of measures.
Internet2 may currently be too exclusive for Takelessons.com’s eager crowd of maestros, but it does mean remote music students, and those who cannot physically attend classes can still benefit from the teachings of leading conservatories such as the Berklee College of Music, which has been offering remote music tuition–in the form of online master classes–for more than a decade.
Better Audio for Video Calling
Of course, even at the internet speeds mere mortals endure, it’s possible to make the most of your acoustics.
The key is quality Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC). As there are at least two ends to any video conference call the system on your end must accommodate both microphones and speakers. This then creates the opportunity for the noise coming out of your speakers to be fed back into your open mic, along with any residual sounds that might be reverberating around the room.
So the AEC uses algorithms to trim down the incoming signal through your mic to just the spoken word, or, in this case, melodic cello. It’s a necessary tool for any video conferencing setup, but within the world of online music making a sturdy AEC is indispensable.
But this technology is readily available within commercial grade video conferencing equipment if you care to invest the time, so there’s little reason left to avoid joining the online community of those taking music lessons by video conferencing.
Who knows, within a decade Argyle, Missouri may be home to a near-200 piece orchestra.