We’ve all experienced it while teaching. Your student plays their song and they appear to be playing at super speed, then suddenly slower and then freeze and then get really fast again and they sound bland. You wonder, “How on earth can my student sound this awful all of a sudden?” Then it hits you, “Ohh, it’s the video conferencing app I’m teaching with, it’s not my student at all – phew!”

So you try other apps and they’re slightly better but still not what you would hear in person. Why doesn’t a program exist that I can teach from a safe distance but still have the quality of an in-person lesson??? There’s a few reasons for this and I’ll explain below, but before I get into that I wanted to reiterate that, like so many of you, I’ve taught piano in a traditional manner for over 20 years with very little technology, so moving into the world of online teaching was a big leap. But, it was totally doable and the more you familiarize yourself with the process, the easier it gets.

There are two types of video conferencing platforms: room-based and peer-to-peer. I had the pleasure of speaking with our lead developer, Jonathan Hacker, over the weekend and he explained the difference in terms that made sense to me. I wanted to share with you what I learned in hopes that you will understand why we experience the things we do with the software available to us at the moment. Here’s what he said:

“With [the mainstream video conference platforms], the platform is optimized for big rooms and meetings, and it does this by using a central server to relay each person’s mic or camera to all the other participants. This is done to reduce the number of connections needed to connect all of the participants. For a five person meeting, only five connections, each to the server, as opposed to the 10 connections needed if all five participants talk directly to each other.

It only gets worse as the number of participants increases, 15 needed for 6, 21 needed for 7, 28 needed for 8, etc. This is a room-based approach. Unfortunately, by relaying everything through a server, this will increase the latency. Of course it takes longer for Bob to send sound to the server and have the server relay the sound to Shirley, then for Bob to just send the sound to Shirley directly. In order to have the best possible latency we will want to have the teacher and student connect directly. This is a peer-to-peer approach.

Most online collaboration with [the most well used video conference platforms], and many others are primarily connecting users who are speaking. Human speech occupies a fairly narrow frequency range, so in order to maximize the quality of the speech coming through, these platforms prioritize this narrow frequency range at the cost of quality outside of the human speech frequency range. Because in our case we are doing music lessons, we’re using instruments and voices that have a wider range of frequencies than speech. In order to provide better audio quality for all of the notes we might be singing or playing with our instruments, we’ll need to disable this speech-prioritization audio processing.”

So, in short, it’s not you. It’s the platforms out there that are not meeting the standards that teachers need to be able to offer their student a quality experience. New programs will come out and they will all advertise as being zero lag. This is half true. You can definitely have a zero lag experience from ONE end of the screen. For example, the student and teacher can play a duet and the student will experience zero lag from their end and the teacher will experience minimal lag because it will always happen on one end. Musicology will feature a zero lag experience from the student’s perspective because if we have to choose, it’s the student that deserves the ultimate experience. This way, duet capability is 100% possible and it will have a clear and crisp sound for both users with actual dynamic contrast.

Stay tuned for our newsletter that will feature more details on the testing going on behind the scenes to ensure Musicology has the best experience possible for all participants!

Be well and be safe, friends.