Piano lessons via video conference

Since two weeks we are required to work from home and cancel all social events until further notice to limit the spread of SARS-Cov-2 around the world. This also means that my weekly singing lessons and piano lessons are cancelled. My teachers, however, have adapted the lessons and are now teaching remotely whenever possible via teleconferences. Read on to see how I setup to get good audio quality into the teleconference.

We could just use Skype or Google Hangouts (or any other video conferencing program) and use the onboard microphone, but because I have the equipment anyway, I decided to hook it up and at least make sure that the piano is recorded directly into the feed. For this, I now use the following setup. The piano (Casio Priva PX-870) does not have an auxiliary output, and is therefore plugged into the microphone amplifier (Focusrite Clarett 8Pre USB) through a stereo DI box (Radial Engineering Pro D2). In addition to this, I use a shotgun microphone (Rode NTG3) on a stand to the right, so that the teacher can also still hear me speak. The video feed is realized by using the back-facing camera on the laptop aimed at the keys so that the teacher can see my hands and watch my technique, while I play.

The downside to this arrangement, is that I cannot see the screen and this effectively becomes a one-way video stream. For the time being this will work fine, but I’d prefer a two-way stream and also being able to see her hands when she demonstrates something.

Most teleconferencing programs only recognize single channel microphones. To make sure that I can hear the teacher and the piano, and she can hear the piano and me, but not herself, I use the routing software of the Clarett to make a mix-minus setup.

To do this, I route the three microphone channels to line out 3, and mute analog in 1 and the digital feedback for this channel. Line 3 is than physically connected to analog in 1 using a TRS cable. Google Hangouts and Skype recognizes Analog In 1 as the only channel, and in this way all three channels are combined. For my headphones, I make a similar mix, with the shotgun microphone disabled, but the digital feedback enabled. The connection diagram is shown below. This works, because the Focusrite Clarett range can route signals internally. If your audio interface cannot do this, you can use a mixer instead. In that case, you create a seperate mix on the console that you route to an auxiliary output. That auxiliary output then needs to be routed to the teleconferencing software. You basically do in hardware, what I did in software.

Connection diagram for using a Focusrite audio interface with mixing capability/routing inside the interface. Music vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com

The teacher – rightfully so – remarked that this was a bit advanced for the purposes of the piano lessons, but at least the sound was very clear. If you don’t have any of this equipment, you can just use the built-in microphone of your phone / laptop. Just don’t put the microphone directly next to the speakers of the piano.

If you are reading this during the pandemic: stay safe and follow the guidelines from the World Health Organisation and/or those of your local government. Wash you hands frequently, keep at least 1.5 m distance from other people (especially if you are sick or have a cold) and stay at home if you can. Hopefully, scientists will find a cure for COVID-19 or a vaccin against SARS-Cov-2 soon, and we will be able to conduct the lessons in person again. Until then, we just have to be a little bit more creative.