Monday, August 19, 2013

REVIEW: Online Guitar Lessons by MacPhail Center for Music

My 9-year old daughter, Haylee, was given the opportunity to take and review some online guitar lessons by MacPhail Center for Music.



MacPhail Center for Music offers unique individual 30-minute music lessons via Skype on a compatible device such as a computer or tablet.  You register your student and answer some basic questions that allows the Center to match your child to an appropriate instructor for weekly lessons that occur at a designated day and time.  Then after some brief testing of lighting and equipment, your lessons begin.  Lesson can take place M-F between the hours of 11 AM-4 PM EST.

The Center can work with students of all ages and abilities from beginner to advanced.  Live online lessons are available for piano, guitar, violin, viola, cello, harp, flute, clarinet, trumpet, low brass, saxophone, and percussion.  You can receive your first online lesson for free with code ONLINE-1STFREE13 when registering, but you must register for a minimum of 2 lessons to take advantage of this offer.

There is special introductory pricing available for homeschool students:

  • Four 30-minute individual online lessons for $111
  • Available to all K-12 homeschooled students
  • This is a 25% discount off regular tuition rates

After the introductory period, they offer Flex Packs:

  • Schedule 8 live online lessons within an 18-week semester at $37 per 30-minute lesson
  • If you have a scheduling conflict, you have the option to cancel a lesson 48 hours in advance without forfeiting the lesson



Someone from the Center contacted us in advance of our lessons to explain the process and to help us test whether or not we had equipment sufficient to Skype with the instructor.  We tried out different locations for lighting purposes, background noise, and positioning.  We decided on the best physical location, tried out laptops vs. tablets that we have, etc., and determined the best feed was occurring with my daughter’s Nabi 2 Tablet in our dining room in front of a window.  The representative had me set up the instructor in our Skype address book, she instructed me to tune Haylee’s guitar, and we were all set to begin our lessons the following week!

Our instructor’s name was Randy.  He was a friendly fellow.  At the first lesson, we called him on Skype, and he introduced himself to both of us.  He chatted for a bit with Haylee and got to know a little about her.  She is very shy with new people, and I had let them know this in advance, so he was prepared to spend a little time finding common ground with her in an effort to pull her out of herself a bit more.  Pretty soon, he had her giggling and talking to him, so we were off to a good start.  In terms of instruction, he taught her proper posture, how to sit in the chair with the instrument, how to position the guitar in her hands, and how to hold the pick properly.  He had her practice each movement 4 times without assistance from me so he could see that she could do it on her own.  This was great reinforcement of her understanding, and I joked with him that I might have to steal that tip for practice in other areas of her life!  Smile  Randy also taught her how to number the strings rather than referring to notes at this point (she is a true beginner), and how to number the first few frets.  He also taught her the parts of the guitar.  This lesson went very well!  He assigned her some homework to practice a steady rhythm as she picked up and down the scale, playing each note 4 times in succession.

Our second lesson took place on Haylee’s 9th birthday.  Randy remembered it was her birthday from their conversation the week before, and he spent about 10 minutes chatting with her about her cake and her plans for celebration.  She was much more talkative this time.  He noticed that her pick was more of a decorative pick and was much too large for actual playing, so he requested that she get some proper picks before the next lesson.  In the meantime, he taught her how to pluck the guitar strings with her thumb instead.  Now I must say that she struggled a bit with that, and I wish he had just let her use the pick she had until the next lesson.  I felt like it slowed her progress a lot, and they didn’t accomplish a lot in this lesson compared with the last one.  He did teach her what letters to call her fingers, and he reviewed with her the things that she learned in the first lesson.  He had her write down some sentences that would remind her of some rhythm patterns that he wanted her to practice playing for homework.  That was that!  We went right out the next day and purchased a package of guitar picks so she could use one to practice her homework assignment before the third lesson.

For our third lesson, Randy spent just a couple of minutes warming Haylee up with questions about her birthday and about her upcoming party.  Then he quickly had her review sitting properly with the guitar and holding the pick.  Then the remainder of the lesson was about demonstrating for him the rhythm patterns that she had been assigned for homework the previous week.  She had a much better time with those using the pick rather than trying to strum with her fingers like she did the week before!  It was a good thing we ran out for those new picks.  Haylee did pretty well with playing those four rhythm patterns.  Then he gave her two new ones and had her try them.  She struggled a bit with the new ones, so for homework, he told her to practice playing all six rhythm patterns smoothly as she goes from string to string, up and down the scale. 

For our fourth and final lesson, Randy spent a couple of minutes chatting with Haylee about her party and how things went.  Then he went ahead and recapped the things they’d learned so far.  He had her demonstrate all of the rhythm patterns he’d taught her so far by playing them up and down the strings at a steady beat.  He clapped for her and cheered her on, saying that he could tell she’d been practicing because she had improved so much and had done a great job.  Then he spent some time talking with her about the frets and showed her how to place the tips of her fingers on one of the guitar strings and practice lifting one at a time.  She struggled a bit with lifting the third finger alone, and he said that was common at her age, but that if she practices using those fingers individually, she’ll strengthen her muscle control in those fingers and will be able to do it in just a few weeks.  Then our lesson came to a close, and we said our goodbyes. 

Overall, this was a very positive experience for Haylee.  She hasn’t expressed a great interest in continuing to learn how to play the guitar, but she definitely learned some things, and I think the lessons were a good experience for her in general.  I know we could not afford to continue lessons ourselves, but if you have it in your budget and have a child who is interested in learning to play an instrument, you can’t beat the convenience of these lessons via Skype and the personalized attention your child gets from this unique one-on-one training opportunity.  I would definitely recommend these lessons to anyone in the market for them.

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about online music lessons for a variety of instruments by clicking the banner below.