Can your piano lessons take place in-person?
With September knocking on our door, and most children going back to school, many of us are wondering whether we can resume our face-to-face piano lessons. Well, this is a very complex issue with no simple answer, because the outcome depends on so many different factors.
In recent weeks, I have attended several webinars and talks organised by professional music unions and piano teacher organisations, and had some endless discussions with my closest colleagues and other private tutors. From all I heard, it seems to me that most students are very eager to start piano lessons in-person as soon as possible, and can't wait to get back to normal. I completely understand, but how do teachers feel about it, and is it possible to do it safely?
Piano lessons are a close-proximity activity, and going back to teaching piano as we used to before Covid-19 is simply not possible at the moment. Some teachers, including myself, started teaching in-person already back in July, others decided to stay online until the pandemic is over (which will take a while!), and many teachers are still undecided. You might be wondering why? Why some of us can teach in-person lessons, but others can't?
First of all, every face-to-face piano lesson must undergo a risk assessment, where every student-tutor situation must be looked at in detail. The following steps are then all about weighing and managing the risks of catching and spreading Covid-19. The decision should be based on how big these risks are, and how serious the illness would be for the person if they caught it.
Here are some of the questions that have to be answered;
#1 Is it safe for everyone?
This should be the first and ultimate question to ask! People who are at high or moderate risk from coronavirus could get seriously ill.
- If a tutor, student or any of their household members are at high risk, the lessons must stay online.
#2 Travelling by public transport
- If the tutor has to take public transport when getting to and from lessons, can it be at off-peak times, or at the weekends?
Public transport can be busy at peak times, and social distancing may not be possible, so the risk of catching or spreading the virus is high.
Most tutors will probably want to find alternative options such as:
- Arranging lessons in their studio instead,
- Finding other ways of getting to lessons (bike, scooter, car),
- Changing the lesson time so they can travel at off-peak times.
#3 Teaching set-up
- Is the room with the piano big enough, or can it be rearranged to allow for social distancing during the lesson?
- Is it possible to avoid crossover of students/ parents/ other household members before and after lessons?
- Do other household members approve of having students/ tutors entering their home?
Every tutor and student must do what feels right for them and their situation. Some people's circumstances or their house set-up simply doesn't allow for face-to-face tuition with all the safety measures in place. The bottom line is; everyone has the right to choose not having strangers entering their home in the times of coronavirus if they feel it's not safe.
#4 Contact with common surfaces
- Is there enough time or can the timetable be adjusted to allow time for sanitising all common contact surfaces before and after each lesson, such as door handles, piano keys, piano bench?
- Can a tutor's piano be sanitised between students safely, and without causing any damage to the instrument?
A thorough cleaning is needed before and after every piano lesson, which requires extra time. Not every teacher can space out their lessons to allow extra time for cleaning. Sanitising surfaces under time pressure in between students is no fun, and not everybody will be happy to do this. Or they simply love their piano too much to clean it with antibacterial products every 30-45 minutes as this can cause damage to the instrument.
If all of the above is fine with the teacher, and they want to start face-to-face lessons, they must do it safely, and follow the control measures identified in their risk assessment. You can read about our guidelines for piano lessons here: https://pianomaestros.blogspot.com/2020/08/covid-19-guidelines-for-piano-lessons.html
#5 Possible contact with Covid-19
We must realise that despite all the efforts and measures in place, face-to-face tuition will never be entirely free of the risk of contracting coronavirus. Hopefully, this will never happen to you, but it is better to be prepared, so let's look at possible scenarios we may encounter when having in-person lessons:
A) Covid-19 symptoms
- If a student displays the main symptoms of coronavirus, they should inform their tutor immediately and take a test. If the student feels well, their lessons will be conducted remotely until the test result is known.
- If a tutor has the symptoms, they must inform all their students and arrange the test immediately. The tutor, if they feel well, will teach all their lessons online until they get the results.
- If any household member shows Covid-19 symptoms, the student/tutor must also self-isolate until the result of the test is known, and any affected lessons must be taught online.
Further information: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/symptoms/
B) Positive Covid-19 test
- If a tutor, student, or any of their household members tests positive for Covid-19, they must self-isolate for at least 10 days. Any affected lessons will automatically transition to online learning.
C) Contact with a confirmed Covid-19 case
- If a student, parent or tutor came in contact with someone who has coronavirus, they must self-isolate for 14 days, and any affected lessons will be conducted via video call.
With coronavirus still present in our lives, and until we can control it with a vaccine, unfortunately, there is no "going back" to resuming our activities as we did before. The only way is to move forward into a new way of working and learning, with Covid-19 safety measures in our daily life.
Whatever you and your teacher decide to do with your lessons, it should be the option that works best for everyone. If you start lessons face-to-face, be prepared to find yourself in a situation where you'll have to stay at home and work or learn remotely for a while. By the way, I haven't yet mentioned the quarantine requirements for returning holidaymakers, or a possibility of another lockdown... And, the more students a tutor has, the bigger chance there is for it to happen, and it could happen again, and again.
Therefore, moving forward, we will have to adopt a new hybrid approach where lessons will be taught in-person where possible, with an immediate, smooth transition to online learning if we have to stay at home. Yes, it may be frustrating, but we will get used to it. After all, it's not going to last forever, and things will start getting better eventually. In fact, they already have! So let's be positive and keep the music playing, wherever it may be :).
- Andrea Vargas Kmecova
Founder of Piano Maestros