Best Setup for Remote Guitar Lessons

My guitar teacher John Pondel used to live in the Bronx while I lived in Queens. He is an excellent player and teacher and very much worth the hassle of a long train ride, an inter-boro commute any New Yorker would know the pain of at about 1.5 hours each way on a good day…

But now he lives even further away in Westchester and I figured it’s “the future”, so let’s meet online. We initially tried meeting on FaceTime. It didn’t go well, mostly because of the echo and noise cancellation on the audio. Guitars vs. voice vs. audio cutout vs. video lag made it difficult to focus.

This weekend I tested out a new setup which I think works well: mic and guitar going directly into my audio interface, then a pair of headphones (no inline mic), and Skype as the connector. The reason Skype is better than FaceTime that it has more granular audio controls than Facetime, including the ability to turn off the “automatically adjust microphone settings” feature.


My configuration was:

vocal mic (MXL 990 Michael Joly Hulk Mod) ->
mic pre (LA-610) ->
interface (UA Apollo 8p) ->
UA Console app ->
System Audio ->

The guitar went

direct into the interface Hi-Z (UA Apollo 8p) ->
UA Console app ->
UA Fender ’53 Unison emulator plug-in ->
brainworx Tuner plug-in ->
System Audio ->

The UAudio Console software is great because it allows simple internal routing of system sound to different channels, as well as individual gain for those channels.

Here’s another necessary evil: pdf lesson files and a second screen. I had an old Jamey Abersold jazz book and John had a newer edition. We got very confused for 10 minutes trying to figure out why my scales on page 9 were different than his page 9 scales. Being together to look side-by-side, it would have been obvious.

I took a moment, sent him my PDFs of the jazz standards I’m working on, and we immediately got working. That left another bump: a pdf on the screen means John gets plopped in the corner of my screen in a tiny little box. I couldn’t see what chord inversions he was using. So I got out my iPad and used that for the PDFs on my music stand. NOW we were cookin’.

The frosting on this lesson cake was a means to record. In the past it, was very easy to bring an audio recorder to my lessons. But now, it’s easier: QuickTime Screen Recording. Audio AND video. Don’t forget to add the audio:

Teaching at the Apple Store

This week on December 17th, I did a training session for GarageBand on iOS (iPhone/iPad) at the Lincoln Center Apple Store in Manhattan. Along with Eimi Tanaka and Matt Mezzacappa, we covered pretty much every aspect of composing from a portable device, to the desktop, to recording live singers and mixing them. It was a fun experience and I’d love to do it again.

You can read my review here on the Composers Collective site.