Zoom's sound quality for music-making, even when corrected to Original Sound, continues to be quite poor. With the update from August 2020, this has been further degraded. While it may be an acceptable experience for a 30 minute lesson once a week, supported by re-lesson recordings and other workarounds, I am finding it intolerable for the up to 30 hours a week I need to be using it.
I have carried out a risk assessment. As schools return, as a private tutor I consider myself to be a nexus for ten different schools, rather more year group cohorts. I am investing in screens, sanitizer etc, and changing my working practices. However, from September, I plan only to offer face to face teaching to households I consider to be very low risk, such as home educators. With on-line lessons being at least part of the landscape for the foreseeable future, I feel we need to find the best technical solutions to help us develop as musicians and enjoy our music making.
I have therefore spent some considerable time researching better options for teaching over the summer months. This paper draws in particular on the work done by Dr Ian Howells from the New England Conservatory of Music. From a growing and competitive field I have selected and trialled three new solutions:
Why change?Both Cleanfeed and Jitsi are 'peer to peer' connections, meaning that signals go directly between users rather than by way of several nodes of a network to a central server and out again, as for Zoom and most other video-conferencing platforms. The way in which Zoom packets audio and video together also contributes to its lag and screen-freezes.
Both Jitsi and Cleanfeed are secure:
1. First option: Zoom on its own (change nothing)
Stay as we are – Zoom on a variety of devices. I will continue to run a Pro licence and can go back to it any time we need to. Change is only worth doing if it adds value. However please bear in mind that Zoom sound quality for music was downgraded in the latest release, with Original Sound now a diminished ‘tweak’ to audio settings. If Zoom sound was bad for you before, it is going to get worse.
2. Second option: Zoom with Cleanfeed
Basically this would use Zoom for video only, without audio, so scroll down to Section 4 for instructions on this option.
3. Third option: Jitsi Meet on its own
If you only use iphone/ ipad for lessons, we can compare Jitsi in a browser with Zoom.
There will be an extra bit of coding in the link I send you, designed to optimise Jitsi for music. It’s slightly different depending on whether or not you use headphones - I recommend you do if you can.
See Option 4 if you would like to try Cleanfeed – some set up required by you.
4. Best option: Cleanfeed & Jitsi Meet, or Cleanfeed & Zoom
This is the better choice – if we can make it work. It makes use of Cleanfeed for audio and Jitsi for video and screen share. I have also had good results using Cleanfeed for audio and Zoom, muted, for video – there is more video lag with Zoom, but screen sharing options and additional cameras are easier to set up. How much this matters to you will depend how helpful you find the Classroom Maestro keyboard demos.
If you use a computer, mac or tablet set up is quite simple. If you use an iphone or ipad there is a little more set up required (see 4.2 below).
4.1. Cleanfeed plus Jitsi set up: For desktops, laptops, tablets and mac, with headphones
4.3 Cleanfeed plus Jitsi/Zoom: For iphone and ipad, with headphones
If you use iphone or ipad, and are prepared to do a little bit of set up before the lesson, we can still do it. It should be worth it! You will need headphones, and an adapter so you can connect both headphones and your charger at the same time – this arrangement uses a lot of battery.
The basic idea is that you need to connect to Cleanfeed first, then start the video meeting in Jitsi/Zoom. You then need to restart the audio in Cleanfeed, and return to the video lesson.
5. Option for midi keyboard users
If you have a midi cable socket on the back of your keyboard and a budget of about £40, we can play each other’s keyboards at a distance. This is great fun, but also really useful for teaching and learning. I can see onscreen the keys you are pressing, you can see mine. We can duet, record, even generate notation. There is almost no lag, and the quality will be as high as the sampling of your keyboard allows.
The investment is for a midi to PC/ iOS cable, plus a software download called Internet Midi form TimeWarp Technologies, normally $60 but half price until the end of September 2020.
We could use Internet Midi in a Zoom meeting, using Zoom for the video and voice audio connection, and Internet Midi for the music. There would be no need for Cleanfeed.
As you will appreciate, I have not suggested any solutions up to now that were going to cost you to install, but this option is really very special indeed, so if you can afford it I don’t think you would regret it.
6. Option for everyone: improved connection with ethernet
Please try to use ethernet cables to connect to the internet if at all possible.
Ian Howell, June 2020, “Technology Enabled Music Lessons”
https://www.ianhowellcountertenor.com/technology-enabled-music-lessons (accessed August 3, 2020)
Cleanfeed Knowledge base, 2020, “Eliminating echo”
https://cleanfeed.net/knowledge/eliminating-echo (accessed August 5, 2020)
Timewarp Technologies, 2020, “Introduction to Internet Midi”, video tutorial
Timewarp Technologies, 2020, “Using Internet Midi with Video Conferencing software”, video
 Earbuds do not work as well, as they don’t allow you to hear clearly the sound in the room. Both wi-fi and Bluetooth earphones are to be avoided for on-line lessons
 The way that Jitsi Meet handles audio for music is far from perfect, especially on the iPhone app, seeming to 'vanish' the url tags. Jitsi Meet in an iPhone browser performs better.
 There are other possible reasons for echo: see this knowledge-base article for other solutions to try if this does not fix the problem