ArtistWorks

ArtistWorks is an online music lesson program. By acquiring teachers who are virtuosos on their respective instruments and using online videos, ArtistWorks has created a system whereby students are able to not only access lesson videos at their own pace and discretion, but also record videos of themselves in order to receive feedback from their teacher as well as fellow students. The system seems like a pretty well rounded attempt to a straightforward concept – to make professional online lessons available to as many students as possible, while still providing a way for them to interact with their teachers. This spirit of mass reach is also reflected in their pricing, which is lower than most in-person private lessons ($90 for 3 mo., versus ca. $25 for 30 min. lessons). The technology seems to possess many advantages over traditional video lessons, particularly its Video Exchange system. However, in this interview, founder David Butler seems to omit what seems to be some glaring inadequacies of this lesson system.

First, allowing a student to completely control his/her own pace possesses some drawbacks. Butler attributes the logic behind making videos available in this way to his own observations of in-person private lessons, where he noticed that the content of most lessons tent to be a repeat of the previous week. Butler however fails to address the role that practicing (or lack thereof) will play in this, and instead attributes it to student needs. While it is certainly important for students to have some control over the pace of their learning, this degree a freedom presents risks for “slow learners” (as Butler puts it). Particularly, it ignores the very real possibility that a student may be learning slowly for reasons other than innate ability or practice habits (e.g. poor match between student and teacher, lack of motivation, or personal resources such as time). It also makes it very easy for students to get too far ahead of themselves – students may think they are ready to move on, and then try to do so prematurely, or they may simply get impatient. This is very important, since a strong grasp of the fundamentals in invaluable, and is already difficult to get students to spend enough time on them.

Another thing that Butler strangely omitted was the role of sound quality in his video system – even though he makes a few mentions of the use of good lighting and different camera angles in lesson videos as one of ArtistWorks strengths. While this is definitely advantageous for students, it is equally important that they also have good audio feedback. However, this can only be guaranteed if both the recording quality and the playback quality are good. Since this would require students to have access to good quality speakers or noise cancellation headphones, it seems unlikely that most students would be able to take full advantage of this lesson system. This can be especially detrimental during more advanced lessons, where subtle nuances in performance become increasingly important.

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