Tech setup: how to musically optimise Zoom, Skype, etc

 


Zoom & Skype work much better for music if you quickly tweak a few settings. Here’s how to do it! (last updated: Dec 2020)


 

 

Zoom

As of late 2020, Zoom is the best online music lesson platform out there. These setup steps will give a clearer sound and image quality, and generally improve the whole experience:


  • Download Zoom here (better than using the web player), install it, and create a free account.


  • Once you’re logged in, open Zoom’s ‘Preferences‘ menu:


  • Go to ‘Audio‘ on the left sidebar. Untick ‘Automatically Adjust Volume‘ – then, adjust the sliders for ‘Output Volume’ & ‘Input Volume’ up to ~85% of max:


  • Then, click on ‘Advanced‘ at the bottom of the window (^). Tick the ‘Enable Original Sound‘ box, and set the Audio Processing options to ‘Moderate’, ‘Disable’, and ‘Auto‘ (we may adjust these again down the line, but this is a good starting point):


  • Also, you can explore the ‘Video‘ menu from the left sidebar, and change other visual/camera settings. Navigate there, tick ‘Enable HD‘, and untick ‘Mirror my video‘:


  • And in the lesson itself: remember to turn on ‘Original Sound’ in the top left corner (I’ll go over all this again so no worries if you forget). And if you’re using an external webcam or mic, you can check that Zoom is picking it up via the drop-down input menu (check Zoom isn’t defaulting to your computer’s inbuilt cam/mic).

Skype

Skype is a little more basic in its audio/video configuration options, but is still an effective option for online music sessions. Try this:


  • Download Skype here (better than using the web player), install it, and create a free account. n.b. If you’re on Windows 10, Skype is pre-installed.


  • Once you’re logged in, open Skype’s ‘Audio & Video Settings‘ menu (available via ‘Preferences’ on some Skype versions):


  • Go to ‘Audio & Video’ in the left-hand menu, and disable ‘Automatically adjust microphone settings’. Also, move the blue bars for ‘Microphone’ & ‘Speakers’ to around 9 on their sliders:


General

A few general tech tips to maximise quality, reliability, web connection etc:

  • Equipment: Use a laptop rather than an iPad/iPhone if practical (though not essential) – computers have more processing power, ability to change program options, etc. And avoid wireless tech, which can confuse things.

  • Internet: Connect to your router with an ethernet cable if possible, and check that nothing heavy is uploading/downloading. Run a speed test to see what upload/download you’re getting.

  • Give me a shout with any issues, or if you want setup instructions for other platforms (FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc).

Equipment

Not essential to buy any extra kit – inbuilt laptop hardware is definitely good enough – but here are some suggestions for cheap tech that will enhance the overall experience. Excellent quality even compared to a few years ago (n.b. these are pure recommendations, not affiliate links etc):


(Other teachers: please feel free to use anything in this guide, just link back to this page somewhere)


 

A few general learning principles:

  • Listen to lots of different music: feed the brain with good sounds
  • Train the ear: this gives you the ‘toolbox’ to teach yourself any style
  • ‘Sing inside’ as you play: music is about emotions, not finger muscles
  • Experiment freely: constantly create your own patterns & variations
  • Enjoy it! Find fun in improvement…then mastery is no struggle

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.

 

Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!