As a musician, you may have begun using zoom to take lessons or attend classes. There are a few things to know about using it for music that will go a very long way. I’ll address this post to students and group class participants, though it may be of use to instructors too. (In fact, I’ll put some tips specific to instructors at the end.)

THE BASICS

You can run zoom within your web browser but you’ll do much better running it as an app on your phone or tablet or computer.

Download the App

The zoom app is available for free. To download & install it, go to zoom.us/download. If you are on a mobile device, you’ll be taken directly to zoom on the App Store or Google Play. If you’re on a computer, tap the download button under “Zoom Client for Meetings”.

Get a Good Connection

This will all be an exercise in frustration without a decent internet connection. If you’re using a computer, a wired ethernet is terrific; otherwise, for WiFi, place your device as close as you can to the hotspot, with as little in the imaginary line between the two as possible (big pieces of equipment are much worse than walls). Lastly, try not to share a connection with anyone who’s streaming video!

Test it Out

Before you use the app for real, it’s a good idea to join a test meeting at zoom.us/test to familiarize yourself with the app and make sure your audio and video are working. (If you have trouble, here’s some help.)

Joining the Meeting

A session on zoom is called a meeting. Your teacher will give you a link to click to access your particular meeting. When it’s time, or shortly before, click the link. This will load a page in your web browser that automatically opens the zoom app with your meeting pulled up and ready to join.

MUSICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Use Headphones

If you’re just going to be listening most of the time (for instance, as a clinic participant), then just stay muted by tapping the microphone icon so there’s a slash through it. Otherwise, wear headphones or earbuds if you possibly can. That way zoom won’t be constantly struggling to distinguish what you say or play from what it is putting through your speakers into the room. (After all, zoom hears both through your microphone.) Without headphones you won’t be able to talk at the same time as your teacher/student, and interaction becomes more difficult. Also, if you’re using a phone or tablet the built-in speakers won’t be loud enough anyway if you want to play along with accompaniment.

Use “Original Sound”

Zoom is meant mainly for people talking to each other in meetings. So its audio is optimized for speech. That includes noise reduction. That hum in the background? Zoom thinks it’s a loud air conditioner and will try to remove it. That note you’re playing on your instrument? Same thing!  To avoid that, use zoom’s original sound setting, which disables all the audio processing.

There are two steps to using it.

 First you have to show the option.

This can’t be done during once you’re in your meeting—only before you enter it:

If you’re on a phone or tablet:

  1. Launch the zoom app and instead of hitting Join, tap the little  (gear) symbol.

  2. Choose Meetings.

  3. Scroll down and turn the Use Original Sound setting to on.

If you’re on a computer:

  1. Go into Settings. (Launch the zoom app and instead of hitting Join, tap the little  gear symbol.)

  2. On the menu at the left, select Audio.

  3. Tap the Advanced button (lower right).

  4. Finally, check the box that says Show in-meeting option to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone.
    And while you’re there:

  5. Set the Suppress Persistent Background Noise and Suppress Intermittent Background Noise settings to Disable.
    (In theory this step shouldn’t be necessary if you’ve set “Enable Original Sound” but in practice it still seems to help.)

 Second, you have to enable the feature.

This is done when you are in a meeting, and is slightly different for computers & phones.

If you’re on a phone or tablet:
Tap the “ • • • ” button and then tap “enable original sound”. If you see “disable original sound” then you’re already good to go.

If you’re on a computer:
simply tap Turn on Original Sound at the upper left of your window. If you see Turn off Original Sound leave it; you’ve got it right!

Additional Options with “Original Sound”

Two additional features become available when you select original sound. You can activate them in Settings > Audio > Advanced (or wherever it was that you told zoom to show the original sound option):

  1. Disable echo cancellation. If you’re using a headset or directional mic, then echo isn’t a problem for you. So disabling echo cancellation will result in fewer artifacts in your audio.

  2. High fidelity music mode. This requires more CPU and bandwidth, but if you’re on a decent device with solid, fast internet connection then check this box!

Your Microphone Level

By default, zoom adjusts the level of your microphone automatically. Which for purposes of talking usually works great. But for music this can cause problems. Disabling this option means that you have to set the level yourself, but I find the effort usually pays off.

Microphone level is always “auto” on a mobile device, but on a computer you can set change it as follows:

  1. Go into Settings. Launch the zoom app and instead of hitting Join, tap the little  gear symbol.

  2. On the menu at the left, select Audio.

  3. Uncheck the box under Microphone that says “Automatically adjust microphone level”

  4. Speak/play and set the level using the slider so that most but not all of the lights light up when you’re loud.

Remember, the level has to work for both speech and music, so you may want to stand back and/or point away when you play if your instrument is louder than your voice. 

Playing/SINGING along with a Track

When I’m teaching in person I like to accompany students. But for remote teaching the delay over the internet generally makes that impossible. So if a student needs accompaniment it’s important for the student to be able to supply it on their end—in the form of a play-along recording or an app such as iReal Pro or Band-in-a-Box.

 

The good old boom box

The simplest way to make that happen is to use a different device than the one you’re using for zoom to play the accompaniment in the room. Of course it has to have loud enough speakers to be heard along with your instrument—a cell phone won’t cut it without speakers to plug it into.

At this point, sadly, this simple way is the most effective way too. Because of how Zoom transmits audio, playing the accompaniment on the same computer that’s running Zoom often results in the accompaniment becoming out of sync with the mic signal it is picking up of the student. The student will hear the two fine, but the teacher (and anyone else listening remotely) will hear them out of sync. And even if the two signals start in sync, they may lose their alignment over time. 

Sharing Your Device’s Audio

If sync doesn’t concern you (e.g. you’re not playing along) or you’re feeling lucky, you can play the accompaniment on your device and have zoom share it so all participants can hear both you and the accompaniment.

To share your phone or tablet’s audio:

  • tap the Share Content icon.

  • tap Screen. A Screen Broadcast screen will appear.

  • select Zoom.

  • tap the Microphone icon so it shows Microphone On.

  • tap Start Broadcast.

Now you can navigate to whatever app you use for playalong (music player, iReal Pro, etc.). Zoom will share your device’s screen contents and the audio it’s playing, as well as the audio it’s hearing through its mic (that’s you!).

To share your computer’s audio:

  • tap the Share Screen icon.

  • move the top slider to the Advanced (middle) position.

  • Double-click Music or Computer Sound Only.

Now zoom will continue to show your video camera feed, but you can launch any app and zoom will share its audio output along with the computer’s microphone input.