All but one of his online students have been adults. One tuned in from northern Canada, where Tolchin couldn’t help asking about frigid weather conditions. His long-term dream: to accrue enough remote students to one day move to Bali and teach from there.

Tolchin charges $50 per lesson, whether students show up in person or on screen. Most of his students come via personal referral, though he has also drawn some interest through his website. Of his 17 current students, however, only three study remotely.

Those who come to him in person generally stay two to six years, he said, while Skype students have stayed two to six months. That makes them less likely to recommend him to other students “because they have little to show for their limited time.”

Tolchin suspects that “the ease and convenience of coming to a Skype session has the same ease on the back end of leaving.”

There are glitches. His students at times have suffered from weak connections. The latest Skype upgrade didn’t work with Tolchin’s split-screen software, which allows students to see both camera angles, so he had to revert to the older one. Yet for the most part, technology has served him well.

Evelyn Orman, a professor of music education at Louisiana State University who has researched distance learning, said difficulties such as connection speed and an annoying time lag are diminishing with technological advances. Among the most striking (and mega-pricey): a set of pianos, complete with pedals, separated by geography but connected through software.


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