On a Tuesday afternoon, Nashville musician Chad Chapin was giving a tour of his new remote learning classroom at Michelle’s Studio of Dance in Bonney Lake. The room is set up with an upright piano, drum set, four guitars — two acoustic, two electric — arranged standing in a semicircle around a stool, and a lone webcam on a tripod stand. Chapin aimed the camera at the piano’s ivories, which were now being transmitted to a television mounted on the wall, and had begun walking through the student experience when an incoming Skype call replaced his hands on the flatscreen.
“So let’s say a student has a lesson at 4 p.m., they just sit at the piano with the camera pointed like so,” Chapin said. “So the instructor can-”
The call comes in. Chapin answered and the image on screen became a man sitting at home, positioned in front of a keyboard, headphones on his head to prevent echoes from the other side of the call.
“Oh, that was perfect timing,” Chapin said. “This is Andrew Higley, one of our instructors, and right now he’s calling from Cincinatti. So let’s say a student has a lesson with Andrew at 4 p.m. They sit at the piano and during the lesson they can look directly at him, and he sees his students’ hands on the keys — and if you look in the corner of the screen, that’s what our camera is showing him — he can see what they’re doing right, what they can improve and help them out just as if he were here. Hey, play something for us Andrew.”
Andrew plays a brief tune on his keyboard before signing off.
“And that’s basically how it works,” Chapin said.
Chapin is the founder of Pro Music Academy, a private instrument, voice and songwriting lesson service out of Nashville, Tenn. He is also a professional drummer and guitarist who has played with acts like Tait, Ben Folds and DC Talk. Higley, too, has played with Ben Folds, and everyone on the Academy’s teaching roster has professional credits to their name. Instructors have played with acts like Carrie Underwood, Whitesnake and Lenny Kravitz; one has composed music for Nickelodeon and the Discovery Channel, and yet another was a finalist on American Idol.
For the past year, Chapin’s school has experimented with remote lessons via Skype to connect instructors to students working from home, whether home is in Nashville or far-flung locations like Los Angeles or Seattle. So far, the program has enjoyed a 100 percent student retention rate, he said. Michelle’s Studio of Dance is the Academy’s first satellite studio, a place students can go if they don’t have their own instrument or equipment to Skype from home.
Dance studio owner Michelle Gunn met Chapin after her family relocated to Tennessee last year.
“My son has been working with him specifically for songwriting,” Gunn said. “We just got to chatting one day about his vision for satellites all over the country. I encouraged him to go for it … I told him I have a commercial studio in Bonney Lake. I thought that would be great.”
One of her son’s instructors is Garrett Goodwin, a drummer who works with Carrie Underwood. Gunn said it’s motivating for her son to work with someone who regularly brings his talents to venues like the Grand Ole Opry and CMA Music Festival.
Chapin said the Skype lessons were a result of a 3 a.m. idea, which came to him while on tour with Ben Folds. When it came time to find instructors, everyone he approached was receptive.
“I’ve toured for 18 years and met plenty of other professional musicians, so I just went through my phone list from Sheryl Crow to whomever,” he said. “Not one person said no.
“The thing is, everyone in the business had help getting to where they are. So for us now to give back to kids and adults who want to learn, it’s just a natural step.”
The satellite studio began its soft opening Sept. 2, and is offering discounts on monthly lesson packages as interest ramps up. Pro Music Academy offers lessons in drums, vocals, guitar, piano and keyboard, bass, mandolin, other string instruments and songwriting. More information can be found at www.promusicacademy.com.
Michelle’s Studio of Dance is located at 8708 188th Avenue East in Bonney Lake.