Saturday, March 28, 2020

Results of the Online Testing

Saturday 3/28/20 two student volunteers and I tested two platforms that have been proposed to use for Group classes: Google's Meet, and Zoom.  While they both worked about the same, the Zoom platform proved to have better quality video and sound, was more responsive, and had better controls for modifying the sound and muting, chatting, etc.

So going forward, at least for now, we will be using Zoom for Groups.  Look for an invitation URL posted in the group channel on slack prior to the pre-determined group meeting time.  All you will do is click the URL, download and install the app on your computer.  It will automatically find and set up your webcam and microphone. 

I am still working on the Matrix/Riot app, an opensource option I mentioned in an earlier post, and still want to test the Slack for groups (Paid) option at a later date.

Thanks to everyone who participated in today's testing!

Friday, March 27, 2020


Musicians everywhere are struggling to find ways to teach online, to rehearse with bands and ensembles, and to perform.  I have found some success with the below tools.  Until further notice, I will be offering Group Classes for free.  Here's how it works:
  1. register for a group class by emailing
  2. I will use your email to invite you to the group/channel where the class will be held
  3. the email that you get should include instructions for setting up your account
  4. you will need a computer with a webcam and microphone.  most laptops have them included
The Software/Platforms
I have found some measure of success with the following platforms and software.  I am currently experimenting with several of them to see what the maximum number of users at a given time is.  So far, seems to be the best platform for multiple simultaneous users.  Google uses this platform for its own employees and claims you can have up to 150 simultaneous users!
  • Meet.Google.Com - this is "enterprise" software and only available to GSuite users.  I have a Gsuite account ( and so I can set up and use the service for my studio.  I haven't tested it for more than 1 user at a time.  I plan to test it on Thursday, April 2nd at 7pm.  If you would like to join the group, I need your email address to invite you to the channel
  • Matrix/Riot - this is opensource software that appears to run in the browser as well as a desktop version you can download and install on your computer.  Both seem to work equally well.  I haven't tested it with more than 1 person at a time yet.
  • YouTube LIVE - for performances and lectures, this works very well.  Interaction is by chat/comment only.  It's free for anyone to use, you need a Gmail account to comment, and an invitation link (if the originator wants the group to be private).  I have used this a lot over the years.  It's very powerful and the quality is very high.
  • - like Matrix/Riot, Slack is a platform that is available in the browser, or as a desktop app.  It's a very robust  service, akin to, but free to anyone with an invitation.  When I was volunteering for Andrew Yang's campaign, it was used for announcements, discussions, meetups and other communications.  It's very powerful and works with various apps like Google Docs, etc.  I like it a lot and currently use it with all of my students.
  • Zoom - UPDATE: this is a strong program that UMass and a few other colleges use to  teach online classes.  You should be aware of what it does when you install it Read this article: A recent article stated that Zoom has disabled the code that reported your data to Facebook, which is promising.  
  • - like Zoom, Skype is not very safe.  The company is owned by Facebook and they regularly harvest data like video, voice, text, phone numbers, contact information and biographical info. Because it's owned by Facebook, they connect users to their database and can put together a complete database on users.  They regularly share information with law enforcement and otherwise sell parts of your data.  My advice is to not use it.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The challenges of teaching online

Equipment for Online Lessons
I have been teaching online lessons since the first software was available.  I teach guitar and mandolin, violin and viola, Irish bouzouki and tenor banjo, electric bass and electric guitar.

I also offer Music Theory, Singing and ESL classes. 

I think it was GEOS who had the first graphical user interface that came bundled with America Online, and the first online chat service.  It was slow and inconvenient, but it meant I could stay at my home in Shelburne Falls and teach bluegrass fiddle to students at UMass Amherst.  This was pretty great, because the drive to Amherst from Shelburne could take up to an hour each way depending on the weather.  That was 1989.  AOL maintained it's control over the instant messaging activity online until Microsoft came out with it's version.  I migrated over to that because the software was faster and integrated with other MS products.  In the early 1990s, I took coursework in HTML and web design and learned how to create my own online chat box.  I worked as webmaster for Apple Hill Center for Chamber music from 1998-1999 and there were lots of opportunities to innovate using HTML and later CSS as I managed the website and taught myself how to set up encryption for taking online donations, parsing and bitmanagement for uploading video files (Apple Hill Chamber players would send me videos from concerts in China, Pakistan, Palestine, Egypt to upload and share to the community).  In the early 20s, there was an explosion in online platforms for chatting, but one platform rose above the rest: Skype.  I was an early adopter, and converted all of  my online students to it.  It was fast, convenient, easy to use and free.  But soon enough they started charging for some of the international services, which put a damper on my ESL lessons.  So I started looking around for another free platform.  And there were lots to choose from.  I'm afraid I was a little confusing for a while as I cast around looking for something as solid as Skype, but free.  I finally settled on Google Hangouts, which were offered free to anybody with a Google account (a Gmail address), but later as they phased out their Google+ service, they eliminated the free Hangouts service.  I had to look for another home.  That's when someone suggested I try Slack.  I was skeptical at first, because of its clunky set up, but found it to be quite manageable.  Now my whole studio is on Slack, and I use it also for my family and friends to communicate privately away from social network busybodies on Facebook (Cambridge Analytica) and the cost of using platforms like Hangouts and Skype. 

Some of the other challenges have to do with connection speed.  I have always had a business account  first with dial-up, and later with cable.  Business accounts always get priority in service, have the fastest connectivity, and in a power out, offer a battery backup service so you can stay online until the power turns back on.  They're pretty great.  Sure a business account is very expensive (triple the average retail account), but the added security and service more than makes up for the expense.  My students who experience lag during a session are encouraged to use a cable connection instead of Wifi as it will always be faster.  For students who use hand-held devices like iPads or others may run into trouble as the video software only runs on Chrome and some Apple products don't work well with Google services.  I always recommend using a PC with a cable connection.

Lighting is also a factor.  Students should consider having a light in front (on the desk or wall) and not in the back (like windows, for example).  Back lighting renders the front in shadow always.  If you need to be in a lit room, turn the camera so the light is on your face and not your back.  Get a folding table for your laptop or move the webcam off the PC to a better location.

Even though most webcams offer an internal microphone, I recommend getting a separate one.  I use the Blue snowball microphone, it's great!  You want something that will pick up your instrument AND your voice.

COVID19 / Coronavirus
With the onset of social distancing and the coronavirus outbreak, many people have turned to online classes as they can no longer attend in person ones.  I highly recommend taking lessons online!  It's easy and convenient.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Opening slots

Due to the final financial difficulties related to unemployment and the Corona virus, some students have had to drop out and stop taking lessons opening up several slots in the evening hours. I will update my schedule later but for now, the following slots are currently available in evening for private lessons online:
  • Wednesday: 5-6pm
  • Thursday 5-6pm
  • Friday 6-7pm
Please contact me at to register

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Group class signups

In order to hold the group classes online, I need signups of at least 2 people.  If I don't receive signups for 2 people, I won't hold the class.  Please sign up by emailing

Monday, March 16, 2020

Learn to play the Mandolin, Guitar or Fiddle Online!

Online lessons
I have been teaching folks how to play bluegrass, celtic and klezmer music online since the late 1990s!  I'd love to teach you too!

Lessons are Monday - Friday 9am  to 9pm.  Check my schedule to see what's available then email me when you find a slot that works best for you:

Equipment needed is a laptop or chromebook, a good microphone, webcam and a Slack invitation from me!

In addition to private lessons, I am currently offering group classes in mandolin (for beginners), fiddle (a basic class), mandolin (classical), celtic music and bluegrass music.  The classes will be offered from 7-9pm Monday through Friday nights and cost $10 per hour per person.  If you would like to join any of these group classes, contact me to register.  I accept payment through Venmo or PayPal.  I will send you an invitation through a program I use called Slack (similar to Skype), and instructions will be posted there.  Thank you!

YouTube LIVE Group Classes

YouTube Live Group Classes
Starting this week, I will be offering a Youtube live class for beginners and fiddlers. 

-- The mandolin for beginners group is Mondays 7-9,
-- The fiddlers group will be Tuesdays 7-9
-- The classical mandolin group is Wednesdays 7-9
-- The celtic music group is Thursdays 7-9
-- The bluegrass group is Fridays 7-9

Please tell your friends to register.  It will be a good way for people to stay in touch with other people during the covid19 self-distancing that we all have to do, and of course anything with music is good!

To register, email I will invite you to slack and we'll go from there

I'll post the YouTube Live link in each related channel as previously mentioned, probably a couple minutes before the group starts

All Lessons and Group Classes haved moved online

Online Lessons through Slack and YouTube Live
Due to Governor Baker's closing of all schools and events as well as the possibility of tracking COVID19 into the studio, I have closed until further notice.
  • Private lessons are still available online through Slack.  If you are scheduled for a private lesson here at the studio in Granby, I will expect you online at the same time.  Simply log in (on your desktop/laptop) and I will contact you through Slack at the pre-determined time.  If I'm a little late it's because I'm finishing up with the previous student.  I will be there!
  • Group Classes are still available online through YouTube LIVE.  If you are scheduled for a group class, Mandolin on Wednesdays and Celtic on Thursdays, I will expect you to log into the Live class. I will post the link to the Live classes in the appropriate Slack channel, not on my website as I previously stated. These classes are NOT open to the public, so if you haven't registered for a group class, but would like to participate, please do so now by sending me your information through the contact us form on the sidebar, or by emailing  .  The cost of the group class is $10/hour per person.  
  • You may now pay me through Venmo at no additional charge.  The PayPal fee is 4.5%, but because Venmo goes directly to my bank, there is no fee.  The way it works is, download the app to your phone (available on Android and iPhone).  Once you have it set  up, simply click the little icon in the lower right to pay, enter my name (Adam Sweet - if I'm not there, it means I'm not set up in your contacts list, which you will have to do ahead of time), enter the amount, a description, and click send.  That's it.  Let me know if you're having difficulty, and I'll walk you through it next time I see you online!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Area Colleges Closing

You have probably heard by now that UMass Amherst, Smith and Amherst Colleges and Harvard University are closing next week.  They are switching their students to online coursework.  Of course that affects our community as many many people that live around here work at UMass or one of the area colleges, or provide services for them.  What is going to happen?  It hasn't been announced yet.  Health insurance and some kind of disability pay are probably going to be available for a few weeks.  But after that?  Nobody knows.  Some colleges seem to think this will all go away in the spring.  I for one do not believe that.  I am preparing for the worst, and so should you.

Here's the UMass Amherst announcement:

Co-Op Delivery Service

COVID19 Delivery Van
As social distancing and self-quarantining becomes more prevalent in western Massachusetts, it will be necessary for community organizers to set up delivery methods for members.

The Western Mass Food Co-Op will be offering a delivery service shortly which will be able to deliver the products you order prepackaged and stored in disinfected containers.  Learn more about the delivery service here:


There are several open positions to apply for.  Please email your resume and 3 current references to when applying.  Put the job title in the subject field.

Organization, Job Title/Position, Availability, Salary/Compensation
  • Mandolin New England, Social Network Coordinator, Part Time, Volunteer
  • Western Mass Food Co-Op, COVID Delivery Expert, Part Time, TBA
  • Exodus Community, Community Development Coordinator, Full Time, TBA
I am always on the look out for good bands that need help booking gigs.  If you are a musician/entertainer or have a band or ensemble that needs help, contact me.

Online Lessons

Setup for Online Lessons
Several people concerned about the Corona virus have asked if they can switch to online lessons until the danger is past and I said of course! If you would like to switch to online lessons you can pay me by mailing me a check or by PayPal there is a 4.5% charge in addition to the regular fee if you use PayPal so you may just want to mail me a check

For online lessons you have a choice of keeping your current time slot or switching to a morning slot. If you check the calendar on my website you will see that I have slots open between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Most people already have what they need to set up for online lessons: a laptop or desktop computer with a pre-installed or external webcam and microphone.  I use SLACK software.  You can also use the Slack app on your phone or iPad.  The quality of the transmission will be determined by your connection speed.  I recommend switching to Comcast Business as they will provide you with a battery backup system that will give you up to 10 hours of internet connectivity should your power go out for some reason.

Current students should already be enrolled in Slack.  If you don't have an invitation to join, contact me and I'll send you a link.  It's Free!

Exodus Community

Join Us
Many governments are trying to implement “social distancing” at the local transmission stage to reduce the severity of the mass outbreak. This means keeping at least 6 feet (2 metres) between you and others, as well as limiting your community exposure.

Social distancing will be the new way of living. We will have everything delivered, we will spray down and clean everything before it comes into the house, we will develop online communities for helping each other out for providing jobs and income we will develop new ways of participating and assisting. People who can grow food in season will grow food and provide it as needed. People who can build and maintain apps and communication software will do that. People who can go out and pick up what's needed and deliver it will be very important.

I have started a social distancing community I'm calling the Exodus Community.  It's not an original name, I learned about the concept on Twitter from someone I'm following, a genius named Danielle Fong.  EC's will develop as social distancing becomes more and more common, to share, assist, work, deliver, provide health support, and develop new services and technologies.  Learn more about the community here. 

The Novel Coronavirus (COVID19) is here to stay.  There is no vaccine for it (yet) and no cure.  Hospitals in affected areas are overwhelmed.  People are being infected at an alarming rate.  Colleges and schools across the nation are closing, including our local ones: Harvard, Amherst College, Smith College.  I'm waiting for UMass Amherst and Hampshire to close as I know they will soon enough.  The only way to prevent infection is to stay away from people, or "social distancing".  But life will  have to go on of course.  Kids will still "go to school" online using various online tools and websites.  Food and services will still be needed, but delivery services will need to adapt and protect themselves using universal precautions and protocols as set out by the FDA and CDC.  Local farmers and purveyors can provide co-operatives with sources of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy.  These delivery services will become experts in transporting products from the production areas to co-ops, where people will divide them up and set them out in disinfected containers for pickup by community volunteers or delivery services.

It's only the beginning.  I expect to stay positive and keep engaging.  Life is great and will continue to be so as long as we help each other!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Wash Your Hands, Please!

Wash Your Hands, And Don't Touch Your Face!
I'm asking all students and visitors to wash their hands BEFORE coming into the house.  It's very important, especially due to the COVID19 (coronavirus) situation.  I do have hand sanitizer to use once you  come through the slider, but I ask that you please wash your hands before getting in your car.  You should also disinfect your steering wheel and cell phone!  You can buy Lysol wipes or spray at the store or online at Amazon or Walmart. 

For information on how to wash your hands, visit the CDC website:

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Openings Monday evenings

Adam playing the bluegrass cat by Mando Mo Strings
Now that Basketball season is over, I have Monday evenings open in my schedule for online or in person lessons, 5-6pm and 6-7pm.  The slots are available on a first come first served basis and will fill up quickly.  Please contact me using the form on the sidebar or if you are on mobile, email  Thank you!

NOTE: the 5-6pm slot just closed.  I told you it would go fast!  But the 6-7 slot is still available.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Morning Lessons - online or in person

Adam Sweet with his mandocello
I have openings Thursday morning between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. for either online lessons, or private lessons here at my home in Granby.

If you have been interested in learning how to play the mandolin, violin, guitar or tenor banjo, now is the time!

Use the contact form on the sidebar, or email anytime.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

FREE Concert: Sunday, March 8, 2020 4-5:30pm @ Mill 180 Park in Easthampton, MA

FREE Concert: Sunday, March 8, 2020 4-5:30pm @ Mill 180 Park in Easthampton, MA 
180 Pleasant St, Ste 217, Easthampton, MA 01027

Mandolin New England at Porter Phelps Museum
July 2017
Mandolin New England, Inc. will present an afternoon of classical music.  This is a free concert and open to all who would like to attend.  At the end of the performance, there will be a discussion of the instruments and history of mandolins in New England.

The ensemble will be performing Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 for 2 mandolas.