Distanced Learning For The Arts

COVID-19 Opens Virtual Learning Opportunities for Artists, an exploration by Joanne Polichetti.

I was skeptical about zoom lessons to learn new techniques and really push the development of artistic talent online.  Most of us have attended formal classroom training, workshops, private lessons, or coaching to develop our skills, but learning or developing new techniques over Zoom?   Is it possible?

I know virtual learning can inspire skill development.  I’m a Bob Ross fan, and I know he is painting happy little clouds close-up and personal.  In The Joy of Painting, Ross provides a demonstration and coaching with an invitation to follow along.  It is fun to watch a demonstration, but to build skill people need to do more than watch and learn.   So, I set out with a question:

Can you really build your skills in the arts with virtual lessons? 

I spoke with two experts to find out—Sandy Gennaro and Jan Guarino.

Sandy Gennaro is a rock-and-roll thought leader and drummer.  In addition to touring and performing with a who’s who of rock-and-roll including Cyndi Lauper, Bo Diddley, Joan Jett, The Monkees, and many more legends (, Sandy is an expert drummer coach and instructor, as well as a popular and established motivational speaker.

Though Sandy has moved from New York City to Nashville, drummers of all levels seek him out to learn his techniques.  Sandy has been teaching drumming for more than 25 years, with residence at The Drummers Collective in NYC and private lessons at home and online.  Work with any student begins with an interview and an assessment of the student’s current skill level and goals.  Whether learning is face-to-face or virtual, the goal is always the same.

“I always give (students) something where they can be successful.  I’ll never voluntarily play a solo that I know is beyond the student because that could backfire… It could inspire a student to play better, or it could intimidate a student into thinking ‘I can never do that’.  I always build on success. I never want to intimidate a student.”

In the early days of quarantine, Sandy embarked on a quest to make virtual drumming lessons a reality.  He loves his tried-and true-method of playing with his students using the two drum sets in his studio but found that adjusting the sound and synchronization over zoom was too great of a challenge.  Instead, he provides a demonstration and discussion, then asks the student to play.  Sandy tweaks the speaker and microphone settings so both he and the student are satisfied with the sound. 

Where face-to-face lessons were typically in the moment, Sandy now blends the learning experience by providing mp3 files and charts before and after lessons for students to listen to demonstrations and practice. This extends the learning beyond the typical hour-long lesson.

In addition to drumming lessons, Sandy is also a motivational/keynote speaker.  He has also converted his keynote sessions to virtual delivery!  Sandy’s website is  Watch the video to learn more about Sandy’s fascinating career, and highlights from his presentations that inspire and encourage us to beat the odds, work through change, and pay attention to the little things that make all the difference.  Sandy photos by Alex M Wolff

In the field of fine art, watercolor artist and teacher Jan Guarino

has been teaching Fearless Watercolors at the Art League of Long Island and the Artists Studio at Chelsea Mansion for eight years.  At the start of the lockdown, Jan hopped on the challenge of teaching virtual classes.  Within one week of the lockdown, Jan’s studio was set up to teach Fearless Watercolors through Zoom.   

Jan’s technology set-up is impressive and highly effective.  She works with three cameras, a standard webcam view of Jan, the full view of her watercolor paper, and a close-up camera.  She uses a switcher during the lessons so students can have the view they need. 

Long Island Portfolio artist Jan Guarino watercolor Hot Summer-Cool Shadows

Jan encourages students to keep their cameras on during the lesson, so she can track their progress.  She watches how students are tracking, noticing how their gaze moves from the screen to their own painting.  Students can also provide direction to Jan, asking her to move the camera in closer or pan out as needed.

In face-to-face classes, Jan provided demonstrations and students observed as Jan painted the sample.  Jan would then circulate and assist the students as they painted.  This was not going to work for virtual lessons, so Jan created a new teaching methodology for zoom lessons.

Students register in advance and receive a photograph and a line drawing as a guide for their painting, so students can come to the zoom meeting prepared.  Jan asks that students join the meeting ten minutes early to encourage everyone to set up and be ready to work when the two-hour lesson begins.

In her live video classes, Jan conducts her demonstration and the students paint at the same time, so the paintings are created simultaneously.

Jan Guarino - RBG
Jan Guarino – RBG

“It’s only a piece of paper,” Jan assures her students. 

Keeping pace with the class helps students truly create ‘fearless’ watercolors—there is no time for students to tell themselves, ‘I can’t do that.’  Everyone is just painting.

“The results from the video classes are in some ways better than in person classes.  (Simultaneous demonstration and working time) pushes the students to try new things and to work faster,” says Jan.  “I will continue to use this method of instruction in my classes when we can meet again in person. While nothing replaces actual in person classes – and I want to resume them as soon as possible – this has been a saving grace, not just for me but for of my students as well. Some of them were alone and feeling overwhelmed. It gave us all a sense of purpose and belonging. And I am so excited with the results!”

This time has given me a chance to focus on building workshops up and down the east coast which is a personal goal of mine.

The two-hour lesson is followed by a 30-minute critique. Within two hours, Jan sends a photo of her finished painting and a link to the recorded lesson to support students as they continue their work.  Jan also asks students to post their finished painting in an online Cluster group. 

Jan Guarino - It's all about the bass
Jan Guarino – It’s all about the bass

A New Business Model for Artist/Teachers

Virtual lessons benefit both the student and the teacher!  Virtual lessons can indeed push artists to new skill levels.  For the artist/teacher, there is an opportunity to build their business as well.

Over the years, Jan has compiled mailing lists from her workshops and shows.  With zoom lessons, classes are not limited by size or location.  Jan has hosted zoom classes with as many as 100 participants from around the world!  Snowbirds and people who have permanently relocated are joining Jan’s classes by the dozen.  She has created a lovely and engaged online community of artists.

Next on the list, Jan is working on making her archive of recorded lessons available on-demand. 

Jan Guarino Central Park Walk
Jan Guarino Central Park Walk

“With every difficulty comes opportunity,” notes Jan.  “You just have to look for it.”

Visit to learn more about Jan, view her gallery and the class schedule.

Joanne Polichetti, the principal of Integrated Learning Solutions, is an instructional designer with many years experience designing and implementing remote learning solutions. She would love to help convert your learning workshops for today’s remote challenges.

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