Hoffman Academy is a music school that has found a way to make summer more exciting for kids by helping them find their inner Mozart. This easy, fun (and free!) way to learn to play the piano by the Hoffman Academy offers the Summer Fun Piano Passport , which features 30 days of super fun lessons with the goal of music learning success. Kids follow the list and get a stamp for every activity they complete, then stamp their passport. Then, they can send in their fully-stamped passport for a chance to win some great prizes. And, by the time the passport is fully-stamped, your child will have mastered basic skills and will know how to play the piano for their friends and family.
Parents of kids from preschool to teen are finding that the most effective way to learn an instrument is through online instruction that is fun, engaging and can be done anytime your child has free and would like to log in! In fact, Hoffman Academy has had 142,107 students and more than 7 million students viewing 218 lessons on YouTube since first opening its doors 10 years ago.
Hoffman Academy, based in Portland, Oregon is a proven online piano lesson “experience” that got its start as “FreePianoLessons4Kids.com,” and is now credited with turning children, from beginner to advanced levels, into extraordinary musicians. Joseph Hoffman, who children say is “fun and funny,” teaches piano online in a way that is engaging, entertaining and effective. Children develop their skill easily and quickly via the “Hoffman Method,” which focuses on learning by ear before learning by eye. Online games help with mastery of concepts and practice tracks make students feel like pros. Lessons are free to anyone who wants to learn to play the piano by signing up for the Basic Plan.
Joseph Hoffman recently spoke about his company and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in playing the piano and why did you start teaching it to kids?
Joseph Hoffman (JH): My interest in piano started at six years old, when I saw my older sister and mother start taking piano lessons. I was always eager to try new things and to keep up with my sisters, so I told my mom I wanted to learn, too! I started teaching piano when I was in graduate school. People in my neighborhood asked me to teach lessons to their kids. It wasn’t something I sought out for myself. It found me. I loved it. It turned out to be a great fit for me, and the rest of my life has been dedicated to teaching piano. From early on I wanted to figure out what would really hook kids on music and piano. It seemed like an important puzzle to solve. I wanted to understand why a lot of kids quit right after starting, and how I could teach in a way that created a lifelong love for music and made them want to keep going on lessons.
MM: How did you establish your own company and was it tough to keep it afloat while raising interest?
JH: Anyone who has started their own company knows it’s full of challenges, from figuring out legal issues to doing payroll and taxes. When I was first starting up a friend bought me a book on how to start a business, and as I read it I thought, “What am I getting into?” There were rules and regulations I had never thought of. There’s really no way to take on everything at once.
We bootstrapped our company. With no loan and no investors, we started out on a shoestring budget. For the first year my wife would tease me for calling it Hoffman Academy because it was just me teaching piano in our living room, but I knew I wanted it to grow into something much bigger. The next year we hired other teachers and rented a small 1940’s cottage. Soon we were able to have three lessons going at once. Hoffman Academy slowly grew from there. Because we were always very conservative and never grew faster than we were ready we were always able to meet payroll, pay the bills, and keep the lights on from one year to the next. We didn’t do it alone, though. I found it was important to seek out business mentors and learn from the experience of others. One service I found really helpful was SCORE. I went to their workshops and got valuable coaching from veteran business people in the early years.
MM: What gave you the idea for the “passport” element you offer?
JH: That one actually wasn’t my idea. I’d like to pass on the kudos to our team for the Summer Fun Passport and the many other perks we have for our academy members. We’ve got a great team with people who come up with creative ideas, and a graphic designer who always makes our features charming and appealing. I’m excited to see creative things happening at Hoffman Academy without my direction.
MM: What are the main challenges of getting kids interested in learning the piano?
JH: Today we compete with a lot of devices and gadgets. Kids like their screens, and I think that’s one reason our online lessons fill a useful niche. Kids can use their devices to learn piano – from a screen! By using this technology, we’re speaking their language and meeting them where they are. I think kids naturally love music so I don’t think the problem is getting them excited about music. Instead, the real challenge for teachers is speaking their language and getting them engaged with music they’re excited to learn.
MM: What’s your favorite feedback about the classes so far?
JH: By far my favorite feedback are cases in which we’ve enabled someone to learn piano where it wasn’t going to be possible any other way. One girl shared an especially sweet story with us. She had applied for an after-school program where kids were selected to learn piano through an extra-curricular opportunity. She was told that because of her hand disability she couldn’t be in the program. The people making the selection felt she wouldn’t be able to learn to play. This was heartbreaking for her. Her mom found our online program, and so she was able to start learning the piano anyway. She loved it, made great progress, and thanks to my lessons she can play the piano.
We hear from military families who love Hoffman Academy because it’s the only way to have consistent piano lessons for their children as they move frequently and sometimes need to live in foreign countries. We hear from people who say piano lessons were always out of their price range, or who live in rural areas with no piano teachers nearby, and now these families can have piano lessons for their kids. That’s my favorite kind of feedback, when people let me know that Hoffman Academy is making piano lessons accessible to everyone.
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future of Hoffman Academy?
JH: I want Hoffman Academy to expand to more and more advanced levels of study, and also to add lessons for other instruments and voice. My crazy dream is that someday a kid who has studied exclusively with our online lessons will audition for and make it into a good college music program. This means we’ve got to continually raise the quality of our lessons. We’re right now working on ways to make our lessons more interactive using technology that gives feedback on students’ playing. This will allow them to get an extremely high quality of instruction in a non-traditional online format.
Another thing I’d like to do is make this online piano lesson format shift from non-traditional to mainstream. I want people to see this as a viable, regular way to learn piano. My goal is to change people’s mindset so that parents will naturally consider having their children learn piano online.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
JH: Our whole team is really excited to work together to make piano lessons fun and accessible to everyone. Kids love this format, they love learning with technology, and they especially love that we include lots of creative, silly touches like ending the lessons with finger puppet shows and our animated music learning games. We are thrilled to see the positive response from families and to watch our academy grow with more and more students all the time.
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