3 Business Secrets That Will Make Your Studio Stand Out (Part 1)


There's a paradigm shift in the world of piano teaching. Do you sense it? It seems the status quo isn't quite cutting it anymore.  Jennifer Foxx just released an excellent resource on how to manage and hold summer camps as a solution to private lesson teacher-student burnout.

Tracy Selle and her co-host Sara Campbell recently offered a unique webinar featuring interviews with successful group piano teachers and how to implement group lessons in a studio. 

A couple of months ago, I shared the story of Marie who years ago lost 40% of her students because she began offering only group instruction. A while back, her enrollment burst the seams of her home studio and she recently moved to a larger, well-equipped keyboard lab in a local music store. 

All of these innovators are recognizing that teaching piano can morph into a profitable and rewarding business by doing it their way-- a fresh way--a break from the "traditional" way.

I'll place myself on the same innovative bandwagon because I offer more than a 30-minute private lesson with just one student and one teacher.

From the first day I opened my studio doors, two students have arrived for a 60-minute lesson. While one works with me at the piano the other spends 30-minutes doing something else.

What to call this 30 minutes of "something else" has changed over the years:

  • Title #1: Lab Time

  • Title #2: Music Tech Time

  • Title #3: Off Bench Time

The third title describes the time most accurately. Although I'm a huge fan and even slightly obsessed with the iPad, the time away from the bench is spent completing SO many different activities. Summers include camps for a break for the routine. I won't go into detail here but the photos below tell the story.


Perhaps you know that your studio needs a major facelift in terms of curriculum, format, technology, group activities, summer programs but you may not dare to step out of your comfort zone. You really don't want to be "Marie" and lose 40% of your enrollment--sorry Marie! 

What triggers your fear? What's the one thing holding you back? 

Announcing the change to your parents!

I've just set the stage for Daniel Patterson, the electrifying, brand-new-on-the-scene blogger who agreed to write a post about just this topic. Check out his website called GrowYourMusicStudio.com and if you have not done so already, download his Facebook guide and learn the facts on how to market with social media. This should be required reading for EVERY piano teacher.

Take it away, Daniel...

If you have read 88 Piano Keys for long, you are familiar with these two ideas:

  1. Adding technology (specifically iPads) into your teaching

  2. Adding the “On-Bench / Off-Bench” concept into your teaching

Both are fantastic ideas.

However, many teachers express concerns and fears over changing their format. The fear of adding “Off Bench” time boils down to:

Why would parents pay for their child to do activities they could do at home?

This is a valid question!

I myself experienced fear when I introduced a format change into my studio 8 years ago. When Leila asked me to share my experiences and what I learned, I gave an enthusiastic “yes”!

In this 2-part series, you will learn:

  1. How to make big changes in your studio- without losing students

  2. How to distinguish your studio from every other activity that competes for your student’s time – including sports

  3. How to persuade your piano studio parents into accepting a change in format

Before that, I’m going to show you what I learned from the format change in my studio.



In 2005, I co-founded a summer camp for kids in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Our intent was to help kids get through the equivalent of the first book in a piano method in about one week.

We had 12 digital pianos. We created a 100 page workbook. I wrote a 60 page curriculum for the staff we hired.

We had indoor and outdoor activities. We sprinkled in liberal doses of music games, review, and unstructured exploration at the piano. We even watched DVD piano performances with the kids.

It was a huge hit with parents. Camp attendance grew every summer.

After several intense summers, I began to wonder if that group format could work in my studio. Would it be possible to scale it down and do it on a week to week basis?

I came up with a plan to transition my private studio (in Indianapolis, Indiana) to the group format. I could see the benefits that kids would receive from this fast-paced, interactive, more social environment.

Naively, I thought that parents would be excited to do something new.

To test my assumption, I sent an email to a few parents in my studio.

I sent out an email offering the group format. This was late in the summer of 2008.

They all turned it down.

I couldn’t believe it!

There was a common theme to the feedback. Parents “felt” that a group class wasn’t as high quality as one-on-one instruction. It wasn’t as valuable.

The operative word was “FELT.”

They had no data on which they were backing their opinion. They ignored the fact that I was teaching up to 24 kids at a time in the summer camp. It didn’t matter too, that I had WRITTEN a group curriculum! Not too many other group teachers could say that!

What was going on?

My plans had collided head-on with the irrational fears of parents in my studio.

And – on top of that – I now began to experience some irrational fears myself!

When I approached them to ask about switching over… I was fearful. Would they quit? Would they think less of me? Would they spread bad news about me? Would I lose my business and become destitute!?!?!?

I wish I had known then what I know now.


There are three simple business principles that would have greatly helped me.

These principles are

  • A unique selling proposition (USP)

  • A unique value proposition (UVP)

  • A unique experience proposition (UEP)

We will look at each proposition and then close with how you can use this in your studio.

I would like to do more than show you how to have the confidence to make a format change in your studio.

I want you to see that this could dramatically alter your career and make you the “go-to” teacher in your region.

Let’s begin!



The unique selling proposition answers the question:

“Why should I do business with you vs all the other options that I have?”

Think about grocery stores.

Think about the differences between Kroger, Aldi, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. Five different grocery stores… and yet, they all seem unique don’t they?

Kroger is a general, “big box” supermarket. Aldi is a discount grocery store. Wegmans is a “high end” grocery store. Trader Joe’s has unique selections for the crunchy food shopper. Whole Foods is for the health conscious.

Five grocery stores. Five different images. They are well-differentiated. They have distinguished themselves from their competition by offering something different.The USP is about being Different.


The unique value proposition answers the question:

“What does your product do for me?”

Price becomes a mere triviality if the customer thinks they are getting more value for their dollar. You will “make the sale” when the benefits of the product far outweigh the price.

Let’s revisit the grocery stores above.

Whole Food’s selling proposition is competitive. They are the grocery store that specializes in organic and natural foods.

But their unique value is focused on what they can do for the customer. Let’s take a look at what THEY think their UVP is:


“Start Something Fresh: Find Your Happy Plates”

This is brilliant. They know that their customers would feel guilty about eating pre-packaged, processed food. So they focus on a positive message… Fresh food! Happiness! Green beans! Look at this savory, healthy meal!

This is their unique value proposition. The UVP is all about Benefits.


The unique experience proposition answers the question:

“How does it feel to use your product?”

Ideally, you want your product or service to be enjoyable, unusual, or immersive in its presentation. Provide a satisfying emotional experience. For example…

It has been over 20 years since I’ve gone to the carnival rides at our State Fair. I just have no interest.

Yet, I was willing to pay 20x that much to spend four days at Disney last year.


Disney’s UEP is far superior. There is something special about seeing the Magic Kingdom decorated for Christmas.

You feel completely immersed in the scenery around Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest.

And no wonder! Disney sent a team of designers to Tibet to study the art, architecture, and culture.

They bought real tools from Tibetan farmers, brought them back to Florida, and used those tools to decorate the area surrounding Disney’s Everest attraction.

The Imagineers built a mountain in Florida for crying out loud!


The Unique Experience is awe-inspiring. It makes the price seem inconsequential.


How do piano teachers answer the 3 “unique” questions above?

Unfortunately, many teachers can’t explain how they are different from another piano teacher.

This is a problem! A product or service that isn’t unique, customer-focused, or emotionally satisfying is seen as a commodity. Something that can be easily replaced.

Do you want to be considered an easily replaced commodity?

I know I don’t!

What I’d like to suggest to you is that by taking on the “On-Bench / Off-Bench” format, you are proactively differentiating yourself from every other teacher in your area!

You are aligning yourself with the business principles of some of the best companies in the world.

Instead of seeing “On Bench / Off Bench” as a risk to your livelihood, you should see it as an opportunity to grow your business and distinguish your studio.


Most teachers don’t think of signing up a new piano student as marketing and sales, but that is exactly what it is.

What does a good sales pitch need? It needs to prominently display your three “uniques”: Difference, Benefits, and the Experience.

When I receive a new inquiry for piano lessons, I call those parents back. I get their basic information and discover their motivations.

I then launch into a 3-4 minute explanation of my studio, my philosophy, and how kids respond to my high-tech studio.

By the end of it, parents are usually stunned (and they say so!). 99 out of 100 people usually want to come in for a first lesson.

I have mastered my three “unique” qualities. I am confident in my identity as the “group” piano teacher with a high-tech studio.

What I’d like to do now is show you how I would use the three “unique” concepts as it relates to the On-Bench / Off-Bench (OBOB) piano studio.

USP: What Makes You Different?

There are several ways that you could message the OBOB concept.

You could bill yourself as the “high-tech” teacher. You could make it known that you are the teacher that gives double the time to students each week. You could bill yourself as the teacher who has brought a social element back to private music lesson.

I’m sure that there are many other ways that you could differentiate yourself. I would love for you to leave a comment below and brainstorm other ways that you could differentiate yourself.

UVP: What Can You Do for the Student?

What unique value does the OBOB method bring?

There are many answers to this! The student gets to spend more time in the studio. The student can review and learn under the supervision of the teacher. The student will certainly look forward to their piano lesson more. They love using iPad and doing other off bench activities. Parents love the longer lesson time. It gives them time to run an errand.

Brainstorm this! You will probably come up with a dozen or more other unique benefits that add value to your students and parents lives.

UEP: How Do Your Students Feel?

This is obvious. Your studio is different. The student’s experience will be more exciting than a “traditional” piano lesson.

Everything mentioned as being a benefit and a competitive advantage makes the experience of lessons much more enjoyable for the student.


In this post, we looked at the “why” and the “what” of adding Off Bench time into your piano studio.

Showing your unique format is a no-brainer.

In the next post, I am going to show you how to do that.

This will include an exact script that I would use to explain to new parents and current parents how your studio is special.

In what ways is your studio unique? Do you have questions about the 3 business secrets? Leave a comment below or we won’t know!