What Can Piano Teachers Learn from the “Lean Startup” Philosophy?

As a piano teacher who has an extensive background in marketing and an abiding interest in business, you may find me reading a business book as often as a music book. One of my favorite such books, Running Lean by Ash Maurya, describes the “lean startup” philosophy. This is a cutting-edge methodology for maximizing business success by learning as much as possible about your customers. Piano teachers are entrepreneurs, and when we open our studio, we too are launching a “startup.” In this post (with more to come soon) I’ll tell you about some of the “lean” principles and how a piano studio can benefit from them.

“If I Had Asked People What They Wanted, They Would Have Said Faster Horses”

One of the fundamental principles of business success is knowing what your customers (i.e., your students and their parents) want – or even better, what the “problem” is that they want to solve. About the Model T, Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This statement reveals that Ford recognized that his customers had a “problem” – slow transportation. They couldn’t imagine what the solution was, but that’s what Ford and his assembly line was for.

Offer Solutions to Students’ Deepest “Problems”

As a piano teacher, we may believe we know what our students want – to learn to play the piano and everything that goes with that. That’s true as far as it goes. But there is merit in actually asking our students what they want, in order to discover if there is a deeper “problem” that they hope piano lessons will solve. By asking them questions like “What are your deepest goals for studying music?” or even “Why are you taking lessons – really?” we may learn information that surprises us. Our discoveries may change our relationship to certain students or even to all of our students.

For example, we may believe that our students simply want to become proficient players – perhaps because that is what we wanted when we were a student and we are projecting that long-standing desire onto them. Or perhaps we believe this because we are insecure and want to produce great players in order to develop our own reputation. But by trying to get at the problem that piano lessons “solve,” we may (still as an example) learn that many of our students are actually playing for the deeper purpose of self-expression or for the enhancement of their creativity. This may lead us to rethink our teaching methods and even to expand the range of what we offer. This might lead us to suggest that our student Lila learn to accompany herself while singing, in order to expand her options for self-expression. We might refer Lila to a voice teacher, providing even more value to her from a business standpoint. As another example, we might begin teaching improvisation to our students, having learned that many of them are studying piano because they desire to be more creative.


  • Hold an intention to learn as much as possible about your current and prospective students and/or their parents.
  • Ask them questions such as: What are your deepest goals for learning the piano? What are you hoping to get by learning to play the piano? If you could achieve, experience or feel anything from piano lessons, what would that be?
  • Be willing to use this information to make adjustments in your approach with specific students or globally in your studio.

The next post in this series will describe how this information can help you create a Unique Value Proposition to differentiate your studio from others and enhance your potential for success.

Share this: