Small Business Spotlight: A New Approach To Music Education With Soundfly

May 15, 2018 - 7:30 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Ian Temple has been a musician since he was about 4 years old and has also had a longstanding passion for education – but he noticed that when it came to online learning programs, there weren’t really good offerings for music.

Thus was born Soundfly – an online music teaching program based in Brooklyn.

Temple told WCBS 880’s Joe Connolly that he noticed online learning programs popping up for all sorts of things, whether MIT courses on science or math, or free online courses from Khan Academy, or even tutorials on how to make YouTube videos. But in addition to a lack of options for music education, he noticed that too many online learning programs were video-based with no direct interactions.

“You sit down and you watch videos about something, and someone explains something to you, and it can be fun; it can be interesting; it can be rewarding, but it’s not actually that effective of learning, because you’re just passively absorbing information,” he said.

Soundfly instead offers “mentorship-based” learning, where a student is partnered with a working musician who has already achieved what the student is looking to accomplish.

Temple said Soundfly developed through experimentation. His initial thought was that the program would use a tech-based interactive method, where a student would play notes and a program would tell the student whether he or she got it right or wrong – as is seen in another company called Yousician.

But it turned out that the mentorship-based approach with its human-to-human connection worked best of all.

“Our students just lit up when we did the mentorship approach, and so that’s been really cool, because our students love it, you know?” Temple said.

The students and mentors can be nearby, or can be separated by thousands and thousands of miles.

“This past year, we had a student in Beijing working with a mentor in California, so that’s probably about as far apart distance-wise as you can get,” he said.

Students and mentors communicate through a variety of methods – including email, the online chat application Slack, and face-to-face via Skype.

“So if we have a student from Beijing working with a mentor in California, they’re interacting on different time zones; they’re interacting – so the mentor’s job is to make sure that the student is really clear on what their goals are, and creates really good, small activities that the student can do each week to kind of make sure they’re moving forward, and then the mentor can offer feedback on that and keep it moving forward,” Temple said.

Temple treated Connolly to a one-on-one demonstration of how Soundfly works. They stood behind an electronic keyboard as Temple explained that mentors first try to find out how much background in music skills the students already have.

Connolly said he could already play a few chords, and played a C major chord with no trouble. But he said he wanted to get better with his left hand.

“OK, we can work on that. So I’m going to take that goal – that big picture, ‘I want to be good with my left hand on the piano’ – and I’m going to say, what’s the first step to do that? Can we break that into a very simple activity?” he said.

A student will then use his or her left hand to play the notes of a chord, and go on to more complex tasks each week.

“So the first chord – let’s learn four chords, and this is my goal. I’m going to teach you four chords, and then for the week ahead, I want you to practice those chords so that you can play them at regular intervals,” Temple explained in his demonstration to Connolly.

Temple said the most important aspect with Soundfly is the human-to-human connection, and “helping people take their big dreams and their big goals, and put them into concrete steps they can start moving on, like, today, and then helping stay accountable to that and move forward.”