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Meet Alex Nguyen of Dancing Keys Music Studio in Irvine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alex Nguyen.

Alex, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Back in 2007, my sister in law asked me to teach piano to her daughter, who is my niece. I was reluctant at first but eventually gave in. Having no experience in teaching, I went down to the local music store and purchased a traditional piano method book. I believe it was the Sebastian method. I taught my niece for a few months. The progress was slow and it was not fun. Having learned the traditional method myself in the past, I was not surprised.

I got online and started searching for a different method. I found Simply Music, an Australian developed playing based piano method. It claimed that students would be able to play great sounding songs immediately from their first lessons. I was intrigued.

After reading its philosophy, I felt instantly connected. I remember thinking to myself “if I had to start all over again, this is the way I would like to learn.” This method is unlike anything I came across. It focuses on the sheer fun of playing. Reading is delayed until a year or so later. It’s the opposite from the traditional read first, play later philosophy.

I was hooked! I thought the creator of this method was on to something.

I went on to become a licensed Simply Music teacher and started teaching officially in 2008. I transitioned my niece over to the Simply Music method. Soon later my nephew joined. They were my guinea pigs.

Between 2008 to 2012 I consistently taught between 30 – 40 students every week in my home studio. I knew at some point I wanted to expand beyond my home studio. I started looking for other teachers who would be interested in partnering with me to open a commercial studio. I found Stephanie Chang and Giana Nguyen, both of whom were teaching the traditional method at the time, but converted to Simply Music. Together we opened Dancing Keys Music Studio in 2013. We’re located in Irvine, CA. At the end of 2015, Stephanie left to pursue her mission work in Indonesia with her husband. Giana and I are still co-owners. We’re on our fourth year and going strong. We have hired three additional teachers to help us with the growth.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
For the most part, it’s been a smooth journey for us. However, there were some challenges.

It took a while for us to find a commercial space in Irvine that would fit our budget and requirements. We wanted a good central location in Irvine with a lease rate that wouldn’t break our bank. After a few months of searching, we found what we were looking for.

We borrowed loans from families and friends. We were lucky to find The Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles who helped us out with the rest of the money to secure our initial investment.

We started out with three partners: Giana, Stephanie, and I (Alex). When Stephanie left, we had a hard time finding a replacement because there were no licensed Simply Music teachers available in our area. Giana posted on Facebook and we found Cathy Hirata. It took a while to find the next two teachers.

Part of the reason it’s hard to find teachers to teach Simply Music is because it requires an upfront investment and training. Plus, because it’s non-traditional, it requires a completely different mindset. Teachers who are deeply rooted in the traditional method find it hard to adopt this new teaching philosophy. They’d basically have to throw out everything they knew about teaching if they wanted to teach Simply Music and not many traditional teachers are willing to do that.

We also plateaued our growth for a while. The reason was we had no one to focus on marketing. We had to wear many hats running the business. So beginning 2017, Giana and I discussed and we decided for me to decrease my teaching load so I could focus full time on marketing. And we’re beginning the see the results in the past few months with increased new student enrollments.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We are Orange County’s premier Simply Music instruction center. Simply Music is a playing based piano method that allows students of all ages playing great sounding songs from their very first lessons. We choose to specialize in this method because it produces results quickly and students have fun learning it.

If we stop for a moment and think about it, the vast majority of people who are interested in learning to play the piano do not aspire to become concert pianists or concert level pianists. Instead, most of us would be happy to play just for the sheer fun of playing and we want to make music our lifelong companion. We want to express ourselves musically without having to spend ungodly hours on technique, drills or scales.

The ultimate joy of music is not under the spotlight at Carnegie Hall, but in the cozy living rooms where family and friends can gather for a night of music sharing.

What separates us apart from others is what I call our trifecta of success: the Simply Music playing based method, the Better Practice App and the Power of Two practice program.

The Simply Music piano method allows immediate access to musical expression. The Better Practice App is an indispensable tool for both students and teachers. For students, it not only keeps track of their practice, but it makes practice fun, engaging and social. For teachers, it makes daily lesson management a breeze. No more writing assignments on paper, it’s all paperless and digital. With this app we are able to modernize our studio and be at the forefront of technology for our students.

Recently we added the Power of Two practice program to our studio. While everyone else is concerned about the HOW of practice, we focus on the WHEN of practice for maximum results and retention. This came about as a result of my frustration of students forgetting a lot of what we taught them. So I put my academic hat on and went to work.

In the 1800’s German psychologist Herman Ebbinghouse did a landmark research on human memory. He was most known for the ‘Ebbinghouse Forgetting Curve’ graph that shows the frailty of human memory. It turns out that most of us are wired to forget things quite rapidly. Our Power of Two program addresses this problem head on and we came up with a solution for it. Our students who enroll in this program show significant improvements in memory retention. There’s much more detail about this research, but if anyone interested in learning more, we have a short video on our website that they can watch. Just go to www.dancingkeys.com/power-of-two.html.

What were you like growing up?
I was born and raised in Vietnam. When I was younger there were two things that interested me the most: magic and music. Magic was my escape from the mundane life.

I’d sneak into magic shows and be mesmerized. I wanted music lessons but It was a luxury that my mom could not afford. So I settled until I came to America. I learned to play the piano when I was 19 years old. I know, way too old by musicians’ standard. But then again, you’re never too old to learn something, right?

I have seven siblings. I am the oddball, for sure. Everyone in my family is conservative and I’m not. I’m a risk taker and generally ambitious, sometimes too ambitious for my own good.

When I was 17 I discovered heavy metal. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. My world revolved around it and nothing else mattered. I did what every metal head did: grew my hair long! I taught myself to play the guitar, joined bands and took part in the hair band revolution in the ’80’s.

Nowadays, I’m happy pursuing my entrepreneurial dreams. I teach less and do more marketing. I love the feeling of creating something out of thin air. I’m still learning as a musician. It’s a lifelong thing for me. When I’m not tickling the ivories with the kids, I enjoy reading, hiking, skiing and attending live concerts.

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