Nick Haffner said the best piano teachers are those who can pass their passion on to their students.
The first-year undeclared student started Nick Haffner’s Piano Academy his junior year of high school in his hometown of Renton, Washington. The academy has a staff of three teachers, including Haffner, and offers private piano lessons for students of different ages and skill levels.
Haffner began by teaching mostly elementary school-aged children while in Washington, but currently teaches students up to age 23 now that he is at UCLA.
Haffner said his company gives him the opportunity to teach a marketable skill students can carry into their futures, as well as life skills like patience and dedication. He also said he loves being a role model for his younger students.
Haffner has been playing piano for over a decade, and has had a passion for the instrument since he was young. He said he loves the discipline and dedication that piano has taught him through his studies as a musician. He said he wanted the opportunity to share that love for piano with others in his community.
When he was 16 years old, Haffner was already teaching piano classes for four students, all neighbors and friends. The expansion into a full-fledged company was natural for him, he said. He created his piano-teaching business while learning about career paths like entrepreneurship in high school.
“It was already in the back of my mind, so I went out and made it happen,” Haffner said. “I’ve always wanted to own a business.”
He has a website for his company, though many of his clients are referrals from current students.
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Haffner’s business model involves hiring piano instructors who can teach in their own homes or travel to their students’ residences, he said. The model allows students to avoid paying high fees or traveling far to take lessons in professional studios.
Haffner’s first client in Washington was his neighbor Thanh To, father of third-grader Eric and first-grader Eva. Haffner’s commitment to his own daily practice inspired To’s kids to learn the instrument.
Aside from being a passionate, hardworking teacher, Haffner is a positive role model for his kids, To said.
“They think of him as a friend and a good teacher,” To said. “He never declines when they want to hang out with him – he never says no.”
His two instructors, who are based in Washington, make a commission from every lesson they teach, giving them incentive to instruct more students, he said.
He already knew great pianists in high school and pitched the idea of commission-based piano lessons to some friends.
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Haffner offered Ryan Nguyen a position as a piano teacher in summer 2016.
Nguyen, a first-year undeclared student at the University of Washington, said he knew about the academy because of his friendship with Haffner and took up Haffner’s offer immediately.
“Since he is my friend, and he was my friend before he was my boss, we still help each other like we’re friends,” he said. “It’s not a formal boss-employee relationship.”
Once Haffner moved to Los Angeles in September 2016 to attend UCLA, he decided he wanted to continue teaching, he said.
Haffner wanted to teach lessons to fellow UCLA students to help them explore a new passion. He said college students are the brightest and have potential to make a difference, so he is glad he gets to benefit the college community. He teaches for about three hours a week.
“The college market is absolutely fantastic for piano lessons,” he said.
Adriana Cho, a second-year sociology student at UCLA, has been taking classes with Haffner for a couple of weeks, usually at a piano on the Hill. She stopped playing piano when she was 9 years old and was planning on reteaching herself from internet tutorials until she came across Haffner’s Facebook post about $10 discounted lessons for college students.
Haffner said that they haven’t started practicing any songs together yet, but he will let her pick a classical song she likes, and then write a version that is at her skill level.
“It’s kind of intimidating to restart learning something, especially as a college student, but I think he’s really helpful,” Cho said. “He acknowledges that I’m also a student so he makes it easy for me to not feel intimidated.”
In the future, Haffner hopes to grow Nick Haffner’s Piano Academy, because he thinks the market, especially in LA, needs cheap lessons with passionate instructors so the community continues to have passionate pianists.
Haffner’s favorite part of being a piano teacher is learning from and connecting with his students – being their friend as well as their teacher.
“Lessons can sometimes be heavy on concepts, you have to put your nose to the grindstone, and it can sometimes be tedious,” Haffner said. “At the end of the day, you get to hear what your student is involved in and how they’re making a difference, and how piano is helping them do that.”