Hoffman Academy is a piano tuition platform designed specifically for kids. Teaching music is one thing, but teaching kids is something entirely different and can be pretty challenging.
When dealing with kids, you have to be careful not to overload them with too much information while also making sure you aren’t going too slow for gifted youngsters. In other words, it has to be close to perfect.
If that wasn’t enough, you have to keep them mentally engaged, having fun, a don’t make it feel like a school day! If you know anything about the average kid’s attention span, that’s no picnic, so let’s see how Hoffman Academy does in this review.
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Final verdict on Hoffman Academy
Hoffman Academy might be for kids, but it’s no easy task; it’s a pretty in-depth course. I was surprised at some of the elements of music being covered and more surprised that it reaches fairly complex topics without losing its playful nature.
The Hoffman Academy also does a great job of not pushing young students too far or too fast; the content selection and delivery are top-notch. It brings kids and parents together through music, and I love it!
What I like
- Perfect presentation and delivery for kids.
- Outstanding content.
- Interactive games.
- Printable materials.
- Over 300 video lessons.
- Supportive community.
What I don’t like
- Older kids might find some elements too childish.
Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.
The Hoffman Academy does something that I’m not sure any other platform does by giving students access to all of its lessons for free (over 300 video lessons).
There is a catch, of course, but a fair one. A Basic account (free) gives you access to all video lessons, but you don’t get the accompanying downloadable sheet music, learning resources, practice tools, or interactive games.
In other words, you won’t get the absolute best out of the video lessons, but you get more than enough to start your piano journey and decide if the Hoffman Academy is the right choice for you. Pretty awesome.
There are two membership types: Basic (free) and Premium.
You can subscribe to a premium membership for as low as $15 per month, and there’s often a 50% discount for new members in the form of a special offer pop-up during the sign-up process.
The pricing seems fair considering the large amount of content on offer.Hoffman Academy: Start your free lessons
When you sign up, you’ll be asked a few questions about yourself and the type of member you are; a student or a parent. It doesn’t take long, perhaps a few minutes, and you’re ready to start the first lesson.
I love that the Hoffman Academy has the option to sign-up as a parent. First of all, it encourages parents to be part of their child’s musical journey, creating memories that last a lifetime. Secondly, even the best-behaved kids are impatient most of the time, and when you’re dealing with video lessons the temptation to mark a lesson as complete when it’s not perfect or even skip more challenging lessons is always there.
I think having a parent or mentor as part of the process, even if they only check at the start and end of each lesson, is the way to get the most out of this platform.
We don’t have any keyboard setup as such here, but like many other piano lesson platforms, the Hoffman Academy discusses things like good posture and positioning early on.
The Hoffman Academy is aimed at pretty young kids; I’d say around 4 to 10 years old, give or take a little; certainly not old enough to have a credit card. So, since parents and guardians will be the ones signing up for an account, I imagine that most of them will take some part in the learning process.
But some parents won’t always have time every single day for many reasons, and it’s important that the interface is simple enough for a child to navigate on their own.
The Hoffman Academy is a web-based platform, and the website is very clean, tidy and doesn’t have any unnecessary features. From the home page of your account, you’ll see the last lesson you completed with the option to review it, and you’ll see the next lesson in the current unit.
If you look along the top of the screen, you’ll see tabs for Lessons, Games, Store, and More. Clicking the More tab will give you access to upgrade your account, the most popular songs, and the Hoffman Academy blog.
If you click the Lessons tab, you’ll see the Popular Music section at the top, followed by an overview of every course unit as you scroll down the page.
Each section on this page has a “View more” button, which gives access to more songs and every individual element of each course unit. I’m describing this process in very simple terms because I want to highlight how easy the website is to navigate, even for kids.
If I had to pick out one area where younger kids might struggle a little, it would be when you open a lesson from any unit and have to deal with printable content, etc. It’s by no means complicated, and I think kids around seven years old or so would be fine with it, but I think younger kids would need an adult’s help.
It’s not a complaint at all, it’s to be expected, so it’s more of a reminder to parents of younger kids that they’ll have to be part of the process.
I can’t fault the web design; it’s easy to use and engaging enough for young learners. Hoffman Academy even uses cartoons in some of its materials, and it’s not a gimmick; it helps children receive the necessary information more easily.
Desktop vs mobile app
With no Hoffman Academy app, what we are looking at is the difference between the desktop and mobile versions of the website. It seems strange to me, but even in 2023, some websites aren’t correctly mobile-optimized, and the experience users get on a smartphone or tablet isn’t nearly as good as the desktop experience.
Luckily, in this case, I can keep this section short and sweet: Hoffman Academy works beautifully on all devices. As you’ll see from the images below, other than a few adjustments for screen size, the layout is virtually identical to the desktop version.
Besides the screen size, there’s no real upside or downside in using one over the other; both are great.
The lesson interface is straightforward because it focuses on videos, e-books, and printables with no typical interactive content. I say typical interactive content because it has interactive games, which I’ll discuss more below, and the printables are interactive in a different way.
The video lessons are very well presented, and Joseph Hoffman has the perfect tone and delivery for kids.
The e-books also have the perfect delivery for youngsters, and as I mentioned above, they make use of cartoons from time to time.
When it comes to printable content, I’ve always had mixed feelings. As someone who learned in the traditional way through private lessons, a musical education, and lots of books, I do have a soft spot for books and paper sheet music. But, when I think about online platforms, I imagine everything is kept neat and tidy on my laptop or device, but that’s approaching it as an adult.
If I tried to imagine what I’d have enjoyed as a young kid, I think I’d have loved the printables, especially how Hoffman Academy delivers them. It’s not just page after page of text; it’s playful content, like completing the musical alphabet on a snake.
Kids love to be hands-on with things, and it also creates a healthier balance between screen time and book time.
Perhaps the best thing about the printables is that they can act as trophies. What kid doesn’t love to pin something to the wall that says, “Look, I did that!”. It’s also another bonding experience for the proud parents or guardians as well as a daily reminder of what they learned.
Students learn songs and techniques by watching and copying Joseph Hoffman, for the most part (you have sheet music too). Of course, you have e-books and printables to tackle the theory side of learning.
I’ve been critical of platforms that don’t offer instant feedback in the past, especially video-based platforms that can’t confirm that a student has mastered one lesson before moving to the next, platforms like Pianoforall. So, I want to be really clear on why I’m making a distinction in this case.
The platform almost assumed a level of parental interaction, which would prevent students from moving on too fast. However, that’s not enough for me to give Hoffman Academy a pass.
The thing that makes me far more comfortable with this platform than some others is that the content is so perfectly tailored to the target audience. It’s engaging, it breaks things down into manageable chunks, and the printables that require filling in (like tests and puzzles) assure, to some extent, that students will understand fully before taking the next lesson. On top of that, there are interactive games that I think are fantastic.
So, while we could quickly sum up the teaching method as watch, copy, repeat, and write, I want to discuss the fact that Hoffman Academy doesn’t begin with scales and learning to read music. I’m highlighting this because it’s another thing I’ve been critical of with different platforms in the past.
I’m all for memory hacks and tricks that help you learn faster, providing they are in addition to solid fundamentals and not instead of them. Usually, when a platform doesn’t begin with the traditional fundamentals, it’s because it’s opting for short-term gain over long-term success.
In this case, Hoffman Academy starts with solfège syllables (DO-RE-Mi-FA- SOL-TI) instead of regular scales and note names. Hoffman Academy has students singing along with major scales and songs using solfège from the very first lesson, and it has kids learning about scales and intervals without even realizing it.
It’s an incredibly smart way to start because kids are having fun learning songs. When they do come to learn the musical alphabet and scales (which isn’t too far into the course anyway), they understand it so much easier because they are so used to singing it already.
Hoffman Academy doesn’t begin with the traditional method because it has found a way to make it easier, not because it found a hack to ignore it completely, and that’s why I like it.
Courses and content
There are 16 units, with a combined 300+ video lessons and lots of additional learning material for each. I’ve said enough already to suggest how much I like the content, but I’ll say one more time much of it is because Joseph Hoffman delivers information in an ideal way.
It’s almost like watching kids’ breakfast television at times because he addresses the viewers like they are in the room with him, in the same way that shows like Sesame Street would ask kids questions, knowing they would scream answers at the TV.
It would probably drive you mad as an adult, but it’s the best way to hold kids’ attention and make sure they learn while having fun.
Units 1 to 5
In this range, I want to highlight two important lessons: Lesson 1 and Lesson 19 of Unit 1. The rest of the lessons through these units ease students into more complicated topics, building solid foundations.
In Lesson 1, you’ll learn to play your first song, “Hot Cross Buns”. It might seem counterintuitive to learn a song before even talking about how to sit at a piano properly. However, this simple song achieves so many things:
- begins the course with fun,
- introduces solfège,
- encourages kids to sing as they play,
- introduces the sound of scales and intervals without any technical jargon.
Again, it’s an incredibly smart approach.
Lesson 19 teaches how to improvise over “Listen For Bells” using the D major pentascale. In the lessons before this one, you’ll have learned the song and the D major pentascale.
In the video lesson, Mr. Hoffman explains a little about improvisation and provides a backing track that students can play the melody over. Students have to listen for a click to tell them when to begin the melody. After playing the melody, students will improvise until hearing the same click, which cues them to repeat the melody.
By sticking to the D major pentascale, students don’t have to move their hands, and there are no wrong notes. So, it’s about having fun and finding patterns that sound cool.
This lesson blew me away because kids are improvising with a pentatonic scale and listening for cues, all while having fun and probably not realizing the impact this lesson will have on their musical development; it’s brilliant.
Units 6 to 9
In this range, I’ve picked out Lesson 161 from Unit 9, “Melody for Left Hand”. The reason this lesson is so important is that it works on a kind of hand independence that some platforms ignore.
Some platforms only talk about using the left hand for harmony, and some introduce ostinato and walking basslines, which is good. But, very few discuss playing melodies with the left hand, which can be more challenging because it’s not as repetitive as an ostinato bassline.
As you can see from the sheet music above, this lesson asks the student to hold a rhythmic pattern with the right hand while playing the melody with the left. It isn’t the most challenging melody in terms of the notes played, but it does include dotted and tied notes, which add new elements to consider. Another great lesson.
Units 10 to 16
As you reach unit 10 and beyond, the lessons start to get trickier, but if you’ve completed the previous units properly, it shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve selected Lesson 305 from Unit 16, which is very near the end of the course.
This lesson teaches the original Hanon piano virtuoso exercise. In Unit 16, students will learn some pretty impressive stuff, and this lesson probably isn’t the hardest of the lot. But, it’s an exercise that does wonders for technique and fingers, which will make learning difficult songs much easier.
The Hanon exercise has both hands playing exactly the same thing, running up and down patterns taken from scales. It’s in the 2/4 time signature and uses 16th notes, which means you might have to start with a slow tempo.
The challenge is to start slow, make sure your fingering is always correct, and build your way up to playing at 200 bpm. If you can do that, I guarantee you’ll avoid many bad habits regarding fingering in the future, and previously tricky runs will be a breeze.
The games section might be my favorite part of Hoffman Academy because it provides that digitally interactive element that is missing in regular lessons.
These educational games are so much fun and introduce a competitive side to things that only serves to enhance the student’s grasp of information. It’s simple; kids love to get high scores; the faster you complete a game, the higher the score.
The most crucial aspect of that process is that if students complete games faster, it not only gives a higher score but also demonstrates a deeper understanding of the topic.
The song selection is a good mix of traditional songs, pop songs, classical, and Christmas carols. It also includes music from popular video games and cartoons. In simple terms, they are songs that young beginners can relate to or already know very well.
At first sight, the only thing I’d question about the progression path is that it begins with learning songs rather than scales and notes. But, as I’ve already said, it’s because Hoffman Academy chose to go the solfège route, which is perfect for kids.
I can’t fault the structure of the course material, and I’m very impressed that it finds the right way to ease students into things like improvising, which we don’t even see on every adult platform.
The pacing of the material is perfect, and if anything ever came up that made me wonder if this was too soon for a youngster, the method and delivery quickly put my mind at ease.
The course structure is great, and the catalog of songs and collection of interactive games provide enough of a break between lessons.
Value for money
If you can get a premium membership for $15 or less, if there’s a special offer, it’s outstanding value for money.
I have to focus on the fact that this platform is aimed at kids, and even if you find a cheaper platform, it’s likely to be less age-appropriate. Another alternative is to have in-person lessons, which I think is excellent, but it’s more expensive and probably not as fun. Lastly, parents and kids working through music together is priceless.Hoffman Academy: Get started now
Compared to other piano lesson platforms
I think the Hoffman Academy platform offers the best online piano lessons for kids right now, but here are a few alternatives.
Hoffman Academy vs Pianoforall
Another video-based platform with downloadable content, but, for me, it doesn’t deliver on the same level as Hoffman Academy.
Hoffman Academy vs Playground Sessions
Playground Sessions is one of my favorite platforms, and if I were thinking of teenage and adult students, I’d say go for it. But, for younger kids, I still pick Hoffman Academy.
Hoffman Academy vs Flowkey
Flowkey is a very good platform with a few annoying flaws, but if you can get past the flaws, it has some exceptional content.
Who does Hoffman Academy suit most?
It’s perfect for kids anywhere from around four years up as long as they go slow and steady (with parental support).