By Emily G. Peters
88 Keys Music Academy operates on a simple premise: it’s never too early (or late) to bring music into your life.
“Music should be available to everybody. Our youngest student is three and a half and extremely mature for her age—she can recite the 50 states!” says Annie Chen, owner and founder of 88 Keys Music Academy in Arcadia. A USC-trained classical pianist with decades of study under her belt, Chen has also learned had to coax musicality out of her older students, too.
“My oldest student is 76 and started learning from scratch nearly five years ago,” she says. “My personal philosophy is that learning music is not one-size-fits-all, you know? Every student is different, and you have to find unique ways to relate to them.”
After years of teaching as a professional musician, Chen officially launched 88 Keys Music Academy five years ago with just a few teaching studios and a handful of students. Expanding her studio space and rotation of instructors, the music school now offers lessons in piano, violin, drums, flute, guitar, voice and more. 88 Keys will even be opening up a new location in San Gabriel, bringing music to a broader audience.
“We’re planning on opening early January 2019 at the latest,” says Chen. “We’ll still offer all of the same lessons, so no one will miss out.”
Chen makes sure her students’ don’t miss out on finding their own style, too. Whether it’s group classes to explore what instruments speak to them or more intensive private lessons, the instructors at 88 Keys make it a point to blend music theory with personal preference.
“We don’t just teach them to play—we teach our students technique, talk about the composers, teach them to really read music,” says Chen. “But classical can get a little boring, so to keep it interesting students can also bring in their own sheet music for songs that move them. Like if there’s an Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift song they love, we’ll find a simplified version.”
It’s all done in pursuit of both skill and self-expression—as well as a clever way to take the drudgery out of practice. Chen says parents can play a critical role here, too.
“There’s a magic triangle of parent, teacher and child, and everyone needs to be on the same page in order for the child to do well. Parents may not realize that they have to sit with the child while they practice, because kids aren’t always going to do it on their own,” she says. “I tell my kids, ‘You gotta eat every day, and you gotta practice a little bit every day, too.’ They’re yearning to please, and it helps when parents are really encouraging. It can make a huge difference.”
With the academy’s big winter recital coming up on Jan. 5 at Pasadena Central Library, it’s a opportunity for all those involved in helping these students come celebrate the power of music. With students of all ages and skill levels performing, it’s one of Chen’s favorite events.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see students do well; to foster their confidence and love for music,” she says. “Because it’s not all about judging talent. It’s about trying—and they will see results.”