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Inspiring Conversations with Matt Safley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Safley.

Hi Matt, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I fell in love with music at an early age, as my mom taught a range of music students growing up from elementary all the way to high school. I thrived on the expression, the sound, and that spine tingling experience when hearing music that was beautifully and authentically written and performed by fantastic artists. It inspired me to build my skills as a performer and composer.

I was driven by competitions and success from those competitions from statewide piano competitions in Iowa, being one of a handful of pianists selected in the state to accompany the different All-State music groups to a couple of concerto competitions. As a result, I chose to major in Piano Performance with the hopes of becoming a world-class, traveling musician. I loved the reward from working exceptionally long hours that were filled with dedication, tenacity, and perseverance and being able to share that work with others.

Life usually never goes the way you plan and ended up experiencing an injury that impacted my ability to play pretty significantly. As a result, I had to take a temporary detour after college finished and wait until things healed and could resume that dream. (That detour ended up being permanent and the biggest blessing in hindsight.)

I moved to St. Louis to begin teaching at an independently owned music school in the West County area after graduating from college and loved how I could impart my devotion of music to others in the group class setting and in private lessons. It is exactly what I needed.

I worked there for ten years, and I noticed that I began to see my own vision of what a studio would look like in my own hands about halfway through that 10th year at the old school.

I began prepping for that shift and amidst that prep the opportunity ended up falling into my lap at the most unexpected time. While it was the right time, it was definitely unexpected. Since then, I’ve been gradually building what I offer in hopes that it will have a lasting impact on the wonderful families I work with and the community that exists outside the doors of my studio in the Ballwin and Greater St. Louis area.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
There have definitely been enough challenges. The school I worked at unexpectedly closed late summer of 2018, amidst my studio preparations, and I was left with little time to get enough of my studio set up to resume providing services to my students. Thankfully I was able to retain all of them in this rapid transition and began teaching them in the fall of that same year. In addition to that, my mom began experiencing significant health issues and learning to navigate the increased responsibilities with my studio and the nagging stress of a newly terminally ill parent was definitely preoccupying.

Things settled for a while and returned to my new normal and then COVID hit. There was no way for any of us to predict how it would impact our own lives, along with businesses in America and the world. It all felt like Russian Roulette with what was going on with businesses at large and in American Private Music Studio culture with who had to close permanently, temporarily, and would survive the event.

Through talking with other studio owners in the country, I found out that there were so many studios much more established and in business longer than I that nearly lost their entire roster; some had a surge, and for some, only a few needed to take a break. I thankfully was in the middle where just a few had to take a break. I was so lucky.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I definitely felt protected and was exceptionally grateful that the majority of my families continued with lessons and did not really begin to see any fallout from everything going on in my life until the fall of 2020.

My mom ended up passing at the beginning of the fall after a hard battle with cancer. While processing through that event and beginning the grieving process, the delayed domino effect from COVID decided to tumble towards my way, and I ended up needing to take over the entire space I was currently teaching lessons in.

While that experience was not ideal at the time, it opened up a few doors and solved some challenges that were present at the time of the switch. One problem solved is that I wanted to offer group classes this fall, but I did not have the right type of or enough space to do so. This shift for me has opened up the door me to begin rebuilding the space so that I can offer a group class curriculum starting this fall and hire teachers! Everything happens for a reason, at the right time, and tends to make sense backwards.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am nearing the end of year 3, running my own studio and finishing strong! Right now, I offer private piano, voice, and composition lessons, along with combination lessons of those three options. I diversify the curriculum based on the student’s needs, wants, and abilities to craft the skill set that will cultivate joy that will last a lifetime for each student I work with.

While many studios offer at least two recital opportunities a year, my first one in the fall involves interaction from the audience. Too often the student is trained to go up to the stage, perform, bow and sit back down to listen to all the other students. While these milestones and achievements are exciting and motivating; they can fall flat when it is the same thing performance after performance, year after year. I hope to break that mold and make it more engaging for the student and attendees.

For this recital, I pick a topic and theme for the fall; this year it is “Movies within the Music”. The student’s chosen recital piece is pulled apart and broken down beginning in the summer to uncover what makes it what it is. They then begin to fill out a study guide that gets them thinking outside the box and work towards finding a way their piece is relevant in some aspect of society today. For this year, they will find a movie that paints the picture they feel the music is telling them and why it does so.

I then create a multiple choice questionnaire based off of the students’ answers for the audience to fill out. The goal is for the audience and students to try and figure out what movie the performing student chose and what about the music reminds them of this movie. That way the students can have fun trying to guess which movie their peers chose and the audience can join in on building listening skills too.

I also offer a unique in house evaluation opportunity where piano students play two pieces and voice students perform one piece from memory in front of an evaluator. Many evaluation opportunities have a similar requirement overview; however it tends to lack flexibility. Where I differ is that I offer flexibility.

Many competitions are classically, jazz, musical theater, pop etc. based with little wiggle room for other styles. I allow that fusion and mixture of styles to take place. I find pieces that the student enjoys and is motivated to polish to share with another teacher and get feedback that will matter to them and to me. If that means they find an alternative rock piece with a classical piece, or transcriptions or covers, I’ll give them permission to master and share with that other teacher. I’d even allow holiday music if that is what they were truly passionate about! I also suggest outside evaluations and competitions for those that are interested and are on the more serious side of the spectrum with their musical studies.

Lastly, I’m also beginning to offer the fantastic group class curriculum MusikGarten curriculum which offers classes consecutively from Birth-Age 9, along with a group class for adults! This year, I’ll be offering year 1 of 3 of the Music Makers: At the Keyboard, from age 6 to about 9. I hope to offer all classes for the birth to early elementary program at some point!

Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
I think people in the surrounding community can just come check out my studio and see all that I have to offer. I’d love it if people came out to the recital events to support the local students and help support the charity work that I do throughout the year. I hope to continue increasing what I offer so people have more opportunities to engage with my studio.

I also think that anyone who has an interest in building one of the skills that I offer can work with me as a team. I’d like to think that all my studio families and I are encapsulated in this constant homeostatic, synergistic state of collaboration and support.

In order for me to be an efficacious teacher, it’s important for me to know exactly the type of service that my families are looking to receive, the student’s interests, and expectations that come along with that. Without this vital information, I’m unable to build a curriculum around those wants and needs so that I can help craft the student‘s desired skill set and love for music. The same also holds true on my end. It’s essential that I communicate my expectations and the role that we all serve in the connection. If something is off balance, it can put a wedge in their overall experience and can undermine the student’s growth.

When we all become that synergistically sound unit, the student begins to fully flourish and a relationship between the family, student, and I begins to deepen and can last far beyond the last lesson that they take. We’re a team and lean on each other with our continual communication and presence, even during those moments when we need to hear something difficult.


  • $131.25 a month for 30 minute lessons
  • $187.50 a month for 45 minute lessons
  • $243.75 a month for 60 minute lessons

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Image Credits
Susan Bennet Erin Drew Lysette Lebeau

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