Parents can soon stop haranguing children about practicing their instruments for lessons they signed them up for and let the instructors’ virtual presence be the stickler instead, thanks to Durham-based Clair.
The name comes from Clair de Lune, one movement of a piano suite by Claude Debussy and a piece that Co-Founders Esteban Suarez and Harrison Taee each practiced—while sharing their progress with each other—during their time as Duke undergrads.
The two long-time musicians started thinking about the best way to learn an instrument and find harmony while playing with others. Suarez thought of the idea for Clair in summer 2019 and got Taee and later CFO Shrish Dwivedi on board: They wanted to create a teacher-focused platform.
“A lot of tech companies are trying to replace the teacher with software,” Taee said, “and there’s no real platform that focuses on the relationship between student and teacher. That’s the gap we’re trying to bridge.”
Other online music instruction methods—like YouTube videos with light-up chords people follow along to—have a low retention rate, Suarez says, and don’t teach people how to read sheet music.
“There’s such a high barrier of entry before what you start playing sounds beautiful,” he said.
The best way to get over the barrier, Suarez says, is with the help of a teacher, but Taee adds that music students usually spend one session per week with their instructor, then have no more contact.
Clair aims to increase student-teacher interactions between formal classes.
Making practice more perfect
Suarez says Clair provides a psychological incentive to practice more and better because students know their teacher has the ability to monitor their practice—including whether they’re doing it at all.
“The mere fact that they know the teacher is with them between lessons through some platform instigates them to practice more,” he said. “Even 10 minutes a day, 30 minutes in the week is a lot more than the standard problem right now, which is, nothing until an hour before the teacher comes.”
Along with the communication piece, Clair will smooth out business logistics for teachers by centralizing their scheduling, billing, media and lesson plans.
“Our job in the first stage of the pipeline is to clean up that process,” Taee said, “to make running this small business—teaching is incredibly hard—much more of a breeze such that the relationship can be the sole focus.”
The co-founders are in the prototype phase of Clair and are contacting developers and talking to music teachers. They’re working on refining all aspects of the startup in Duke’s summer accelerator program.
This fall, they plan to run a beta with music teachers in the Triangle to provide a proof of concept, then launch in the spring by targeting parents with a SaaS product. They hope that parents will be attracted to the way the platform promotes teacher contact, practice accountability and musical development without the parents needing to serve as the enforcer. Down the road, Taee says, the goal will be to offer a network where students and teachers can meet.
Both Taee and Suarez are working on Clair fulltime now that they’ve graduated, and Suarez will also work as a music teacher.