The Violin Channel recently talked with Sam Walder, co-founder and CEO of Trala, an application that aims to democratize access to music education.
Firstly, congratulations on the success of your Trala app. Over $5 million raised in venture capital already and over 400,000 downloads in just a very short number of years. Tell us about the app and where the idea first came from?
We founded Trala to make learning violin accessible to everyone on Earth. When someone downloads the Trala app, they have access to the world’s largest library of violin tutorials, instant feedback on pitch and rhythm, a supportive musical community, and 1:1 lessons with some of the world’s best violin teachers.
Growing up, I was a… solid second violinist. Over the years, I watched so many of my friends step away from music because life had gotten too busy or they were turned away by the gatekeeping and biases that are all too common in music education. Trala was founded out of the belief that everyone — not just conservatory-trained musicians — should be able to experience the joy of making music.
What are your and your business partner’s backgrounds? You are both so young, yet have already been on your way to achieving so much. Are you both musicians yourselves?
Vish and I met at a hackathon in college. I have a background as a violinist, and we both were studying computer engineering, eager to use technology to change the world for the better. Together we came up with Trala’s signal processing algorithm that’s able to analyze the sound of any violin and give instant feedback on pitch and tempo. We built a violin-learning app that anyone with a phone could use, and we started to get thousands of downloads almost immediately. People all over the world were searching for violin education, and most of them were “non-traditional” students.
Who is Trala most suited to, and why are you so passionate about the project?
Cop-out answer: we’re for everyone! Trala’s mission is to make world-class music education accessible to every single person. If you’re an adult beginner, have a busy schedule, live in a rural community, or want to explore genres outside of the Western classical canon, it can be difficult to find a music school able or willing to meet those needs. Trala fills that gap.
We’re at the very beginning of a long journey towards our vision, but every day I’m motivated by the incredible students who use and shape our app.
One of our students, Kai, is a 20-something designer living in Upstate New York. He has a demanding job, a busy life, and he’s seen firsthand how the right tech can open so many doors. He joined the Trala community because he wanted to learn violin on his own time, at his own pace. At our recent concert with Joshua Bell, Kai led a discussion group of Trala students and employees in exploring how good design can shape an effective, accessible music curriculum.
Another example is Tree, a 61-year-old librarian who started learning violin from her home in Austin, Texas during the pandemic. She’s an incredibly dedicated student who practices with the Trala app every day and has started meeting with one of our teachers once a week for 1:1 lessons. Like so many of our students, she plays violin as a form of self-care and finds that daily practice helps her process difficult emotions and memories.
There are many others like Kai and Tree who aren’t served by traditional music schools. Trala is here to guide them in their musical practice and connect them to a community of like-minded individuals.
We are very impressed and excited with what you are creating. Introducing many more young players and adult players to classical music will hopefully have a fantastic effect on the entire industry — hopefully bringing in more concert-goers and classical music fans into our industry’s future. What other flow-on effects do you feel Trala has the potential to impact?
Music is a gift, and the more we share that gift, the more beauty we will see in the world. In a time of increasing polarization, music can be a haven for people searching for a community. At our recent event in New York City, we saw people of all backgrounds mingling, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company. It was a rare sight in 2021. Who knows the effects that music can have on people’s lives?
Over the years, we’ve seen many online music lesson sites and apps come and go. Why do you feel Trala has really gained traction in this market?
At Trala, we have “students,” not “users.” Being great educators is our number one principle. We used to send an interview request to every single Trala student, and we did over 500 phone calls with people to help understand how they used the product and how to better serve them. You can say that Trala was co-founded by its students.
The future of Trala rests in the hands of our team, and I feel amazing about the people who are working here. They’re my daily inspiration, and I’m so proud of their creativity and ambition. Our team, more than anything, is the reason we’ve gotten this far, and our team is going to be what leads us to fulfill our mission.
Can you walk us through the main features of Trala and how it works?
When students download Trala, they’re matched with the right violin teacher for their age, experience level, and musical interests. Our violin lessons happen over Zoom, so students can squeeze in a lesson between meetings, after school, or when the family has gone to bed.
Between monthly or weekly 1:1 lessons, students practice with the world’s largest library of violin tutorial videos. Our curriculum was built by concertmasters and rockstars, and artists like Joshua Bell, Katie Jacoby (The Who), and Kiana June Weber (Gaelic Storm) show students how to play the music they love.
As they explore these videos, students play along with interactive sheet music and song exercises. Trala’s signal processing analyzes the sound of your violin and gives you instant feedback on pitch and rhythm every time you practice. When students play the wrong notes, Trala gives them feedback they need to get back on track. Trala also provides a score for every piece you play, so you can track your progress over time and you know how well you’re doing.
Do you think the pandemic helped or hindered your company’s growth?
The pandemic definitely helped a lot of people find Trala this past year. A lot of people were sitting at home realizing that something was missing in their lives. Music is a beautiful way to fill that gap. During the pandemic, those people found Trala.
Pandemic or no pandemic, if you're living in rural Michigan and want to learn violin for the first time, where do you go? There are a lot of people who want to learn violin but don’t have access to a violin teacher in their immediate community.
We believe that the music education industry could be 10x larger if everyone had access to a great music school. During the pandemic, we had the unique opportunity to keep the music going for thousands of student violinists when their local music schools shut down and their teachers stopped offering in-person lessons. But so many more people didn’t have access to a local violin teacher in the first place. That’s who Trala is for.
You’ve recently announced a partnership with star violinist Joshua Bell, which we will stream the launch of on The Violin Channel on October 9th. Tell us about this collaboration and how Joshua will be actively involved with Trala’s development?
Joshua sets the standard for education at Trala. He’s making sure our students have access to the best violin curriculum in the world. As we expand instruments, he’ll champion Trala’s education and connect Trala students to some of the best musicians in the world.
When a student signs up for the Trala School of Music, they have access to Joshua Bell’s musical insights. We’re creating lessons that invite every student into Joshua’s world as he’s practicing, thinking about music, finding inspiration, and touring with other musicians. As a student, it will feel like you’re stopping over at his place for a cup of tea after practice.
Where do you see Trala five years from now? And where do you see it 20 years from now?
We want to raise up a new generation of musicians who wouldn’t have existed without us. We envision a community where students can learn on Trala, play music with other Trala students, and even teach other students. We’re also fostering connections between students and existing performers. In 20 years, I hope that we’ll be a household name in the music industry and we’ll see famous musicians giving Trala a shout-out on stage for helping them get their start!
We’re also working hard on some secret projects which I can’t wait to share with the community… we have some interesting tech breakthroughs on the horizon! :)
If people want to learn more, where can they go to visit?
You can search “violin” on the App Store and click on Trala or visit www.trala.com. Looking forward to seeing you in the Trala app!