Ad Alert

Stephen Ridley’s ‘Free Online Piano Masterclass’

Why this piano man may not give you the keys to success.


Ad Alert

Stephen Ridley’s ‘Free Online Piano Masterclass’

In the YouTube ad above, Stephen Ridley encourages consumers to sign up for his “free online piano masterclass.” Ridley claims the class puts students on the fast track to learning piano by teaching them how to take the four chords that are used in many pop songs and “make them sound amazing.” He then demonstrates, turning the chords into intricate, beautiful songs.

“With this new method, you can start playing your favorite songs from day one,” Ridley says in the ad.

But there’s a big difference between learning how to play a few chords on the piano and mastering the techniques required to play like Ridley does in the ad. It took Ridley 20 years to play like that, not an hour, which is how long he claims it takes to “learn up to 40 new songs … even if you never touched a piano before.”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with this sales pitch for a “free online piano masterclass.”

Webinar turns into an infomercial, and more

After receiving a tip, signed up for the piano class – or should we say, we signed up for a webinar that turned into an infomercial for the piano class, at the end of which it was revealed we would need to pay $1,397 to learn how to play the four-chord pop songs with “The Ridley Method.” In other words, not exactly “free.”

And there were additional red flags, including:

  • You could not just sign up for the piano class. The piano class was sold as part of a package that also included courses on singing, composing songs on the piano and pursuing a career as a musician. (The piano class was “valued” at $2,997, which is $2,000 less than the price listed on the Ridley Academy website.)
  • While the offer was presented as a “60 minute mega deal,” it didn’t expire after 60 minutes. Four days after attending the webinar, we received an email from Ridley saying that the offer was still available and if we needed help paying, financing options (that weren’t offered during the webinar) were available.
  • The piano class was backed by a “lifetime failproof guarantee” that Ridley said no one has ever had to use. Of note, Ridley requires that customers finish the course in order to be eligible for a refund, which some consumers have complained prevented them from getting their money back.
  • At least the beginning of the “live” webinar appeared to be a recording. After signing up for one webinar, we signed up for another the next day and found that Ridley called out the same names – Jennifer, Michelle and Jabbar – in both webinars when he asked participants to rate their piano playing on a scale of 0 to 10.

What does the law say about all this?

According to the FTC, marketers should not advertise results that aren’t generally achievable without clearly and conspicuously disclosing what consumers can typically expect to achieve. That means if consumers aren’t typically learning 40 songs in an hour with “The Ridley Method,” the piano man may want to think twice about promoting outlier results.

The FTC also states that marketers should not advertise products or services as “free” unless all of the terms, conditions and obligations appear in close conjunction with the offer. Strike two for Ridley.

And the FTC cautions against using deceptive marketing designs (aka dark patterns) to create a false sense of urgency to hasten a purchasing decision. What qualifies as a false sense of urgency? According to the agency:

Creating pressure to buy immediately by saying the offer is good only for a limited time or that the deal ends soon – but without a deadline or with a meaningless deadline that just resets when reached.

In other words, exactly what we found Ridley doing with his “60 minute mega deal.” was alerted to this issue by Boston NPR affiliate WBUR, which recently did a two-part piece on Ridley in which’s legal director was interviewed. reached out to Ridley from comment. Check back for updates.

Find more of our coverage on “free” claims here.

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