Columbia Arts Academy
As kids, we often dream to be the members of our favorite bands, playing the air guitar or drumming on any hard surface we can find. And let’s be honest, many of us do this into adulthood. The Columbia Arts Academy can take you from the air guitar and table drums to playing real instruments.
By Kristin Scott Photographs by Kate Bowie
The Columbia Arts Academy is the largest music school in the state of South Carolina and musician co-owners Jay Matheson and Marty Fort are celebrating its 15th year in business. Their two locations serve approximately 1,300 students in Lexington and Columbia with another opening soon in Irmo. “It’s a natural fit with what we do with our network of teachers and students already in play,” says Fort. The school even added eight new teachers recently to accommodate the growing student body. Three of those teachers are former students, bringing the life of the school full circle.
Students at the school can choose from piano, guitar, drums, voice, bass, banjo, mandolin and ukulele lessons. Genres taught include rock, pop, jazz, country, blues and classical. Students range in age from 4 years to adults, encompassing people from every stage of life who show an interest in learning an instrument. Classes are available seven days a week.
Not only does the Columbia Arts Academy have the largest selection of instruments, but each room is equipped with LED monitors to provide the latest technology in lessons. Imagine having a singing lesson with lyrics scrolling effortlessly in front of you or playing a song without having to quickly flip the pages to read the next notes.
The layout of both locations is also very family friendly. Each room is soundproofed with windows on the doors, allowing each student to focus on his or her own music while allowing parents and siblings to watch. There is a comfortable lounge for waiting, and even a play area for the younger children. Fort emphasizes, “This is not about having a school full of rock stars. This is about serving families.”
Not only can parents watch lessons, but there are opportunities for recitals, free recitals, and showcases. Students have opportunities to perform at the Rosewood Crawfish Festival or the Jam Room Music Festival each year.
In addition to being able to perform in public, students are awarded colored wristbands, trophies and certificates based on their progression. The Musical Ladder wristband program motivates students to practice more and is only available at the Columbia Arts Academy.
Additional benefits include a discount card for supplies, picture day and make-up days, which both parents and students love. Students can make up missed 30-minute private lessons with a one-hour group lesson. “It’s a really cool part of their education as well. Not only do they get to have the private education time with the teacher, but they are getting exposure to others and they really need both,” says Fort. The teachers know how to help kids focus on their lessons. For instance, the drum rooms are equipped with electronic drums, allowing the sound to be turned down or off to encourage focus and concentration.
These lessons wouldn’t be worth much without experienced teachers. That’s why the Columbia Arts Academy’s 70+ instructors have college training or professional performance experience, if not both. This combined with warm, friendly personalities make for the best learning experience possible.
When speaking to former guitar student Kate Bowie, she only had positive things to say about the school. She learned to play and read tabs and music, pentatonic scales, soloing, and a wide array of techniques and playing styles. She also learned basics such as guitar maintenance, amps and pedals, whammy bars, and slides. She now writes her own music. Bowie credits her musical abilities to the support and encouragement of excellent teachers.
Bowie also had the opportunity to record and film an original song in the Jam Room and was featured in a "Jam Room Session" sponsored by Time Warner Cable. “I'd recommend them to anyone, but especially to any young girl who's looking for empowerment ... and a place to rock,” says Bowie.
Stop by the Arts Academy for a tour. The staff will give you a free copy of Fort’s book, The Ultimate Guide to Music Lessons, which has been an Amazon best seller two times over. It’s also been in the top 100 in the Music Appreciation category three times. The book serves as a guide to help parents and students navigate the beginnings of music lessons.