Sweetwater Academy a Hub of Music Education

The local universities are making Fort Wayne a hub for music education, but even before music drew students to its college programs, Sweetwater Sound has been putting the city on the map with a vast warehouse of musical instruments as well as events like Gear Fest and the Sweetwater Academy of Music & Technology. Now in its 10th year, the Academy not only hosts nearly 700 students and a faculty of 33 talented local musicians, but has made it possible for many professionals in the area’s musical community to find employment in their chosen field.

It’s never too early or too late to start learning to play a musical instrument. Bob Bailey, executive director of Sweetwater Academy, said its faculty teaches a large array of instruments — guitars to drums, piano to bass, banjo to ukulele, dulcimer to mandolin — to students ranging from three-years-old to 80-plus. And beyond the teaching of instruments, Bailey said the academy’s music technology program opens up possibilities for a variety of talents and abilities.

“There hasn’t been enough emphasis on our ability to teach music technology,” said Bailey. “We can teach our students how to fine tune their stage presence and how to sing or how to play an instrument, but our instructors can also help our students understand the technology and software to help them make music.”

The Sweetwater complex continues to grow, and the academy recently added nine additional rooms and more instructors to meet its growing demand. While some who come to Sweetwater are anxious to learn an instrument for their own enjoyment, there are also those who come with a serious desire to not only hone a craft but also to experience something bigger. The annual Rock Camp, a series of one-week camp experiences for kids 12-18, allows campers to experience being part of a band.

“There are six camps throughout the summer. Each week, we put together a combo of instruments to form five bands, and kids go from not knowing anybody on Monday to being divided into bands based on their skill level and musical tastes. They choose a band name, and then they work on two covers and write one original song,” said Bailey.

The camp also includes a series of breakout sessions which teach the campers everything from social media marketing to how to be a working musician on the road. Time is spent showing them the production side of recording and how to perform on stage. By Friday, the bands perform their three songs for an audience and have a CD and video to show for their efforts. It’s a crash course, but one which has resulted in a lot of promise for young musicians. With approximately 30 players in each camp, nearly 200 budding rock stars emerge each summer. But it isn’t only young talent that emerges from Sweetwater Academy.

“We also offer recording workshops and private lessons,” said Bailey. “Right now we don’t do as many private lessons as we’d like, but there’s a lot of blue sky with room for growth and advancement. We also teach the use of professional tools and digital audio programs, showing how to approach and use the programs. There are a variety of mixing techniques and setting of performance systems. We teach all of that.”

Sweetwater Academy does not rely on a set curriculum but rather works with each musician’s ability to learn and progress.

“A lot of our competitors use a set curriculum, but we don’t,” said Bailey. “We want to keep the student engaged, so if there’s a way that they want to be taught, then that is how we’re going to teach them. We need to do whatever it is that is going to keep them inspired. We connect with the students through whatever type of music they like. We believe the questions and understanding will come organically, and once they start asking questions, we have them.”

“I’m proud of our staff of 33 amazing instructors who are dedicated musicians and who want to grow new musicians. If I can help even one person get what I’ve gotten out of music, I’ll have been successful.”

The Beat

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