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Sweetwater brings its expertise to its own Academy of Music

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-08-18


As millions of customers all over the world can attest, the people at Sweetwater aren’t just music equipment retailers, they’re experts at the stuff. They know the gear, they know how it works, and they know how to use it.

So for the Fort Wayne-based company to expand into the realm of music instruction seems like a natural fit.

The Sweetwater Academy of Music is now offering one-on-one private lessons in keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and other percussion at the company’s campus on US Highway 30.

The facility features a number of private rooms dedicated to the particular instrument, with keyboards, amplifiers, drums/percussion included. Each room also has a drum machine and a CD recorder so the students can take home a recording of the session.

Program director Keith Pautler says that though the Sweetwater Academy of Music is still a work in progress, a lot of thought went into creating the program, its philosophy and how they wanted it to grow. “We had an idea of where we wanted to be in five years,” he says. “Now, what do we need to get us to that point?”

They started with trying to find the best instructors, and looked for a certain level of professionalism and expertise. “There are a million guys out there that teach guitar, but there aren’t a million guys that can teach guitar and do what we need for them to do here,” says Pautler, who was assistant principal at Bishop Luers and a band director for a school outside Muncie before coming to Sweetwater. “We’ve built a staff of really fantastic educators. People with music degrees, guys with touring experience…”

“To effectively teach, you’re really going to have to specialize in something,” he adds. “For instance, I have instructors here who only want to teach beginners. They’re comfortable with beginners, and they’re really good. They’ve got a method they use to get kids up and running and they feel comfortable passing them on to the next person.”

That specialization Pautler is looking for isn’t limited to teaching methods; they also looked for musicians who might specialize in a certain style of music. If you want to learn how to play, for example, jazz drums, you’re not going to be set up with the speed metal guy.

It’s a philosophy that Pautler says the students seem to respond to. In addition to the fledgling musicians just starting on their first instrument, they’ve seen a lot of more experienced players come in. “We see guitar players and drummers saying ‘I’ve played in a band for years, but this other group approached me about playing with them and it’s in a style I’m not comfortable with. Can you help get me out?’”

I asked Pautler what makes the Sweetwater Academy of Music uniquely Sweetwater. “When I first took the job, my answer would have been completely different,” he says. “I would have told you it’s the technology. But now I’ve come to realize that the real difference is that you can come out here and feel like you’re at home. For a parent who is dropping off a student for a lesson, for them to be able to come out here, have their child come up stairs and have a lesson, and still get work done, use all the amenities like the coffee bar and the wi-fi, it makes it comfortable place to be. We’re trying to build a musician’s hang out, a learning community, a place where you can go and talk to other musicians and not feel you’re in the way.”

Of course, Sweetwater made its name in music technology. Though right now, the focus of the Sweetwater Academy of Music is on one-on-one private lessons on guitars, keyboards, etc. Pautler says plans are already underway to expand what the facility offers, including instruction in ensemble work. “We’re also going to offer more technology-based instruction, meaning live sound reinforcement, lessons on how to really use recording equipment and other technology,” he explains. “Knowing how to really use this equipment, how to really use a digital recording workstation or computer-based recording tools, it’s going to make you a better musician.”

For more information on The Sweetwater Academy of Music, call (260) 432-8176 or visit www.sweetwater.com/academy.

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