Coletrain Music Academy will ring in 2021 with a raft of big changes to its music education services, including a new series of virtual lessons and two new full-time teachers at the school in Buena Vista’s South Main.

“During COVID, we were forced to do 21 weeks of online learning for our group class. We launched these on Facebook Live and made them free,” said Coletrain founder Coleman Smith. “To keep them concise, yet valuable, I transcribed my version of a beginning to intermediate bluegrass, old-time, swing or gypsy tune, and then I taught that song, on three instruments in one hour.

“I did this 21 weeks in a row and served hundreds of people from the United States, Europe and India. Teaching three instruments in 60 minutes was quite a challenge for me, though very rewarding, to say the least,” he said.

Beginning this month for students and next month for everyone else, Coletrain will roll out a series of e-lessons born out of the virtual group lesson experience.

“I’m currently in the process of re-recording each lesson on its proprietary instrument,” Smith said. “We’re recording with multiple camera angles, professional-quality sound, and each lesson features a play-along backing track. So it is a more in-depth look at every song we covered this year through our online learning platform, only re-recorded, digitally mastered and paired with professional video camera angles.”

The first series of CMA e-courses offers 63 videos, available to purchase as single downloads or in three-song blocks for a slightly reduced price.

“Once we’ve gone over the theory of the song, the scale, the chords, and we’ve worked through the entire melody phrase by phrase, the lesson ends with a play-along backing track,” Smith said. “For the backing track, I record and play two guitars, bass, mandolin, and violin. This allows the student to apply the knowledge learned in the video and gain real-world experience jamming with a full ensemble sound at a manageable tempo.”

E-lessons are free for currently enrolled CMA students as a tool to maximize their learning potential. Students are encouraged to reflect on what they’ve learned during their private lessons and utilize the play-along backing track at the end of the lesson to hone their skill sets, learning what it’s like to play in a band scenario.

For students that aren’t able to commit to a weekly scheduled lesson, these e-courses are a perfect opportunity to learn music at their own pace. Because Smith has transcribed each song on multiple instruments, the lessons are perfect for budding multi-instrumentalists.

“We are really excited to not only offer our current students another tool for learning but we also now have the ability to offer CMA curriculum to my networks throughout the U.S, Europe and India.”

Over the past decade, Smith has performed and taught at Europe’s largest bluegrass festival with his band Rapidgrass and recently began touring with The Bluegrass Journeymen in India, where he also performs and teaches.

Online teaching is not new to CMA. Smith has been using online platforms to reach students around the world for several years, which made it seamless when they were forced to introduce their Chaffee County student’s to this online way of learning when COVID-19 guidelines enforced the stay-at-home order.

“While the pandemic has certainly had its challenges on my performance career, there have been many silver linings, these new e-lessons being one of these,” he said. While his performance schedule was made infinitely lighter this past year by the pandemic, he has certainly made great use of this downtime. Having this unforeseen time allowed the space to create these online courses he’s wanted to launch for quite some time.

“I have a completely full teaching schedule Monday through Friday and I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s not lost on me that having the opportunity to do what I love, day in and day out is the ultimate gift,” said Smith.

Still, he’s just one guy and currently has students on a waitlist. To help reach more students on a local level, CMA has brought in two new instructors: Violin and viola teacher Adeline Brown and piano, keyboard and composition teacher Zachary Baird.

Brown, who has been playing since she was 3 and is classically trained in the Suzuki Method, began taking lessons at Coletrain Music Academy 3 years ago.

“There wasn’t anything I could show this young lady classically because of her musical prowess, so Adeline and I have been working on folk styles. Everything from bluegrass, fiddle, old-time, swing and gypsy music. We’ve been getting deeper into the art of improvisation,” Smith said.

Brown, a former math and science teacher, has also been CMA’s substitute teacher of choice when performance would take Smith away from the school.

“Adeline has been there since day one to fill that gap,” Smith said. “We’ve just gotten nothing but rave review after rave review from the students that have worked with her, so it made perfect sense to bring her on as a full-time instructor.”

Answering an influx of inquiries about piano lessons, CMA has also tapped a recent COVID transplant to Buena Vista.

Baird, who attended the University of North Texas and Berklee College of Music in Boston, is a keyboardist, but he is also a composer, a producer and works extensively with electronic music. He comes with a broad background of experience and diverse music education.

“Zac has had quite an incredible career in performance,” Smith said. “He has worked with Evanescence, Everlast, Adam Lambert, Pink, Korn, Ghost, Jay-Z, Beyoncé and the Chainsmokers, not to mention Edie Brickell, the Cure and Lizzo. He’s made TV appearances on every popular morning show and late-night talk show you can think of,” Smith said. “We are thrilled Zac will now be teaching and bringing his versatile, real-world approach to our students at Coletrain Music Academy.”

To help with COVID social distancing limitations, Smith said the school will be partnering with the Surf Hotel.

“Their extended patronage of the arts shows no bounds,” Smith said. “We have worked out an agreement to utilize some of their meeting room space to allow for expanded teaching times.”

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