Columbia Arts Academy Reaches 20,000 Students With Musical Ladder System

Sponsored By: Lexington School of Music & Columbia Arts Academy

Sponsored by: Lexington School of Music and Columbia Arts Academy

The easy part of developing a new skill is signing up. The tough part comes in staying motivated and sticking with it. The same can be said for music lessons. Enrolling a child is just the first step.

To keep them motivated and enthusiastic, Columbia entrepreneur and business owner Marty Fort has created the Musical Ladder System, a tiered rewards program for children and teenagers. As students pass musical tests and levels, they are rewarded with multicolored wristbands, trophies and certificates.

Fort created the program originally for use in his own music schools, Columbia Arts Academy and the Lexington Music School. He’d been thinking about how he might expand his system into other music schools. Then a chance meeting with entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” TV star Mark Cuban at a business conference in Nashville prompted Fort to think bigger with his invention.

Cuban suggested he patent his idea and license it. Fort ran with that advice and now the trademarked system is being used in 83 schools across the United States, Canada and Australia. He has a patent pending on the Musical Ladder System.

One of the unique aspects of the program is it can be customized to each individual student. It’s not based on a set curriculum, so music teachers can administer a test and hand out a reward at any point based on a student’s needs and skill level. It might be a test on a particular song or whether a student has mastered his scales on the piano – whatever the instructor deems appropriate. Then students receive colorful wristbands with titles like “apprentice,” “song bird,” “rock star” and “master” as they move up through the levels.

“Every student is different and unique,” Fort says. “The reason it works is that it’s individualized to every student, and the teacher can make the test whatever it needs to be.”

Fort’s endeavor and the Musical Ladder System have been highlighted in Columbia-area media outlets, and the Columbia and Lexington music schools are regularly rated as the best for local music education.

The schools are the only ones in the area offering such a wide variety of instruments, including piano, electric and acoustic guitar, drum set, bass, mandolin, banjo and ukulele, as well as voice and singing lessons. And, there are year-round rock band classes highlighted in an annual rock band showcase.

Columbia Arts Academy, along with the Lexington School of Music division, is the largest music school in South Carolina with more than 1,200 students. Lessons are open to students ages 4 and up, including adults.

To learn more about the Musical Ladder System or to sign up for lessons at Columbia Arts Academy, visit or call (803) 787-0931. For students interested in the Lexington School of Music, visit or call (803) 996-0623.