It’s just a small building with large black and white silhouette of musical symbols dancing in its windows and it sits at the west end of a strip of other Black-owned businesses that face Parallel Parkway near 65th in Kansas City, Kansas. But on Monday and Tuesday evenings, the inside of Key Impact Studios becomes a lively atmosphere with experienced music instructors tending to their attentive students.
In January 2017, Key Impact Studios celebrated its 25th year, and its founder Steven Scott says his inspiration came from his love of playing Gospel Music in Kansas City, KS churches. At age 10, he started playing for the youth and mass choir at Bethel Baptist Church, 2415 N. Sherman. The Wyandotte High School graduate attended UMKC for three years, and transferred to Wichita State where he graduated with dual degrees in Electrical Engineering and Music in 1991.
“I went to college and nobody could give me the information for what I want to do. They would teach me how to play the normal system of music, but no one could ever tell me how to play how I wanted to play,” Mr. Scott said.
After college, Scott went to work as an engineer with a top company but was unhappy. One day he left his job, took the music program that he had been developing and started Key Impact Studios.
“The first month I had 40 students. The next month I had 75, the next month I had over 100 students,” he said.
Scott says that his while Key Impact provides instruction in all genres of music, his method is geared towards developing church musicians. Scott says that most piano teachers will teach you chords, but not how to use them.
In addition, there’s more than one kind of Gospel Music to teach. While Traditional Gospel Music is based on the Blues, Contemporary Gospel Music, is a form of Jazz.
“Gospel applies to words, not the music,” says Scott.
When Edwin and Wlter Hawkins and Andre Crouch first started the Gospel Music trend, it was rather shocking to traditionalist,” says Scott. “That must be the devil’s music” some said. Then others questioned, “What are those chords?”
Key Impact’s gospel music instruction involves focuses in on those differing chord structures.
In 25 years, Mr. Scott estimates that he’s taught over 1,000 students. Some, like Jason Betts, have become professional musicians. Betts has played for Ginuwine, Tyrese, and Charlie Wilson. Others, like Caleb McComb, 31, have taken Scott’s method of instruction and begun to teach students of their own. Today, McComb lives in Columbia MO, works full-time at the post office, and teaches some 45 students during off hours.
McComb, who is planning to open his own studio in 2020, vividly remembers being a 13-year-old at Key Impact when he couldn’t read music very well. He gives Scott credit for helping him become the musician he is today.
“I was hardheaded. I was a thug and he could tell I didn’t like nobody telling me what to do. He figured that right off the jump and his approach to me was aggressive,” McComb said.
Scott is no longer the sole teacher at Key Impact. In 2004, Key Impact branched out to include instructors for drums, violin, and voice. A week before Christmas, as students were preparing to present at the Annual Winter Music Showcase, violin instructor Tina Bilberry, explained what was special about Key Impact’s teaching.
“[We provide] down-home teaching, and stuff your grandparents would like, including a foundation from the word of God. I’ve always encouraged our students from the word, ‘I can do all things thru Christ which strengthens me.’” Bilberry said.
Schyler Turner, 10th grade student at First Baptist Church of Quindaro started taking violin lessons at Key Impact four yours ago. She successful auditioned as a principle with the Youth Symphony last fall and talks optimistically about performing in concerts and wanting to be a neurosurgeon one day. She says Key Impact and her violin teacher have been very supportive.
Cierra Fennell, 17, of Johnson County takes both violin and voice instruction. The outgoing student who sung Santa Claus Is Coming to Town at the winter recital says, she gets to see a little bit of everything at Key Impact.
“I get to learn about my culture more,” Fennell said. “I’m from Johnson County, which I guess is not a predominately minority area. I get to learn more Gospel music here, than I do in my choir which is more Catholic Church music.”
Malik Jenkins, Sumner Academy 10th grade, is a piano student who has started to play for his church, Stranger’s Rest Baptist Church.
“I like the warmth at Key Impact and the fact that you know that you’re going to learn something different every time you come in.” he said.
McComb, who also plays Gospel and is minister of music at two churches enthusiastically describes Scott as amazing, spectacular and the real deal.
“He took the understanding of music in general to a whole other level.”
Scott says that while Key Impact biggest challenge has been in adapting to the Internet and the online sales of musical equipment, he remains focused and most proud of what he says is his business’s biggest highlight.
“My main highlight is that I’ve taught over 1,000 students how to play professionally and how to make money and a living for their families. They are all out there and they are doing it on a regular basis. That is my highlight that nobody can ever touch,” he said.
Key Impact is celebrating its 25th year of providing musical instruction to Kansas and Missouri students. More information about private and group lessons can be found at: http://keyimpactstudios.com/. If you are a former student, Mr. Scott invites you to leave a short testimonial message or video here: https://www.facebook.com/keyimpactstudios/