A growing body of evidence is showing that music education is among the most powerful pathways to higher brain development. Decades of experience also prove it an effective way to tackle social inequity.
In disadvantaged communities throughout the world, from Southern barrios to Northern inner cities, children and teens are learning to play stringed instruments together in youth orchestras. This keeps them off the streets, out of gangs, and on track with school.
Spawned by the El Sistema movement that was developed in Venezuela in the 1970s, a growing number of afterschool programs provide free musical education to at-risk youth. Over one hundred of these are in the USA and over 400 El Sistema-based programs worldwide serve close to one million child musicians.
Several studies show that children playing music, especially together and on fretless stringed instruments, enjoy higher brain development. Math and test scores go up, communication improves, and violent behavior decreases. These findings have been applied in pedagogically progressive schools for several decades.
These free music programs are both demanding and rewarding. They require that participants maintain good academic standing and stay out of trouble. They provide joy, structure, self-confidence and a sense of security in otherwise threatening and bleak environments. They also can offer valuable options and alternatives to a life of violence and crime.