Why learning to play music helps kids learn everything else better


STANFORD THOMPSON, Founder, Play On, Philly!:
I grew up in a musical household in Atlanta. And I have seven siblings. We all played music. My parents are both retired music educators. And we always had a rule in our house that
you only ate on the days that you practiced. They taught me and my siblings growing up
that we would have opportunities that they didn’t. And if we took advantage of them, then we
could see ourselves on a path to become a professional musician. I was able to study with musicians with the
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and worked really hard to earn a spot at the Curtis Institute
of Music in Philadelphia. I was able to play the staples of the orchestral
and chamber music repertoire with world-renowned conductors and musicians just about every
week. I went back to Philadelphia in 2010 and founded
“lay On, Philly!, which now serves over 300 students every day after school for three
hours. We work in under-resourced neighborhoods,
mainly in West Philadelphia. And each student is able to access our program
tuition-free, and able to get access to get high-quality instruments and teachers on a
daily basis. It might sound like that our aim is for these
kids to become professional musicians. We really care most about them becoming really
great people. Our kids are still performing a letter grade
ahead in every academic subject. And we know it’s because we teach them to
expand their memory, to control inhibition, to help them lengthen the amount of time that
they can focus on something. These are skills that they learn the moment
they begin to make music. Take a violinist. They have to figure on their left hand where
to put their finger to create a certain pitch. Their right hand, of course, will then control
how long they’re able to hold that note. They also have to look at the music and determine
which note they are supposed to play, how loud, how fast or how slow. When you stimulate the brain like that for
hours every single day, then that’s what helps to turn the clock on some of the damage that
is done because of the amount of stress they live with and, of course, brain development. That’s really important, especially for younger
kids, to make sure that they can go back into a classroom, focus for a longer period of
time, be able to memorize the information, so they can go home and do the homework, and
then recall it later at the end of the year on a standardized test. We all have the responsibility of providing
the best instruments to the poorest kids, that we provide the best teachers to the most
marginalized kids, and that we continue to provide the best musical opportunities for
the most vulnerable kids. My name is Stanford Thompson. And this is my Brief But Spectacular take
on how music can create harmony and opportunity.

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