Music as a Critical Tool for Youth Development

I still remember the scene vividly, even though it was almost 10 years ago. I popped in on Elliot, Neutral Zone’s Studio Manager, while he was mentoring a teen in sound engineering. He was explaining how the studio wasn’t shaped in a perfect square otherwise the sound waves would bounce back and forth between the front and back walls, diminishing the quality of the jam at RYSErecording. After the teen left the studio I said “Elliot, that’s incredible! You were teaching that teen physics through sound recording, and he enjoyed it.” He said “yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Not only is music an amazing tool for academic and cognitive development – as research has validated, but it’s a proven vehicle to support teens’ other areas of development — social, emotional, and psychological. Chip Wood, the developmentally focused educator who wrote the classic Yardsticks (a reference book that helps teachers use child development to shape classrooms and schools) identifies music as an important developmental interest as youth transition to adolescence.

Teens use music to support healthy psychological and emotional development. Teens listen to a great deal of music, in some myles djstudies as much as three hours a day. Music can be seen as a source of support – regulating their mood or helping them deal with feelings of boredom or loneliness. But deeper than listening to music, when youth engage in making, producing or curating music it provides powerful ways to help them shape their social identity. When a teen creates a rap, produces a beat or writes a song it allows them to take their own ideas and shape it into something that helps represent their feelings, thoughts or beliefs.   It provides them the opportunity to reflect on their place in the world and to act on their interests, talents and abilities.

Furthermore when teens have opportunities to perform or create musical products (like CDs , mixed tapes or soundcloud sites) it builds confidence, competence and fulfills their need for positive social interaction. These experiences can provide even higher order development when  youth market, manage and promote their events and products.   At Neutral Zone we are proud to host one of the first youth-led record labels and recording studios in the country.   We also have our 400 person teen-run performance venue, the B-Side. When teens “run the show” it provides invaluable practice developing 21st century skills. They learn to plan, to think critically, communicate, problem-solve and be reflective.

youth revolt

Compilation CD by MYDA teens – Click me to Listen

Neutral Zone is privileged to be part of a new movement (the Music and Youth Development Alliance – MYDA), supported by the ELMA Music Foundation that recognizes that music is a critical support in young people’s development. We are fortunate to pioneer this work with an incredible group of other youth and music programs leaders around the country that include RYSE (Richmond CA), A Place Called Home (Los Angeles, CA), The Door (New York) and Youth Uprising (Oakland, CA). Our mission is to develop self-actualized youth across the United States by facilitating collaboration between community-based organizations that are empowering young people through high quality music programs rooted in youth development, social justice, and community leadership.

The dream is for every young person to experience the power of music, through high quality programs like those provided across MYDA groups, to influence their healthy development. Through music we will not only tap youth passions and interests, we will also be providing them one of the most powerful paths to positive youth development. It might get loud, but don’t cover your ears!

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