Music Education as a Path to Positive Youth Development: An El Sistema-Inspired Program

The El Sistema music education philosophy links positive individual and social development through musical education. This study is a longitudinal examination of the impact of participation in an El Sistemainspired program, the Miami Music Project, on positive youth development. We hypothesized that over the course of a school year, participation in ensemble-based after-school music programming would significantly enhance factors associated with positive youth development. Specifically, we evaluated social emotional constructs aligned with the 5 Cs of Positive Youth Development: Competence, Confidence, Caring, Character, and Connection. Results revealed that participants showed significant increases across all 5 Cs over the course of the year. Additionally, findings showed that Miami Music Project students showed greater enhancements over time in Character, Competence and Caring when compared to a group of youth who did not participate in music education. This study presents empirical documentation of the numerous meaningful social and emotional enhancements that participation in an El Sistemainspired program is engendering among youth. In this type of rigorous orchestral model of musical instruction, youth seem to acquire not only cognitive benefits but also a host of social and emotional
enhancements, ostensibly from learning in an environment that requires disciplined social cohesion.

These findings provide insight into the holistic approach foundational to the El Sistema philosophy and adds to our overall understanding of musical instruction in important ways.

There is growing empirical evidence that youth who receive music education demonstrate lower rates of substance use, greater academic performance, enhanced executive functioning, and improved conduct (e.g., Devroop, 2012; Hallam, 2010; Sachs, Kaplan, Der Sarkissian, & Habibi, 2017). Music education, particularly when ensemble-based, appears to engage a range of
positive youth development (PYD) skills, and (a) leads to self-awareness, (b) fosters selfexpression through creating music, (c) strengthens self-regulation through learning to read and play music, and (d) promotes social awareness and collaboration through ensemble performance (Edgar, 2013; Pellitteri, 2006). Despite the foregoing, empirical investigations of ensemble-based music education impacts on positive youth development constructs are scant (Hospital et al., 2015).

The primary objective of this study was to determine if involvement in an ensemble-based after-school music program leads to enhanced positive youth development. Specifically, we valuated whether or not program participation impacted the five Cs of positive youth development: competence, confidence, caring, character, and connection (Lerner, 2004; Lerner, Lerner, Urban, & Zaff, 2016).

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