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Music Education Can Help Solve America's Gun Violence Crisis

[This editorial contains discussion of violence, suicide, and mental illness]

Mass shooting are, on average, a daily occurrence in America. I don't believe there is any simple solution to this crisis, but I do believe that music, and music education have a role to play in moving our society to a more peaceful, loving future where such horrible acts of violence are less and less common.

I was violent, emotionally unstable, and self destructive through much of my childhood. I came close to suicide a number of times. While I won't discount the incredible support structure that I was lucky enough to have through family and friends, my love and study of music was the single most powerful force lifting me through the darkness of rage and despair that so often overcame my psyche. I don't know for sure that I would have killed myself, or grown into a violent, unstable adult without music in my life, but I am certain my life would have been immeasurably harder. And years in the music scene have introduced me to many artists and fans who have similar histories.

I don't mean to imply that music is some sort of magical cure to treat mental illness, or prevent violent behavior. There are certainly well known examples of musicians who struggle with mental illness, or who have committed violence against themselves or others. The causes of mental illness and violence are complex and varied, and I doubt there will ever be a single solution to address them all. But my life, and the lives of countless other musicians and music lovers are a testament to the power that music has to bring people together and heal wounded souls. And there is a substantial body of evidence that music, and music education have measurable positive impacts on developing minds.

A few years ago CNN profiled a class at an early childhood school in Atlanta that uses a curriculum developed by The Music Class, to incorporate music into young children's eduction:

There is much research to show that music can improve academic performance. But what about behavior? Kindergarten teacher Shelvia Ivey sees the effects every day in her classroom.

"It's fun to see the shy ones blossom and music is a way for them to do that," Ivey said. For "some of the more aggressive children who have a hard time controlling their instincts, it's a time for them to express themselves, too and it's easier for them to control their instincts. And they're allowed to be expressive, and be unique."

Primrose Vice President Mary Zurn says the point of The Music Class is to help kids with their social and emotional development, which can lead to better self-control and better behavior.

"When you get children hooked on music early on in their lives, you're giving them an avenue that gives them something that says I'm good at this,” says Zurn. "The children who end up being bullies don't have that sense of that self-esteem."

The Music Class' Rob Sayer's says that's why folks don't usually think of musicians and artists as bullies. "One is not dominant over the other," Sayer says. "We learn to work together. We learn to listen. We learn to exchange with each other. … That's part of what it means to be a musician and not a bully."

The following summary of evidence supporting the practical value of music education from the Music Empowers Foundation details some of the broader, longer term benefits:

A Columbia University study revealed that students in the arts are found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident and better able to express their ideas. As a result, researchers have found a reduction in aggressive and anti-social behavior as well as an increase in pro-social behavior (Bastian, 2000). Similarly, a study by Shields (2001) using music education in a mentoring program found a significant positive increase in self-perception derived from musical competence and a correlation between musical competence and global self-worth. Students felt free to be themselves and gained confidence from the experience. Finally, students who participate in school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs among any group in our society. Importantly, these positive behavioral effects steadily increase and persist over time.

Music education emphasizes cooperation, and brings a sense of accomplishment that doesn't depend on superiority over others. These are vital lessons in the development of a healthy and compassionate human mind. Students of music are less aggressive, less anti-social, less prone to drug and alcohol addiction, and have a greater sense of self-worth. And so I believe that music education is an essential part of creating a less violent, more peaceful society. It's a terrible tragedy that shrinking budgets, and the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act have severely restricted, and in many cases outright destroyed music and art education programs across America. In my view, it's the responsibility of every musician, DJ, and music lover to get involved in fighting to preserve and expand music education - because we are living proof of the positive impact that music can have on human lives. Skrillex and Diplo did, you should too.

Here's a list of organizations working to support music education:







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