San Jose Jazz: Making kids smarter through music


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By Joe Rodriguez

“I liked the way the trombone sounded," said Ayoko, who is now 12. His friend Jaime, 11, had hoped for a saxophone but settled for a clarinet. “They said it was free, so why not?"

The musical notes that day in Santee Elementary School's echo-prone, combined cafeteria and auditorium penetrated deep enough to capture the interest of the two boys at the high-poverty school, and dozens more students like them at the forefront of a revival in music education. The jazz group's Progressions program aims to remove schoolchildren from poverty's snares through music.

It has long been suspected that music instruction helps students learn other subjects. Plato said as much 24 centuries ago, but a stream of new research bears out the Greek philosopher and them some. Music may even close the academic gap between rich and poor students.

“My grades are better than ever," said Jaime, who has become a straight-A student.

Still, one kid's success doesn't prove a theory.

“People were always asking us, 'How do you know it works?' “ said Brendan Rawson, executive director of San Jose Jazz. Best known for its summer jazz festival, the nonprofit has quietly pumped $250,000 into the “Progressions" music program at Santee and two other schools in the Franklin-McKinley School District.

As if on cue, a recent study of a similar music program in Los Angeles shows that music training changes the brain in ways that make it easier for youngsters to process sounds. That increased ability improves their attention and memory and skills in such subjects as reading and speech, according to Northwestern University's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. The researchers spent two years following 44, low-income students in the Harmony Project, which was a model for Progressions. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience in September.

“That's us!" Rawson said. “That was very cool."

Rather than give students instruments right way, Progressions follows the so-called Koday Method to give very young students a musical foundation.

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