Doing Good — Music Will

Musopia is working with several non-profit organizations that are doing fantastic work in spreading the joy of music. One of them is Music Will, which runs the largest nonprofit music program in the US public school system and has gained a lot of visibility by working with major musicians like Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams, and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.

The teachers of Music Will currently serve over 500,000 students in more than 600 cities and towns across the country. That means the impact of the organization is huge, and Musopia is honored to be part of the program.

We had a chance to discuss music education with Scott Burstein, who is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Music Will, formerly known as Little Kids Rock. Scott is in charge of all the music content, curriculum and training.

But now, let’s dive deeper into Music Will and what it is all about.

What is the cause behind the organization, and how was Music Will born?

The organization was started back in 2002, but before then, our founder and Chief Visionary Officer, Dave Wish, was an elementary school teacher who passed his love of music on to his students. There were no music classes for the kids in his school, so he started a lunchtime guitar class that grew quickly, and the kids loved it. He focused on teaching how he was taught: finding songs they knew and loved and letting them use those to build their skills and repertoire. Eventually, the program grew so much that he decided to start the organization. To this day, we focus on student-driven music, finding ways to unlock their inner-music makers.  

Is there a story related to the name of the organization?

The name was originally Little Kids Rock because that was the name of his guitar club, but as the organization grew, we outgrew the name; we no longer focused on Little Kids nor on rock music. Now, we reach K-12 students as well as higher education, and our musical focus is all popular kinds of music.  

Do you have any examples of what your organization has achieved?

We currently work with around 3,000 public school teachers in the US and have impacted over a million students in the last 20 years. These teachers use our methods and curriculum in their school day to teach students the music they know and love.  

How has it changed your life working for the organization?

I started as a music teacher back in 1998 and was doing a variety of things: marching band, jazz band, Music Theory, Concert Band, Mariachi ensemble, as well as a guitar class. Back then, in my district (the 2nd largest in the US), there were very few teachers doing guitar or any form of popular music. When I was trained by the org in 2004, it gave new life to my teaching, including a ton of instruments and validation for my work to that point. By the time I left teaching in 2012 to work for the organization full-time, we were in over 100 schools in Los Angeles.  Since then, I have shifted from working directly with students to now getting to plan and develop resources for thousands of teachers to work on with their students all over.  

We work with around 3,000 public school teachers in the US and have provided access to music for over a million students in the last 20 years.

How have you collaborated with Musopia?

I think I was first introduced to Musopia at the NAMM show sometime around 2014, and I immediately saw its direct link to what we were doing. They gave us hundreds of codes for our teachers to use for free, and it was a huge hit! I remember a year or so after introducing it to our network, one of the most exciting things was when I visited a couple of classes around the country and saw the teachers using it with their students.  It was near the end of class, and the teacher said, “Ok, great job today. Do we want to use FourChords?” and the kids all got excited. A student would pick a song they loved, and the teacher would stream it on their smartboard and the entire class would play and sing the song. It was really amazing; we were watching ‘sight reading’, students making musical choices, fully engaged, and able to participate at multiple levels. I was sold.  

What kind of dreams and goals do you have regarding the organisation’s future?

I hope that there is a point where every student can make music the way they love, use it to further their happiness and education and use it as a driver for their success.  

A student would pick a song they loved, and the teacher would stream it on their smartboard and the entire class would play and sing the song. It was really amazing; I was sold.

Why do you think people are so attached to music?

Music has the ability to connect everyone, set the scene and mood, and express our feelings if we let it.

Can kids benefit from immersing themselves in music early on?   

Absolutely, which is why we believe in getting them involved as soon as they start having music touch their lives. 

You have an extensive list of featured well-known artists and artists that support your mission; how do you get in contact with them initially?

We have artist relations experts on staff, but it started more with our founder just networking and watching that network expand.

In what ways can artists help you out?

They help in many different ways, from donating money and equipment, performing at our benefits or with students, and visiting classrooms, but often the most impactful way is just talking about us to their fanbases.  

Music has the ability to connect everyone, set the scene and mood, and express our feelings if we let it.

How does the school get to start the collaboration with Music Will?”

It can happen in a few ways. Primarily, we get donations for specific markets, and then we go to that market to talk with music supervisors and get them excited about what we do. Occasionally, teachers in a market will tell their district to get involved with us, and they will try to find money to bring our training to their schools. 

Do you have examples of kids who have benefitted from your program?

Too numerous to count. My dissertation is actually specifically about a group of students I had in my class and how the program benefited their lives 10 years later. I saw many musical aspects that were still present, but the more interesting comments were about the social and cultural capital they gained from the experience. They formed bonds, found success that helped them throughout their next stages of life and gained the confidence to be their best.  

What are the most popular instruments among kids?

The ukulele is the one that most request early on, but I think that is often because it’s smaller and cheaper, and teachers can therefore request more of them. Otherwise, we still see mostly guitar and drums. 


Where can people find out more about your work? They can always visit our website (musicwill.org) to learn about our work, and we have free curricular resources for everyone that you can find at https://jamzone.musicwill.org/.

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