If you’re anything like me, then you love watching TED talks. I’ve culled some of the most inspiring ones about music and education, and I’ve offered some quick summaries and quotes in case you just have a few minutes. Enjoy!

Victor Wooten - "Music as a Language"

If you can only watch one video to get a sense of the "learning music as a language" idea, this is the one. Also, if you're interested, I would highly recommend his book to you, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth through Musicwhich I find to be illuminating, revelatory, and even magical. 

Wooten makes the case for learning music in the same way as we learned our first language, calling for a more natural, less academic approach. He makes the point that, as babies, we weren't taught our first language or corrected when we made a mistake. We didn't even know we were beginners and got to 'jam' with people much better than us. Wooten draws on his own musical education as an example of how taking this approach can deliver great results.

  • “If you think about how you learned [your first language], you realize you weren’t taught it. People just spoke to you... And you were allow to speak back.”
  • “When I was young, that’s how I was learning. I was learning English and music at the same time and in the same way.”
  • “That’s the mistake a lot of us music teachers make, is we teach kids how to play the instrument first before they understand music... Teaching a kid to spell ‘milk’ before they’ve drank a lot of it for a few years doesn’t make sense, does it? But for some reason, we still think it does in music. We want to teach them the rules and the instruments first.”
  • “I believe you’re born musical... Just listen to any child’s voice. There’s no more pure music than that.”
  • “I was learning to play music, not an instrument.”
  • “I was musical first, now I just had to put that music through an instrument. And looking back on it now, I realize that’s how I learned to talk. It’s wasn’t about learning the instrument first. It’s about what you have to say.”
  • “The best part of it all is I’ve maintained something that little children are born with, and that’s freedom.”
  • A kid playing air guitar will play with a smile on their face. Give them their first lesson, the smile goes away. And a lot of time you have to work for your whole musical life to get that smile back. As teachers, we can keep that smile if we approach it the right way. And I say, approach it like a language. Allow the student to keep the freedom.”
  • “To be a good musician, you have to be a good listener.”
  • “Another thing my mom always taught us is, ‘You boys are already successful. The rest of the world just doesn’t know it yet.’"

Sir Ken Robinson - How to Change Education

Sir Ken Robinson is one of heroes in the movement to revolutionize education. He talks about creativity as the number one, bottom-line competency that leaders of companies value, asserts that teaching is about piquing students' imaginations, and rather humorously details how children are born to learn language. 

Bonus #1: If you just have one minute, check out this clip about how Paul McCartney did not enjoy music at school, and his music teacher didn't think he had any talent. (You will not believe who else who was a student in the same class with Paul...)

Sir Ken Robinson addresses the fundamental economic, cultural, social and personal purposes of education. He argues that education should be personalized to every student's talent, passion, and learning styles, and that creativity should be embedded in the culture of every single school.

  • “We have a different set of imperatives now, for our children and for ourselves, if we’re to make them economically independent, as I think we all want to do, don’t we? Don’t we want to make our children economically independent? But what sort of education do you need for that?”
  • “There was a report published.. by IBM in which they review interviews they had with 1,800 leaders of companies in 80 countries. And they asked them what their priorities are, what keeps them awake at night... There were two that came out: 1. Creativity. 2. Adaptability.”
  • “If we’re going to meet the economic requirement of education, we need to have systems that promote creativity and adaptability as bottom-line competencies, the very things that our education systems at the moment are being discouraged from doing.”
  • “One of the signature features of humanity is diversity. Of course, it contrasts sharply with one of the organizing principles of education, which is conformity.”
  • “Now what we know about children is that children are learning organisms. Children don’t need to be helped to learn, for the most part. They are born with a vast, voracious appetite for learning.”
  • “Now what we also know is that you don’t teach your child to speak... You don’t sit them down when they get to the age of 1 and say, ‘Ok, here’s the situation. You’ve probably noticed your mother and I keep making all these noises, and they actually refer to things that are in the room here. All these things have names, as we call them, and here’s a list of them. They are roughly 50,000 to get through in the next couple of months, and when we’ve got all those down, we’ll start to use verbs which can tell you what you can do with these things, and later on things you might’ve done with them in certain circumstances, and things you could’ve done possible in the past, or at least the hypothetical past.’ Of course you can’t do that. They just pick it up. I mean, you nudge them, you correct them, you encourage them, but you don’t teach them to speak.”
  • “Actually, teaching is an art form. It’s not enough to be a good teacher to know your stuff, though you need to know it... But more than that, you need to be able to excite people about the material, you need to engage them, you need to pique their imagination, you need to fuel their creativity, you need to drive that passion for it, you need to get them to want to learn this, you need to find points of entry. That’s the gift of a great teacher.”
  • “People teach themselves if you create the right conditions for it.”

Bonus #2: If you have less than 3 minutes, here's a beautiful and inspiring animation of his main points

Bonus #3: If you just love this guy like I do, scroll down to the bottom of this page for a whole section devoted to Sir Ken. 

Anita Collins - What if every child had access to music education from birth?

If you want to get a taste of the extremely significant and comprehensive benefits of music education for children, look no further than this video. I was especially surprised by the scientific evidence for the fiscal impacts of music education on children's lives. 

Anita Collins shares how learning music influences our brain development, and what this means for musical education. Anita Collins was handed a clarinet at the age of 9, and it changed her life. This single event dictated her future career as a musician, music educator and academic. 

  • “What if a large number of scientific studies had found that there was one activity that could improve our cognitive function, help our memory systems to work, help us to learn language, help us to moderate our emotional states, help us to solve complex problems and help our brains to be healthier into later life? What if that activity, while beneficial if undertaken at any time during our lives, was actually found by the scientists to be mosts beneficial if it was undertaken before the age of seven? What if that activity, unlike the momentary pain of a vaccination needle, is actually enjoyable for everyone involved?... That activity is music education.”
  • “Music education works three areas of the brain at once: the motor, visual, and auditory cortexes. It’s like a full brain workout.”
  • “They found that musicians were able to solve puzzles and problems far more effectively and creatively. They found that musicians had higher levels of executive functions... They also found that musicians had very highly developed memory systems in their brain... Music education raises the general cognitive capacity of anyone who undertakes it. And even further to that, they found that music education helps us be comfortable with discomfort.”
  • “What the neuroscientists saw is that the babies were using their music processing networks to understand their mothers voices. Literally, they were hearing music in their mothers voices... Music and language processing are very closely connected in the brain.”
  • “In this study comparing musicians with non-musicians, they found that those who had undertaken music education before the age of 7 had around about 7.5 IQ points higher than those who and not... 7.5 points is huge!”
  • “Another study looked at... how much more we would earn per year on average per one IQ point that we had higher. What they found in today’s dollars, is for every IQ point that we have higher, it’s equal to about $700 per year. Let’s take our 7.5 points from music education, that’s about $5,000 per year. Now think of that across 10 years, and suddenly we start to see that music education could have an enormous impact on every part of our society.”
  • “We’re all born musical. We have to be to understand language. It is the experiences and the opportunities that we have in life that realizes that talent.”
  • “Music education has been found to help us acquire and understand language, and to solve complex problems, many of which involve numbers.”
  • “Maybe we’re missing an opportunity with music education that could change our world in ways we have no idea of.”
  • “And when they ask you if they can give up, don’t let them. Make a choice for them that they will thank for you in the decades to come.”
  • “Why can’t we take deliberate steps to raise the cognitive capacity, through music education, for the next generation, so that they can build a better world for themselves?”

Doug Goodkin - Learning through music and art

I just recently discovered this man, and I resonate with him deeply. We share very similar philosophies of teaching music as a language, and he urges us to give our children the opportunity to learn music before their developmental window passes. 

Doug Goodkin is an internationally recognized teacher of Orff Schulwerk, a dynamic approach to music education. He is currently in his 38th year at The San Francisco School, teaching children between three years old and eighth grade. He also has trained teachers having in 39 countries worldwide. teaches regularly at The Orff Institut in Salzburg, directs The San Francisco Orff Certification Course and teaches his own course on Jazz and Orff Schulwerk throughout the world. He is the author of eight books and has an ongoing blog titled "Confessions of a Traveling Music Teacher." Doug is particularly known for connecting the principles of Orff Schulwerk to a wider world of practices and ideas—jazz, world music, poetry, school community-building, brain research, human health and culture, social justice and more. His work has been described as " a long, earnest and continuing struggle to present music of integrity in a way that affirms our collective humanity. http://www.douggoodkin.com/

  • “Music offers something to children... that is indispensable.”
  • Music isn’t something that you just have or don’t have. “Everything we know about brain research shows that... every person on the planet is a musical being.”
  • “Everybody has this musical potential, everybody has music as an intelligence, but it needs to meet experience before it’s drawn out.”
  • “This is the root word of ‘education’ from the Latin ‘educare’ which means ‘to lead forth, to draw out that which we already have.”
  • If you think of music as a language, then you know that everybody has the capability to speak music. We are genetically wired that way. Our brains are programmed to receive this kind of musical education, but again, we have to learn it in the right way. And the right way is to learn music the way we learned to speak, which was we did not take speaking lessons as a baby and go through book number one and book number two. We were immersed in the bath of language, and we absorbed it in a very natural kind of organic way, and the same thing is true with music.”
  • “When teach music in this organic natural way as a language, then we understand that you don’t begin with the symbol, you begin with the sound. You don’t begin with reading notes, you begin with singing. You don’t begin with this idea of playing the instrument first; you learn all the music here [in your body] and it comes on to the instrument from there, and this is a radically different experience of music that is proven to work quite well.”
  • The most important years, and all brain research is supporting this, is the first 8 or 9 years of life when the brain is wired. Any potential in the brain that doesn’t meet the right experience can be lost. Use it or lose it.
  • “What do children get from the experience of music? I’ll give you three things... Discipline, power, and belonging. A kid who is involved in a discipline is a kid who understands how you make progress, they can track their progress, they can see their achievement, they can have their days connected with this thread, with this dot of, ‘I started here, I’m ending up here.’ Kids who have that kind of inner discipline often don’t need that kind of outer discipline...”

Some brilliant quotes from two of his students:

  • “Music is very important to me. Why? Because it can fill in your blanks. It’s flexible the way you are. You can always find music that fits your mood. You know that saying ‘misery loves company?’ Well, music makes you feel that there is someone else out there who feels the same way you do. It shares your pain and builds your spirits. It fills those bare silences. Music is like colorful emotion that spreads over the room whenever it is played. Everyone should be allowed or able to feel that color, that emotion as it flows through them.” - Morgan Cundiff, 7th grade student at The San Francisco School
  • “Music isn’t just notes written on paper or different frequencies. Music isn’t a ‘thing’ at all. Music is a way of life. You can live through music, you can feed on it, you can find relief in it. I use music as a passage and the passage can go wherever I want it to. Jazz, classical, rock ‘n’ roll, they’re all different passageways of music. Music brings you to a new dimension. Perhaps it’s an Ab major dimension or a Techno dimension, whatever that dimension is, it’s the one you want.” - Jackson Vanfleet-Brown, 7th grade student at The San Francisco School

Richard Gill - The Value of Music Education

Richard Gill talks about how music can open up the mind of a child in extraordinary ways through igniting their creativity and imagination. 

Music educator Richard Gill argues the case for igniting the imagination through music and for making our own music. In this talk, he leads the TEDxSydney audience through some surprising illustrations of the relationship between music and our imagination.

  • “When the musical imagination is ignited... we have the most extraordinary power to change lives with music.”
  • “Creativity is the right of every child, no matter where and no matter what the circumstance.”
  • Music opens up the mind of a child in an extraordinary way... this abstraction about music is what offers a child the chance to move into a really special world of thinking.
  • “The most important thing about music is to make your own music. Children must make their own music.”
  • The power of the creative thought transferred from music to all other areas of learning is hugely potent. The neurological evidence for music is spectacular. That’s a bonus.
  • “Music is worth teaching for its own sake... It is worth teaching because it empowers children spectacularly.”

Robb Janov - Rockin' education: Redefining music in school

This is a fun video with cool demonstrations at the beginning and end, but Robb hit me hard when he talked about how we’re doing emotional damage to our kids in uninspiring school programs. 

Robb Janov is an accomplished electric violinist and national award-winning music educator who transformed a dying middle school music program into Rock and Rhythm Band™, an exciting, innovative alternative to traditional school music classes. The Rock and Rhythm Band™ program, now in its seventeenth year, has received grants from the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, The Muzak Heart & Soul Foundation, The Mockingbird Foundation, and PNM's Classroom Innovation Grant Program. In 2010, he was chosen as the 2nd place winner in the National ING Unsung Heroes® Awards Competition presented by ING, a financial services company.

  • “Instead of starting with standards and benchmarks, objectives, we start with the students. And we meet them at their developmental level. And if we’re gonna do that, we gotta inspire, and we gotta inspire big time. Because I believe if a kid is sitting in school, and that kid doesn’t care, is not curious, is not interested, doesn’t want to learn, then I say not only are we wasting time and money, but we’re actually doing damage, emotional damage, and I see it in their eyes every single day.
  • “Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, then it’ll spend its whole life thinking that it is stupid.’”
  • If we can inspire kids to be passionate and successful at just one thing, I really believe that success will reverberate throughout their lives.

Shelley Wright - The power of student-driven learning

This Canadian teacher tells a very inspiring about how her class decided to raise money for schools in Uganda. I teared up a little bit after watching this one. 

Shelley Wright is a teacher/education blogger living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Currently, she serves as the high school learning consultant for Prairie South Schools. Her passion in education is social justice, global education and helping students make the world a better place. Shelley is currently working on a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction, with a focus on mobile technology & literacy in the developing world. She blogs at Wright's Room.

  • Our schools need to be places that set our kids’ hearts on fire. That they can figure out what they are passionate about. Where we give them opportunities to pursue it. And we can give them a place to make a difference now.”
  • “Our students will often exceed our expectations of us if we only give them the opportunity.”

Sir Ken Robinson

This man is one of my heroes. I resonate deeply with his thoughts on education, and I hope that you find these videos as illuminating and inspiring as I do.  

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

  • My contention is all kids have tremendous talents, and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.
  • My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.
  • “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. If you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies this way, by the way, we stigmatize mistakes, and we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating creative people out of their creative capacities.”
  • “Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain artists as we grow up.”
  • “I believe this passionately that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it, or rather we get educated out of it.”
  • “As children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up, and then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side.”
  • “We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence. We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic... Intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about from the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things... And the third thing about intelligence is it’s distinct.”

Bring on the learning revolution!

In this poignant, funny follow-up to his fabled 2006 talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning -- creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish.

  • “We make very poor use of our talents. Very many people go through their whole lives having no real sense of what their talents may be, or if they have any to speak of.”
  • “Education, in a way, dislocates very many people from their natural talents. And human are like natural resources, they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.”
  • “Reform is no use anymore because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need... is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.”
  • One of the real challenges is to innovate fundamentally in education. Innovation is hard because... it means challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious.
  • “There are things we’re enthralled to in education... One of them is the idea of linearity. That it starts here, and you go through a track, and if you do everything right, you will end up set for the rest of your life... Life is not linear, it’s organic. We create our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relation to the circumstances in which they helped to create for us.”
  • “The other big issue is conformity... We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirits and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.”
  • “It’s about passion and what excites our spirit and our energy. And if you’re doing the thing that you love to do that you’re good at, time takes a different course entirely.”
  • We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people, we have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture.
  • “We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process, it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
  • It’s about customizing [systems] to your circumstances and personalizing education for people who you’re actually teaching. And doing that, I think, is the answer to the future.

How to escape education's death valley

Sir Ken Robinson outlines 3 principles crucial for the human mind to flourish -- and how current education culture works against them. In a funny, stirring talk he tells us how to get out of the educational "death valley" we now face, and how to nurture our youngest generations with a climate of possibility. 

  • “The arts aren’t just important because they improve math scores, they’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.”
  • “The second principle which drives human life and flourishing is curiosity. If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners. It’s a real achievement to put that particular ability out, or to stifle it.”
  • Curiosity is the engine of achievement.
  • “Teaching is a creative profession. Teaching, properly conceived, is not a delivery system. You’re not there just to pass on received information. Great teachers do that, but what great teachers also do is mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage.”
  • “The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it.”
  • “So in place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance. Our teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity.”
  • “The third principle is this: Human life is inherently creative... We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It’s the common currency of being a human being.”
  • “We all create our own lives through this restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities, and what one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.”
  • “But what all high-performing systems of the world do... one is this: they individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it’s students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That’s how you get them to learn.”
  • Powerful Death Valley metaphor

Changing Education Paradigms

This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award.

  • “Every country on earth, at the moment, is reforming public education. There are two reasons for it. The first of them is economic. People are trying to work out, “How do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the 21st century, given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week?
  • “The second is cultural: Every country on earth is trying to figure out how do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being part of the process of globalization? How do we square that circle?”
  • “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience in one in which your senses are operating at their peak. When you’re present in the current moment, when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive. An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what is happening... We are getting are children through education by anesthetizing them. And I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them asleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.”
  • “Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym, but it’s an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question... We all have this capacity, and it mostly deteriorates due to being educated for years."

Additional video links in bold:

Flourishing - Finding one's passion and true purpose in life is essential to human flourishing. In this new RSA Shorts video, Sir Ken Robinson argues that education, organizations and communities need to be built on a model of diversity rather than conformity, so that every individual is able to discover and develop their unique talents and abilities. 

The Element - Sir Ken Robinson returns to the RSA to share new thinking on 'The Element' - the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. 

Life is your talents discovered - In this terrific and witty closing of TEDxLiverpool, Sir Ken Robinson argues that talent is often buried and that we need to search for it. In fact, the foundation of wisdom may be the willingness to go and look for it. 

Changing Paradigms (full version) - Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson will ask how do we make change happen in education and how do we make it last?