Creating Bonds by Expanding Musical Opportunities #1
Enriching Hearts and Minds Through Music Education
September 6, 2023
Music education, particularly instrumental music education, is said to have a multitude of benefits for children’s well-being and development. While it has gained the attention of educators worldwide, the opportunity to play musical instruments is still far beyond the reach of many children around the world.
Since 2015, Yamaha has been working closely with educational institutions in developing countries to introduce instrumental music education in elementary schools. The initiative, known as the School Project, aims to spread the joy of playing musical instruments while delivering a high-quality education that enriches young hearts and minds. As of March 2023, 2.02 million children across a total of seven countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt) have learned to play musical instruments through the School Project. By 2025, Yamaha seeks to boost this number to 2.3 million.
The Mission to Reach Children Far and Wide, Quickly and Sustainably
“It all started from our simple vision to share the joy of music and musical instruments with children around the world,” says Ayaka Hayashi. A member of the School Project initiative, Hayashi works on project management as well as the promotion of inclusive education. She and her team believe that implementing music education in public curriculums is the shortest and smoothest path to achieve their vision.
Still, it took several years and a number of unsuccessful attempts for her team to finally reach this conclusion. “Our initial idea was to send music school tutors to schools so they can provide private lessons,” Hayashi recounts. “However, the idea of charging fees at public institutions was not well-received in developing countries.”
The team then pivoted toward incorporating music into extracurricular activities. Yamaha provided teaching materials, musical instruments, and instructor training so that teachers could instruct their students after school. However, this plan was also faced with obstacles. Not all schools put an emphasis on extracurricular activities, and the music programs often came under threat of discontinuation due to budget constraints. Hayashi and her team began to understand the limitations of working from the bottom up in order to achieve their vision.
In 2020, the team took on an unprecedented challenge and approached the public education system itself. The plan was to work with local governments and educational institutions to help incorporate music and instrumental music education into the official curriculum. Through this ambitious move, they hoped to reach as many children as possible in the fastest amount of time, and to keep the program running in a sustainable manner. According to Hayashi, Yamaha is the only company in the music industry that is actively engaging with governmental institutions and bringing music to public education.
Hayashi traces her passions to the time she spent in her high school brass band. She describes the experience as life-changing. “In the ensemble, we each had a role to play in achieving a common goal. Working together as a team to make something worthwhile was a great learning opportunity for me.” After university, Hayashi joined Yamaha hoping to utilize her musical experience and language skills in the global company. Through the School Project, Hayashi hopes to provide children around the world with the same life-changing experience of playing music she had with her bandmates back in high school.
Moving the Hearts of Students and Teachers
Music and instrumental music education can bring fun and enjoyment to children, but more importantly, it can help them acquire the abilities and skills that will help them to thrive in life.
In relation to a recent development in the field of education, Kazuki Watanabe, who works on project management and digital content creation for the School Project, says, “Until very recently, mainstream education mainly focused on abilities that can be assessed and quantified through tests.” This is starting to change as the world is seeing an increasing demand for individuals who can collaborate and give birth to innovation. He explains, “We are now seeing more emphasis being put on non-cognitive or 'soft' skills, which cannot be quantified in the same way.” Nurturing such skills requires an education system that encourages conscientiousness, empathetic listening, and collaboration, rather than a system that demands students memorize the “correct” answer to closed questions.
Watanabe further elaborates, “Music leaves room for interpretation and personal expression. That’s why, compared to subjects where there are definite answers, music education is said to be better equipped to nurture non-cognitive skills.” Research seems to echo Watanabe’s point, as it has been shown that extracurricular activities in music and art help to develop non-cognitive skills such as open-mindedness, proactivity, motivation, and persistence.
Yet, many educational institutions still struggle when it comes to effectively nurturing these skills. This is why the School Project provides teacher training in tandem with its instruments and teaching materials. “Many adults have only experienced lecture-style education themselves, so they usually have doubts about our program in the beginning.” Familiarizing the teachers and parents with the new educational approach is an essential part of making music and instrumental music education effective.
The difference in teaching methods appears even in the smallest of moments, like instructing children on how to cover the holes of a recorder. In conventional education, the teacher would typically walk around the classroom checking the fingers of every student and judging whether they are doing it correctly. Under the School Project, on the other hand, the teacher is encouraged to tell children to find a buddy and check each other’s fingers.
Hayashi stresses the importance of collaborative approaches like this. “When the children think for themselves and help each other, it fosters confidence and trust.” In its teacher training, Yamaha puts a strong emphasis on working in pairs and in groups and articulates the role it plays in boosting independence and collaboration.
The teachers’ mindsets start to truly change when they witness how the new instruction methods transform their students. Watanabe provides an example, “Teachers who used to only put the best-performing students on stage eventually start to let everyone share the spotlight.” A culture of collaboration emerges in the classroom once the teachers and students realize that music is more fulfilling when played together, rather than in competition.
Watanabe’s dedication to education stems from his experience as a student volunteer in Southeast Asia. “We aimed to provide opportunities for children who don’t have access to public education by nurturing their creative skills.” Later, he joined Yamaha with aspirations of building a global career while also pursuing his passion for music. Getting involved in the School Project turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Watanabe, and he states, “I never thought my experience as a student would come full circle.”
Personal Growth Making the Project Stronger
As Hayashi and Watanabe strive to nurture collaboration and creativity in younger generations, they themselves also try to embody these very skills and qualities in their everyday work.
Hayashi, for example, exercises her collaboration skills to develop close relationships with other departments at Yamaha. “While many employees at Yamaha have a positive image of the School Project, they may not necessarily give it importance because it doesn’t directly contribute to the company’s sales.” Hayashi has been actively building bridges to promote awareness and recognition for the project, as well as to explore opportunities for collaboration. For example, she has consulted the development department about designing new instruments for the project, and discussed with the sales and music school departments about upcoming initiatives. Her efforts are bearing fruit as more people show interest in the School Project and opportunities for cross-departmental discussion and learning become more frequent. The growing support within Yamaha is sure to open new possibilities for the School Project to expand.
Meanwhile, Watanabe says he tries to maintain a learner’s mindset. “Even though I’m relatively young, things have changed a lot since the time I was in elementary school. Music education in Japan is constantly evolving, so I try to keep myself updated and incorporate the latest know-how into my work.” Currently, Watanabe is working with experts to develop digital teaching materials. The idea of children learning and enjoying music together is what motivates him to do the best work he can.
Needless to say, sharing ideas and working as a team is essential in running a novel initiative like the School Project. According to Watanabe, discussions come naturally to his team, even outside of formal meetings. When describing his relationship with the other members, he says, “I think we all feel safe to freely express our ideas, regardless of our age or position.”
Hayashi, too, prioritizes dialogue. “The project is still very new, so I think our philosophy and goals will, and should, continue to evolve. That’s why it’s important for us to keep talking about our visions for education and for the future of the world, even if it doesn't immediately result in concrete action or change.”
As we’ve seen, the School Project aims to bring the joy of playing musical instruments to children across the world, all the while enriching their lives with valuable life skills. Yamaha has many other initiatives that similarly seek to connect people through opportunities to make music together. The next part of the series will feature SYNCROOM, one such initiative that makes it possible for people in separate locations to jam in real-time. Stay tuned.
(Interview date: February 2023)
Hayashi is a member of the Music Popularization Group in the Asia-Pacific Sales Division. Her life-changing experience in her high school brass band inspired her to join Yamaha to pursue a career in music and education. She joined the School Project team in 2022, after having worked in sales for musical instruments and Yamaha Music School overseas. Currently, Hayashi is responsible for promoting inclusive education, as well as managing projects in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Watanabe is a member of the Music Popularization Group in the Asia-Pacific Sales Division. After having worked as an educational volunteer in Southeast Asia as a university student, Watanabe joined Yamaha aspiring to make a global impact. As a member of the School Project, he is responsible for project management in India as well as digital content creation. His hobby is playing the electric guitar.
*Bio as of the time of the interview
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