Is there a way to prevent crime through music? It may sound a bit too idealistic and even overly naive to most people. However, it may surprise you that established programs have shown that introducing music to the lives of underprivileged youth have turned many children towards achieving a goal, mastering a musical instrument, and away from crime. The most successful program, the Delta Blues Education Program, began in 1992 in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in Clarksdale, Mississippi–it has seen such high success rates that many similar, emerging programs have used it as their model.
How does it work?
The Delta Blues Education Program was founded with the mission “to bring together the children and master musicians of the Mississippi Delta for the continuation of the Delta Blues tradition.” The program recruits local blues musicians living in the Mississippi Delta region to teach and mentor at-risk youth ranging from ages 9 to 15. The majority of the budget, which was granted by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is dedicated to paying local master musicians and purchasing instruments. The program which seeks to reinforce the culture that bore famous musicians such as Muddy waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, and John Lee Hooker, has been so successful that a similar program was created in the region that mirrors the mission of the Delta Blues Education Program called the Delta Blues Museum Program.
Why does it work?
According to local Mississippi Delta musician and Delta Blues Education Program mentor, Johnnie Billington, “It’s better to put a guitar in a child’s hand than a gun.” The program works to introduce not only the skills of learning a new instrument, but it strives to convey the cultural heritage of the region to underprivileged adolescents and children. By gaining a better understanding of the local history of jazz and blues, children become more focused on participating in and fostering their cultural heritage and less on engaging in criminal activity.
The practice of learning a musical instrument in itself promotes the development of many skills that non-musical children and adolescents do not. Studies have shown that practicing a musical instrument is very beneficial for a person’s psychological, emotional, and moral development. For instance, learning and mastering an instrument has been shown to reduce stress and promote happiness. Not to mention, playing an instrument requires a level of hard work and dedication that many people never have to fully achieve. Specifically, the Delta Blues Education Program names four primary objectives; those include:
Instrumentation. All adolescents in the program can choose a classic blues instrument to learn. Classic blues instruments include guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and voice. Through the master musician teachers, each adolescent is given an opportunity to learn from the best and master their chosen blues instrument.
Performance. Adolescents in the program are taught how to be professional showmen and showomen. By learning these skills, graduates of the program will be less likely to experience stage fright when it comes to public speaking.
Personal Behavior. In addition to hard work and dedication, program adolescents are taught self respect and to present themselves in a professional manner.
- Good Citizenship. The master musicians who serve as role models inadvertently teach program adolescents to respect their cultural heritage and be proud of their roots.
Kristen is a contributing writer for Carroll Troberman Criminal Defense, a criminal defense law firm based in the capital of Texas, Austin. Kristen has personally been to Clarksdale, Mississippi, and loves to learn about blues history.