From the Editor

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

From the Editor

Tricia Tunstall


A recent article in the academic journal JAMA Pediatrics, on the subject of teaching students self-regulation, bears the subtitle “A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” – a phrase so densely academic that I almost stopped reading right there. But I’m glad I didn’t. There’s some important good news here for Sistema programs.

“Self-regulation” refers to a set of competencies that includes the capacity for controlling emotions, the ability to have positive social interactions, and the ability to self-direct one’s learning. The JAMA article cites growing evidence that these competencies play “an important foundational role” in children’s wellbeing.

The article reviews the results of 50 “interventions” intended to increase children’s capacity for self-regulation. Some of the interventions happened in classroom settings, others in family settings. Still others involved physical exercise or yoga and mindfulness. Finally, there were six studies about interventions that focused on social or personal skills in group settings. This kind of intervention proved “highly effective.”

That’s why the study is good news for us: focusing on social and personal skills in group settings is precisely what Sistema programs do. And we have an advantage none of those six studies had: we do it through music, which is a particularly elegant, efficient and pleasurable way to learn. So we can take heart from this research. It affirms with academic rigor what we already observe and intuit: social interaction through music is a great way for kids to learn the skills of self-regulation.

But there’s something else we intuit – something we know – about self-regulation, and it doesn’t appear anywhere in the JAMA report. Because art is our medium, we know that self-regulation isn’t just about self-control. Yes, we want our kids to learn behavioral control and self-discipline. But we also want our students to be capable of creative spontaneity. The philosopher Eric Fromm wrote that artists can be defined as an individuals who can express themselves spontaneously. So we teach kids the skills of self-regulation in order to more fully free up their capacities for expressivity. It sounds like a paradox, but it’s one of the truths of our practice: self-regulation makes true spontaneity possible.


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