Three great youth music programs we love

Love music? Love working with young people? Interested in organizing a music program for youth in your community, but not sure what it could look like?

You’ve come to the right place. Over the years, we’ve worked with many leaders who have started creative initiatives in their communities that get young people involved in music, often in conjunction with something else engaging like the outdoors, visual arts, or technology. They’re all different,  but they all have some common threads (such as, we’ll just say it, being awesome).

Dilla Youth Day

Not only is playing music inherently fun and rewarding, it’s also been shown to improve kids’ language and math skills, and to help young people handle anxiety, depression, and other difficult emotions.

If that’s music to your ears, read on for three examples that just might inspire you to start a youth music project in your community.

Three great youth music programs we love

Culture, history, technology: Dilla Youth Day

For the past six years, this annual event has celebrated the legacy of one Detroit’s most prolific music producers, J Dilla. Founder and organizer Piper Carter of We Found Hip Hop uses Detroit’s creative heritage as a jumping off point to spark young people’s interest in getting creative through STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). This year’s event introduced a “mobile maker space” to its roster of performances, lectures, and hands-on workshops for scratch DJing, music production, hip hop dance, songwriting, and more. For the past three years, the free day-long event has been held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. “We knew that utilizing hip hop to connect young people to STEAM in a climate of constant school closures and erasure of history and education was necessary,” says Piper in an interview with the Detroit Metro Times.

Music in the Park, Memphis

Green spaces, healthy kids: Music in the Park

Jessica Thurman grew up in the New Chicago area of North Memphis—a community she calls underserved, but also full of “talented and worthy people.” “I know that had it not been for my great grandparents affording certain opportunities for me, my life would look a bit different,” she writes on her ioby campaign page. To help make the neighborhood safer, greener, and more fun for kids growing up there today, Jessica rallied her neighbors to clean out a vacant lot on Breedlove Street, beautify it with plants and benches, then “install” a variety of musical instruments in it that would allow kids of all ages and income levels to experiment with making their own rhythms and melodies, in the freedom of the great outdoors. “By having this gem we open the door for endless opportunities to build strong community leaders and well rounded youth,” Jessica writes. “Music is the key.”


Mental health, personal growth, mentorship: Music on the Inside

Alina Bloomgarden and Wynton Marsalis—the originating producer of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the legendary trumpet player, respectively—have both made jazz a cornerstone of their lives and careers. When they formed Music on the Inside (MOTI), they sought to bring their passions for this great American art form to youth in New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex. MOTI connects incarcerated young people with professional musicians who offer songwriting and performance instruction, creative encouragement, and mentorship that can help unlock music’s rehabilitative powers. “The music education and mentorship Louis Armstrong received at the Colored Waifs Home for Boys, when he was arrested as a young man, inspired Music on the Inside,” Alina writes on the MOTI website. “Given support to tap into his potential, he became one of the most renowned musicians in the world. There are too many incarcerated young people today who are not given the opportunity or support to grow their natural talents.”

What does YOUR youth music project look like? Tell us at and we’ll help you bring your idea to life!