Miami's Guitars Over Guns: Teaching Kids Music and Keeping Them Off the Street

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Crossfade: How did you get started on this journey?

Chad Bernstein: I always loved playing music. It was the kind of thing that kept me focused and was my outlet as a kid. And when I realized a lot of music programs were disappearing from the school system, which is where I got my exposure to music, I felt like we needed to do something. And instead of changing big-time laws and policies for school curriculum, we decided to do it ourselves, and make a program for kids who needed it most.

So you got started with everybody from Suénalo?

It began with Suénalo doing some random things in the community for friends who are teachers or who had affiliations with concerts. We did a workshop at the Juvenile Detention Center, and that made me go, "Whoa." If we can perform and discuss music and how to play it and take these kids from rowdy and upset to forgetting where they are for a half-hour, that's incredible. And when you reach that level of engagement, it gives you a platform to reach them on other levels. Through music we can reach them on mentoring. We use pop music and stuff that's on the radio so it's easier to get interested, more than classical music and stuff like that.

How many mentors are there so far?


How many students has the program helped so far?

Hundreds of students, over 200 students.

You started at North Miami Middle School, what's the new school you're adding?


What instruments do you teach?

Guitars, keyboards, rap vocals, singing, drums, bass, and trumpet. And we're gonna start incorporating music production as well -- get 'em making beats. DJing is something we'd love to incorporate. We've been acoustic with everything so far, except for the keyboard, so it can all be done without electricity, which allows us to work in places with limitations. But now the culture is in the schools we're in, and the teachers and principals have started to get respect for the program. And we have major partners in Communities In Schools Miami and the University of Miami's Frost School of Music.

What songs, what kinds of music are the kids playing?

Right now we just got home from NBC and two kids performed "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith. At a recording session last week, one kid did Bruno Mars and also "Yesterday" by the Beatles and "All Of Me" by John Legend. We've also done "Latch" by Sam Smith, "Wrecking Ball," and we did a video of "Happy" by Pharrell with these amazing videographers from Chicago's Tall Tale Productions.

See also: Miami's Five Best Music Venues for Local Acts

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Jacob Katel
Contact: Jacob Katel