Top 10 TED Talks For Music Education

The nonprofit conference program, TED, aims to bring together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Talks from TED’s two annual conferences have included the creative talents of musicians as well as innovators who have channeled music as their life inspiration. The following video clips stand out with illuminating ideas about music and the human experience.

  1. Charles Hazlewood: Trusting the Ensemble– Conductor Charles Hazlewood demonstrates that “where there is trust, there is music” and “by extension, life.” The educational basis of the talk stems from Hazlewood’s experience of being a young conductor, when distrust between him and the players was detrimental to the music. As opposed to the idea of conductor (or teacher) as dictator, Hazlewood provides examples of how mutual respect engenders art. He conducts the Scottish Ensemble onstage to express his ideas, and also refers to clips of his inspirational works– Hazlewood formed an opera company in South Africa that performed a version of Carmen, and established an orchestra made up of disabled musicians called, Paraorchestra.
  2. Claron McFadden: Singing the Primal Mystery– Soprano Claron McFadden performs an experimental piece (John Cage’s “Aria”) as well as a traditional one, and in the process, enables us to consider the mysteries of breath and song. Most notable is McFadden’s description of being asked to sing during a retreat in Thailand. In response to the request, she spontaneously sang a line from “Summertime” (Porgy and Bess) and found that creating those sounds embodied the “calmness, alertness, focus, awareness, and being in the moment” that she was looking for at the retreat. The physical creation of music as a meditation in the act itself.
  3. Robert Gupta: Music is Medicine, Music is Sanity– Violinist Robert Gupta of the Los Angeles Philharmonic discusses meeting Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, the Julliard-trained double bassist whose career was cut short by his affliction with schizophrenia (Ayers’ story was told by L.A. Times columnist, Steve Lopez, in his book, The Soloist, which was also made into a film). Gupta received an e-mail request for a violin lesson from Ayers after they met briefly at a concert. The encounter, in which Gupta helped quell Ayers’ state of agitation by playing Beethoven’s violin concerto, is a profound example of the healing power of music.
  4. Eric Whitacre: A Choir as Big as the Internet – Human expression and musicianship collide with technology to form this moving musical performance of Eric Whitacre’s composition, “Lux Aurumque,” which unites hundreds of tracks individually recorded and posted to YouTube. Whitacre conducts this virtual choir, which includes 185 voices from 12 countries.  The concept stimulates discussion of broad themes, such as the future of music and communication across time and space.
  5. Evelyn Glennie Shows How to Listen – Composer and percussionist Evelyn Glennie demonstrates that hearing music is not just about listening with our ears. Deaf since the age of 12, Glennie discusses how the vibrations and physicality of music influence her performances. Just as Glennie challenged the preconceived notions of music institutions during her lifetime, her talk pushes us to consider a broader spectrum from which to tap into when creating music.
  6. Emmanuel Jal: The Music of a War Child – Hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal has shared his turbulent story of how his family life in Sudan was shattered as a result of the Sudanese Civil War. He was swept up in the turmoil as a child soldier, and adopted years later by aid worker Emma McCune. In this talk, Jal’s impassioned rap performance pays tribute to his adoptive parent, appeals to rebuilding nations through education, and shows us how music can be a gateway to survival.
  7. Itay Talgam: Lead like the Great Conductors – Conductor-turned seminar leader Itay Talgam samples clips of six different conductors to discuss styles of leadership. Talgam’s musical foundation has inspired him to promote the values of musicianship—collaboration, intuition, and listening—to leaders in a variety of different fields. Analysis of the conductors’ styles in this talk reveals how the best conductors “let go” and enable the musicians to tell their “story.”
  8. Maya Beiser and her Cello – Maya Beiser performs radical new work for the cello through collaborations with visual artists and video artists. She discusses how her childhood in Israel was influenced by the sounds of Muslim prayers from the neighboring village, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday, and Bach. “It all became music to me. I didn’t hear the boundaries,” she says. The amalgam of melodic styles, technology, and art inspires new ways of conceptualizing musical performance.
  9. José Abreu on Kids Transformed by Music – Pianist, politician, and activist José Abreu discusses his creation of El Sistema Orchestra, which is comprised of impoverished children from all across Venezuela. Abreu’s vision has helped thousands out of poverty and continues to empower young people to work toward a common goal and promote justice in the world. His work is a living example of the transformative power of music.
  10. Pamelia Kurstin Plays the Theremin – Pamelia Kurstin moves her hands through the air to produce strikingly harmonious music. What is she doing? She is playing the theremin, an electronic instrument composed of two antennae that control either tone or pitch through vibrations. She describes playing it as a “yoga instrument,” since even her breath is detected by the instrument. Kurstin’s performance and her description of playing it reveals the strange and wonderful confluence of human and machine.

But now I want to hear your opinion! Are these your top 10 TED talks for Music Education? Are there others you would add? Let us know what they are by leaving feedback in the comment box below and lets network together to collect the best resources for music educators.


  • By David Reply

    Can I ask what you are smoking? I say that with all due respect. How can you miss nominating Benjamin Zander?

    It is like leaving out water from a list of the top 10 things to survive on a deserted island. This isn’t subjective mumbo jumbo. Please check him out and revise the list, IMHO.


    • By janice Reply

      Thanks David,

      I did search Benjamin Zander on TED, and I did enjoy what he had to say, so we might well revise this article.

      There are so many great ones – it was a very hard choice



  • By Pru Borgert Reply

    Also, Richard Gill at TED-x

    • By janice Reply

      Hi Pru- I totally agree- Richard Gill at TED X is an inspirational video

      Thanks for your feedback
      Kind Regards,

  • By Les Wise Reply

    I loved all of the videos. Did you ever have any guest artists that work with mental skills and music. I have taught thousands of musicians, all ages, and I have found music success starts in the mind.
    Thank you,
    Les Wise

  • By Kerrie Reply

    I found this great TED video yesterday that I intend sharing and discussing with my grade 8’s this term. Watch TED ways music affects us –
    The forum is a great idea Janice. Thank you.

    • By Janice Reply

      This is a geat video Kerrie- Thanks for sharing. I know this will be very valuable for loads of other teachers.

  • By Kerri Knight Reply

    I was looking for something to re-engage the kids in music and bought your Play Up resouces for interactive whateboards. Thought I’d try the beat boxing lessons with stage 2. As an introduction to beat boxing I used this video.This video blew them away. Now I use the Play Up lesson but look at skill development offered by video clips from you tube. It works a dream. The best boxing lessons are easy enough for the class to do and you tube provides information on technique. Works really well. WARNING…the introduction Tom Thumb gives is not for children…or any school audience.

  • By D.E.Buenger M.Ed Reply

    I love this Ted talk on improvisation and how the brain is fully activated during the creative process. This validates that I am a brain changer for all my students as we exercise the music skills each day. Charles Limb, neuro-scientist on Improvisation.

  • By Pieterjan Reply

    I loved the one with Bobby Mc fern

  • By Mark Powers Reply

    If you care to view yet another, my performance and talk from TEDxYouthOmaha presents ideas that I feel are valuable and actionable in music and all other areas of life. Enjoy!

    R.O.C.K. Unlocked: The 4 Keys To Your Future Success >>

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