Sound Scholars™


Great Bend’s leading edge early learning program that uses music to build kindergarten readiness!

Daily, 30-minute sessions teach not only music literacy & key skills, but also build:

  • Kindergarten readiness
  • Arts-driven STEM skills
  • Social Emotional Learning
  • Listening skills
  • Leadership & teamwork abilities
  • Friendships

Watch: How Sound Scholars Works

Announcement: The Fall 2024 term will begin September 9, 2024! Registration is open now!

About Sound Scholars™

Great Bend’s flagship early learning program is Sound Scholars™, an entirely online, research-based early learning program that uses music to build kindergarten readiness. 

Designed originally to serve rural families without access to high quality early learning in our Olympic Peninsula home, the program is as accessible as it is rigorous. Delivered via lively interactive Zoom sessions, students participate on laptops, tablets and cell phones in bedrooms, living rooms and minivans. Each fast-paced, 30-minute session focuses on preparing kids for ensemble participation (learning teamwork) and includes age-appropriate ear training, music literacy, ensemble practice, songcraft, vocabulary, listening, and leadership activities with a strong STEM focus and a range of daily Social Emotional Learning (SEL) activities. 

Musical experiences like stopping and starting, slowing down and speeding up, and recognizing repeating patterns (such as verse/chorus) provide children with practice directing and modulating their behavior. And children who are more practiced at directing their behavior are better prepared to enter school and succeed.

Play, and the fun of music making, is at the heart of our program. So each of our three learning levels is associated with a Hood Canal animal that uses play as a primary method of learning: Otter, Seal, and Porpoise.

Sound Scholars™ is a welcoming program designed for kids of all abilities and skills, emphasizing the importance of play in development, both musical and social.

An ensemble focused program: the power of making music together

At the heart of our Sound Scholars™ program is ensemble preparation, giving students the powerful experience of many parts working together in harmony. In fact, one of the best parts of the program are the relationships that are established not only between the students, but the participating families. Each week we celebrate birthdays and lost teeth, and share stories about everything from Santa to Star Wars. Parents support each other through tech support calls or facilitating practice and play dates, building the connections that build community. 

Watch past virtual ensemble performances below: 

What is an El Sistema-inspired program?

Like Great Bend Center for Music’s overall mission of exploring music’s role as a community development tool, programs based on the El Sistema model seek to inspire social change by transforming the lives of children through music. The approach is typically intense — which means daily practice and training — but is centered as much on building community and nourishing self-esteem as it is on artistic achievement. 

El Sistema programs are also primarily focused on reaching children with the fewest resources and greatest need. As a result, these programs have traditionally been delivered worldwide at no cost to participants. Our program has been developed with the following values in particular:

  • Every human being has the right to a life of dignity and contribution.
  • Every child can learn to experience and express music and art deeply, and receive its many benefits.
  • Effective education is based on love, approval, joy and experience within a high-functioning, aspiring, nurturing community. Every child has limitless possibilities and the ability to strive for excellence. “Trust the young” informs every aspect of the work.
  • As a learning organization, we will never arrive but are always becoming—striving to include more students, greater musical excellence, better teaching. Thus, flexibility, experimentation, and risk-taking are inherent and desirable aspects of our program.

What is the history of El Sistema?

El Sistema is a global movement that works toward social change by transforming the lives of children through music.


Today, El Sistema alumni play in many of the world’s finest orchestras. But four decades after its launch, the largest impacts aren’t in the performance hall, but in the families, schools and neighborhoods of the kids who participate.

El Sistema Guiding Principles

The following El Sistema Guiding Principles from artist-educator Eric Booth are, in his words, a “synthesis of observations and study of the workings of El Sistema in Venezuela by colleagues in the U.S. movement, especially Mark Churchill, by the 2009-2010 class of Sistema Fellows (at New England Conservatory), and others, in consultation with the Venezuelan leaders of El Sistema.”

1. Mission of social change.

El Sistema is a social change/youth development program that uses music to enable every child to feel like an asset within her or his community, inside and outside the “nucleo.” Students feel an ownership of the music making process, taking responsibility for both individual and group improvement. For example, they often take on teaching roles themselves starting at an early age.

2. Access and excellence.

El Sistema includes as many children as it can, bringing young people into its community whenever possible, as young as possible, for as long as possible, whatever their background or abilities. As El Sistema strives single mindedly toward musical excellence for all students, it also provides intensive training at “Academies” for the most committed and gifted, preparing them for the highest-level national orchestras and cultivating them as leaders in their own communities. In this way and others, the ideals of access and excellence are maintained in a productive balance that maximizes both the fullest success for all and highest accomplishment for some.

3. The nucleo environment.

The nucleo is a physical location, within the community where students live, that embodies the values and goals of El Sistema. It is a haven of safety, fun, joy, and friendship, with an ethos of positivity and aspiration, where all students are encouraged to explore their potential.

4. Intensity.

Students spend a large amount of time at the nucleo, many hours per day, and almost all days of the week, often building up to four hours per day, six days per week. Rehearsals are fast paced and rigorous, demanding a durable commitment, personal responsibility, and a strong work ethic. Through frequent performances, students have many opportunities to excel and to share their accomplishments with their peers, family and community.

5. The use of ensemble.

The learning in El Sistema is based in ensemble experience in which group achievement is balanced with individualized attention. The orchestra acts as a model society in which an atmosphere of competition between individuals is replaced by shared struggle. [Dr Abreu: “The orchestra is the only group that comes together with the sole purpose of agreement.”] Smaller ensembles and choruses adopt the same ethos.​

6. The CATS teacher model: Citizen/Artist/Teacher/Scholar.

Those who work at the nucleo take on many jobs and multiple roles in relationship to the students. By acting as citizens, artists, teachers and scholars, these adults encourage their students to develop holistically: as active musicians, helpful educators, inquisitive learners and responsible civic contributors.

7. The multi-year continuum.

El Sistema provides a “conveyor belt” of services, supporting its students from early childhood into adulthood. Despite variation in resources and practices, all nucleos work toward a full program. The “Academies” and other national teams have formed lists of sequential repertoire, orchestral levels, and pedagogical practices that create a through line for every child’s learning. Although each nucleo is encouraged to develop programs that suit its community, shared practices and unified vision allow El Sistema to provide its students with a continuous musical experience. The learning process develops the ear as the fundamental tool before the visual.

8. Family and community inclusion.

Family participation is an essential aspiration of El Sistema. Siblings often go to the same nucleo, parents attend classes with the youngest students, and families form the bulk of the audience at orchestra concerts. Many sites have parent musical ensembles, and all actively work to involve the community at large through outreach concerts.

9. Connections and network.

Although nucleos run independently and customize their programs, they are strongly connected to the national leadership organization, which provides financial resources but more importantly gives the network a unified vision. Additionally, each nucleo is indispensably tied to the many other nucleos that form the El Sistema network. These interdependent relationships are manifested through events such as “seminarios,” which are intensive, project-based musical retreats where orchestras share repertoire, streamline technique, and build personal and institutional relationships. By uniting students and teachers from disparate parts of the country, the nucleo network embodies the El Sistema ideals of sharing and learning.

10. Ambition and achievement.

El Sistema work is more than merely good for young people. It aspires to transform young lives, and widely succeeds in setting a healthier, fuller trajectory for stressed young lives. In trying to distill the key element that makes that crucial difference in impact between providing a positive experience and a life-transformative experience, no single element alone is the catalyst, all the elements above are essential. This cycle of ambitious yearning and achievement, repeated consistently for the sake of beauty and contribution to community, changes, over time, the thousands of small and larger choices a young person makes in creating her life. This builds to a belief in each youngster that he or she can take on really difficult challenges and succeed—challenges such as finishing school and avoiding dangerous options, developing lives of their own choosing. And the cycle of ambition and success that leads to new beliefs like that is fueled by sustainable supply of accomplishment and joy.

Upcoming Term

Sound Scholars runs in 10-week terms in Winter, Spring, and Fall along with shorter, project-based special terms during the Summer and over Winter Holiday. 

Classes meet every weekday during the term, and students are welcome to join through the first week of term! Register now for our upcoming term: