Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Chairman Herbie Hancock and Tom Oren, winner of the institute's 2018 International Piano Competition, perform during the annual competition gala at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater in D.C. on Dec. 3. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz)
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Chairman Herbie Hancock and Tom Oren, winner of the institute's 2018 International Piano Competition, perform during the annual competition gala at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater in D.C. on Dec. 3. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz)

Kindergarteners have no idea that a 14-time Grammy and Academy award winner helps them better understand numbers. Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock has joined animators from Atomic Kid Studios to create videos in a fresh approach for educating young children. 

The first video, “Treble Leads the Class,” is part of a supplemental curriculum developed by Young Academic Research Group (YAM) at the Touro Graduate School of Education in New York City. YAM is an early phase education and research program led by professors Susan Courey, Timothy Bellavia and Roslyn Haber. Atomic Kid Studios is an award-winning team and is a part of YAM. This learning development program is funded through a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

In addition to learning to work with numbers, the animated video series will help kindergartners develop other skills. The goal is to use music to help kids learn problem solving and sequence thinking.

“I’m thrilled to be able to create new ways for children to learn about music,” said Hancock who narrates the video. “I hope this video and the others to come will help instill a sense of fun and musical inspiration for kids around the world.”

Shaping a Tale for Kids

“Treble Leads the Class” is the tale of characters Treble Clef and his best friend Four-Four Signature. Treble, like many young children, battles nerves and anxiety when talking with others. When he is chosen to lead his classmates during a day at school, Treble is challenged with facing those fears. Thankfully, his friend Four-Four is there to keep him calm. 

Much of the video’s dialogue relies on the language of music to enlighten kids about notes, rhythm and the process of making music. The story for “Treble Leads the Class” was co-written by Courey and Bellavia.

“Young children will learn rhythm and music notation, while fun and creative activities will provide structured opportunities for students to connect math skills to music and computational thinking at an early age,” said Courey.

Several musicians give their talents to this project. All characters in the video are voiced by CJ Emmons, a singer/songwriter/producer who also serves as the principal singer on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” The video also features original compositions from Nick Vayenas, a graduate of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance master’s program.

“Developing distinct personalities for each note while maintaining the integrity of each symbol was an exciting challenge,” says Stephen Barrante, co-founder with Ben Miller of Atomic Kid Studios’ animation and video production studio. “We made very conscious decisions about how each note looks and acts. While notes in sheet music are written in black and white, these notes have color and expression. The concept of diversity was important in their representation.”

Barrante has a special personal connection to jazz and this project.

“My father was a college professor and jazz pianist, exposing me at a young age to artists and legends like Herbie Hancock,” says Barrante. “Working with YAM and Mr. Hancock has been an honor and a career highlight for all of us at Atomic Kid.”

Global Premiere for the Series

In honor of the collaboration with Hancock, “Treble Leads the Class” premiered during this year’s International Jazz Day. Hancock has been committed to educating young musicians through his work as chairman of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. In his career he has been appointed an adjunct professor at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and as a United Nations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue. On embarking this news approach to learning, Hancock referred to something he has said before.

“I think risk-taking is a great adventure. And life should be full of adventures.”

Watch “Treble Leads the Class” on the Atomic Kid Studio website. https://atomickidstudios.com

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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