Helping Others Through Sound

United Sound is a class offered to students who take a music class at school where musicians can mentor peers on playing instruments. These students will perform with the band at their concerts with a part written specifically for them.


Courtesy of Jordan Markwood

Senior Julia Freeman, sophomore Kaylie Rivers, and junior Bella Pilgreen teach senior Colby Lower how to read rhythm.

Karis Adnan and Shivu Sathe

United Sound is a nationwide program that allows New Musicians, peers in the special education program, learn how to play a musical instrument. Instead of being taught by teachers, classes are led by student mentors.

The program started in 2014 and has middle schools, high schools, and universities from 29 states participating. 

Choral Director and Fine Arts Department Chair Jordan Markwood and Band Director Justin Ratcliff started United Sound at Rock Ridge this year. “For many years, we have had students be placed into different arts classes, but never were fully meeting their needs,” Markwood said. “As a department, we wanted to implement something that was more appropriate for everyone and a better experience for everyone.”

As a way to make the class more fun and rewarding, mentors give the New Musicians certificates after they choose their instrument. (Courtesy of Jordan Markwood)

Senior Sydney Pascual and juniors Ananya Akula and Emily Gruessing serve as co-presidents, or Chapter Presidents.  “I feel like I had so many ideas to share,” Pascual said. 

Chapter Presidents are selected to lead the class and make up the lesson plans. They are able to collaborate with other presidents from around the country to share ideas and make the United Sound experience better. 

A typical class starts with an icebreaker or a game to get to know each other better. This helps deepen the connection between the Peer Mentors and New Musicians. Building these connections is sophomore Cassidy Perkins’ favorite part of United Sound. “Last class, one girl invited me over to her house,” Perkins said. “It’s fun finding a friend in a way that I didn’t expect to.”

The mentors teach the New Musicians using things they are familiar with. They are currently learning rhythm and they use different foods to represent the different notes, like cake for quarter notes, soup for half notes, and donuts for eighth notes. 

Pascual felt that the relationships formed between everyone are the best part of United Sound. “It’s not just about the music, it’s about the relationships, and I think it’s really important that we connect ourselves to them,” Pascual said.

Teaching the New Musicians offers a special way of understanding and relating to fellow students.  “They have bad days and they get frustrated, but getting to know them more and what helps motivate them or when they need to take a break or whatever, is something that I probably wouldn’t learn [just being in a class].”

The New Musicians will join the band for their winter concert on Dec. 8.