Introduction to El Sistema

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PDF video transcript: Introduction to El Sistema

NYC seminario, New York, NY

presented by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute
in partnership with Orchestra of St. Luke’s

Union City Music Project, Union City, NJ

Melina García, founder and director
Samuel Marchán, artistic director

Unit 1 provides an introduction to El Sistema, its history, and its core principles. Founded in 1975 by Dr. José Antonio Abreu in Venezuela, El Sistema has been described as a movement of music education for social change. Ideas of community and citizenship are central to El Sistema-inspired teaching and learning, which has been taking hold in programs across the United States.

In New York City, a seminario — a common event in Venezuela — brings together children of diverse ages and musical levels to rehearse and perform with members of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

In a low-income New Jersey community where opportunities for instrumental music education are scarce, the Union City Music Project has been built on the philosophical and pedagogical foundations of El Sistema. From day one, preschoolers develop pre-orchestra skills as part of an ensemble — a musical community. Parents are intimately involved in the process of building paper violins with their children.


  • Programs both serve and respond to the needs of a community, as well as build on the assets of a community.
  • Ensemble music-making is at the heart of all learning — both musical and social.
  • Parents are involved throughout the program.
  • No student is too young to be a vital contributing member of a musical ensemble.
  • Musicians have a responsibility to share their skills or knowledge with others who are still learning.


  • Bringing together musicians with different skill levels from multiple sites for a seminario, an intensive session of rehearsal, performance, and community-building.
  • Helping preschoolers learn how to hold a violin by practicing with a book
  • Using movement when introducing notes on a scale
  • Creating paper violins to use before real instruments


The musical activities in this unit address the following Anchor Standards of the National Core Arts Standards:


  • Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation
  • Develop and refine artistic work for presentation
  • Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work


  • Perceive and analyze artistic work


  • Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art