OAKLAND -- On a recent school day at Grass Valley Elementary, a classroom was quickly transforming into a state-of-the-art music studio.

Children smiled and laugh as they listened to Zapp & Roger's "More bounce to the ounce" music sample. Soon they moved into their groups and all that is seen are rushed hands gravitating toward the drum-pad machines and portable turntables.

It was time for Today's Future Sound, a music production and media arts program that is used to empower inner-city youth as artists and community members. Founded by Elliot Gann in 2012, the program teaches beat making, music theory, music production and DJing to youth in the Bay Area and nationally. It is being used in both the Oakland and Berkeley school districts as an after-school program.

Elliot Gann, CEO of Today’s Future Sound, explains how the grooves on a vinyl record work to students at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland on
Elliot Gann, CEO of Today's Future Sound, explains how the grooves on a vinyl record work to students at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland on Feb. 3, 2014. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

"There have been cuts toward public school funding and there's not enough art and music available to these kids," said Gann, program director and CEO. "We are teaching them music scales, keyboard chords and music theory to fill those gaps that budget cuts caused."

Gann, who holds a doctorate in psychology from Wright's Institute in Berkeley, came up with the idea for Today's Future Sound while working on his dissertation on the therapeutic effects of rap music on adolescents and unprivileged youth.

Today's Future Sound isn't just exposing students to the world of music, it is also interweaving innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum into the equation of beat making and DJing.

"We are using beat making as a portal to open the world of app developing, computer science and emerging technology. We also have lesson plans that are the math and science of beats that illustrate fractions, ratios and decimals," said Gann, a connoisseur of hip-hop beat making for more than 10 years.

The program has been an eye-opening experience for Terry Phillips, a fourth-grader at Grass Valley.

Gabrielle Goncalves, 9, a fourth grader at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, uses a tablet touchpad to add music samples to a programmed backbeat.
Gabrielle Goncalves, 9, a fourth grader at Grass Valley Elementary School in Oakland, uses a tablet touchpad to add music samples to a programmed backbeat. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

"When I first heard music I thought it was something to listen to when you were down or bored, but when I came into the TFS group I learned how music was actually made," the 9-year-old said.

The hands-on approach encourages students to experiment with industry-quality beats using various music software.

Music's therapeutic effect also helps kids who are exposed to trauma, anxiety or having social issues, Gann said. By mastering the skills of beat making, it not only gives them a new skill set but it also boost their self-esteem, he said.

"I love Today's Future Sound because it really is a way for young artists to express their feelings." said Douglas Brooks, a fifth-grader at Prescott Elementary.

Last year, Douglas and his classmate Tai'Zair Cannon competed mostly against high school students at the Youth Arts Summit in San Francisco.

"We formed a group called the 'Golden Mics' with our two other friends. We placed first in the competition and won $75," Douglas said.

The program has resourceful information about professional music engineering schools and has a strong network to mentors within the music industry, Gann said.

"We try to do the best we can to get our participants the right connections."

To learn more about Today's Future Sound, contact Elliot Gann at 510-969-0703.