Guest Blog Series: Multiple Intelligences in Music, Part III

We recently received three guest blog entries regarding the use of Multiple Intelligences Theory in music education. The first, about MI and songwriting, is available by clicking here. The second, about how MI can have positive effects on engagement and success for music students, is available by clicking here.

In the third installment, printed below, Drs. Cecilia Martin Hoyos and Luis Ponce de León, researchers from Spain, outline a structure for music education combining Edgar Willems' pedagogy with MI theory.


Multiple Intelligences and Edgar Willems’ approach to music education

By Dr. Cecilia Martín Hoyos and Dr. Luis Ponce de León

Do we want a well-rounded education for our children? Most any parent would most probably give an affirmative answer. This idea of a balanced, well-rounded education, where attention is paid to the child’s intellectual, social, sportive, artistic and humanistic development, is fully represented in Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983). Arts, and music in particular, have a fundamental role in artistic and humanistic development; but what if we had empirical evidence showing that music could have more than an aesthetic mission? What if music instruction had a positive effect on all intelligences?

As music teachers, inspired by Gardner’s theories, we have asked ourselves what it is about music and music instruction that helps children develop each and every intelligence. What happens in the music lesson that make students grow in so many different directions?

We have attempted to answer this question taking a specific approach to music education into account: Edgar Willems' (1890-1978) music teaching system. Apart from the fact that Willems had a special significance in our own training as teachers, we decided to turn to his approach because of the detailed breakdown of music instruction that Willems and his followers, especially Jacques Chapuis (1926-2007), have published. Willems showed a profound knowledge of children and their developmental stages, finding links between the elements of music and the nature of the child.

Building bridges between music instruction and MI was our mission for several years. We will briefly share some of these relationships in the following paragraphs, hoping that they will provide food for thought and debate.

Willems’ teaching system

One of Edgar Willems’ main goals as a teacher was to design an approach to music education that would prove most beneficial to the development of the child, an approach that still has a significant impact in music education in several European and Latin American countries.

Willems’ concern was making parents and educators understand “the importance of music education, which, going beyond the apprenticeship of an instrument or music itself, has a direct influence on the principal faculties of the human being.” Willems offers a musical education accessible to all children, ideally from an early age. Through the joy of discovering the language of music one achieves sensory, affective and mental development, all this without needing to add “extra-musical” elements to the lesson, such as colors or stories.

So, how do MI relate to a Willems-based music lesson?

Linguistic Intelligence

Words often play a significant role in music and music education. When singing with words or playing with the rhythm of speech, our linguistic intelligences are obviously put to work. However, music is a language by itself, and even when words are absent in a Willems-based lesson, making and reacting to music can eventually help with the learning of other natural languages.

When children are asked to listen to ascending and descending melodic contours, following melodic movement with their hands, or when asked to recognize and imitate sounds, students are developing phonological skills, skills concerned with how sounds are organized and used in languages. Fostering good aural discrimination will pave the way for an easier acquisition of foreign languages, improving pronunciation and listening skills. In tonal languages this is even more evident. Mastering the different shēng or tones in Mandarin-Chinese is all about melodic contours.

Bells used for aural discrimination

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

Working with patterns and sequences successfully is just one of the many aspects of logical- mathematical intelligence that finds its place in music instruction. Willems’ teaching approach, especially towards its third stage of the scheme, focuses on the many patterns and cycles that one can find in music.

Scales are just one example. Children will learn to sing a host of scale “cycles”, from Do to Do, Re to Re, Mi to Mi, and so forth, in every key, singing all sounds to the same syllable, such as “no”, in order to focus on the cycle of pitches. They will also recite the “cycle of names” on one same pitch, focusing on the order and pattern of the words we use to label sounds. A short musical idea can be sung and repeated, starting from the next note of the scale in ascending order each time, until we reach the original motif. These “ordering” exercises not only help understand the order and hierarchy that tonality comprises, but are likely to develop the “logical mind”.

The scale cycle drawn by a student

Spatial Intelligence

Enrique Granados, one of the greatest Spanish composers of the nineteenth century, described music as architecture in movement. Let us dwell on this beautiful image. Why not turn on some music? Instrumental music preferably, so that words and their meanings don’t take up our attention. With our eyes closed, let us try to visualize all that we hear.

Our doctoral research showed us the strong links between spatial intelligence and music intelligence. One important link is graphical representation of music, a significant step in the second stage of Willems’ scheme. Five-year olds will graphically represent musical features such as melodic movement, sound duration or variation in intensity. The simple line graphs that are drawn are indeed “visual maps” to music, maps that will be increasingly refined until children become proficient sheet music navigators.

Students reading melodic movement in graphics

Students reading melodic movement in graphics

Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence transpires in music when we pay attention to the accuracy and virtuosity of instrumental touch. Anyone that has seen a good musician perform will have observed the long and complex sequence of movements that take place at great speed.

We also become aware of this when observing how the plasticity and flexibility of movements can help convey musical content, such as the mood of a musical work. Have you ever watched an orchestral conductor on television while muting the volume of your set? Could you actually imagine the music taking place just by observing his gestures? You could most probably feel the character and tempo without listening to a single note.

Great attention is paid to bodily-kinesthetic aspects, especially in the development of rhythmic skills and the introductory work to instrumental performance. Activities involving corporal movement are featured in every lesson.

Corporal movement with music in class

Corporal movement with music in class

Corporal movement with music in class

Personal intelligences

Given the emotional nature of music, personal intelligences are at its core. Unfortunately, this is sometimes ignored in music education; we can still find music lessons around the globe where the main emphasis is put on technique and where students are made to sing or perform on instruments without fostering expressivity. The umbilical cord between the child’s emotional core and her expression through music can’t be taken for granted.

In Willems’ approach to music education children are encouraged to take part actively in the lessons. Children are frequently asked to express themselves musically through melodic and rhythmic improvisation. Personal intelligences also play a significant role when students are asked to move to the music chosen because of its emotional content.


After opening a small window to the “transfer effects” of musical intelligence to all other Multiple Intelligences, through the lens of a specific approach to music education, we keep on asking ourselves: shouldn’t music education be taken more seriously by school administrators and political authorities worldwide?

When granting scholarships, the majority of the most prestigious Anglo-American schools and colleges take musical background into account. . Why is this so, even when the institution’s aim is not to help students pursue a career in music? Could it be that principals and deans are aware that students with a significant background in music are often good listeners, empathic, with considerable analytical and synthetic skills, with a predisposition to learn foreign languages more easily, with good spatial organization skills, great control over their bodies, a great capacity for self-motivation, discipline and a sense of responsibility? Who wouldn’t want to have this kind of students!?

Even if it just for practical reasons, given the positive “side-effects”, music education should have a much greater importance than what it has today. Having said this, let us put aside the benefits of music education and training, the effects on academic performance or the prospect of a coveted scholarship. The beauty, the grandeur and the value of music by itself can’t be stressed enough. We couldn’t agree more with Gardner’s words when he states in this same blog that “if the arts help with math or SAT scores, that’s just a bonus”.

Should we start encouraging teachers to use mathematics “instrumentally”, to help improve musical intelligences?

Guest Blog Series: Multiple Intelligences in Music

This past month we received two guest blog entries regarding the use of Multiple Intelligences Theory in music. As such, we've decided to publish them back to back, in a sort of series. The first of these blogs is written by Dr. Clive Harrison of the University of Newcastle in Australia.

It’s a pleasure to read this contribution. I’ve not thought much about song writing and have been intrigued that some individuals start to write song and lyrics while still children—they seem ‘called’ to this pursuit.  Clive Harrison shows vividly that good song writers draw on  range of intelligences and that naturalistic intelligence looms surprisingly large in their song-writing quiver.  Of course, listening to songs is a quite separate endeavor—and I wonder whether listeners draw on different intelligences as they choose and then listen repeatedly to their favorite songs. As I consider how we relate to sung music—listening to the lyrics, dancing, doddling, day dreaming—I realize that this activity is also one that can activate multiple intelligences.

In this week's blog, Dr. Harrison discusses how multiple intelligences can be applied to understanding songwriting practice.

Click here to read Part II of the series about MI increasing the engagement and success of music students, and click here for Part III about Edgar Willems' teaching system in combination with MI.


The Songwriting Coalface: Where Multiple Intelligences Collide

Dr. Clive Harrison

How do great songwriters keep coming up with those wonderful songs?

While designing tertiary songwriting courses some years ago, I realized that songwriters need a different range of capacities to other (instrumental) composition students – the most obvious being good linguistic skills (to create the necessary lyrics). At my college of 65 music lecturers, I was the only one delivering course materials covering linguistic/verbal skills, and I suspected that there was more to the craft than many of them realized (I heard comments like “anyone can write songs”, “you either have it or you haven’t”, and “I’ve never written songs, but teaching it would be a piece of cake”.

As someone who has ridden the songwriting roller-coaster from utter rejection to worldwide success (and fortunately some enormous royalty cheques), I know the challenge that successful songwriting presents. And for the purposes of designing an effective songwriting course, Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (1983) provides a ‘useful fiction’ (his term); an excellent ‘fit’ that can be usefully mapped into songwriting practice and education.

Mapping MI theory into songwriting practice

It would appear self-evident that songwriters would need adequate musical/aural skills, verbal/linguistic skills for penning lyrics, and the bodily/kinesthetic skills necessary to perform on an instrument and/or sing the song (while the last may not be mandatory, it is a great asset). Furthermore, excellent logic/mathematical skills make possible a computer/technological methodology for creating songs and recording them ‘in the box’ (typically a laptop), and even those who lack an appealing melodic singing voice can speak their lyrics and artificially create melody using Autotune © or Melodyne © software. While it could be argued that visual/spatial capacity is not so obviously required (songs being auditory in nature), it is worth noting that they songwriters do employ visualization extensively in their lyric-writing and spatial skills when mixing tracks as they create an aural ‘space’ for the song to reside in.

Less obvious perhaps than the first five stated, are the two capacities Gardner categorizes as inter- and intra-personal intelligences. Songwriters often fulfill a cultural role as contemporary ‘bards’, relating tales of broken, mended, desirable, undesirable relationships, life experiences and situations and conflict resolution. It is not surprising then that inter-personal skills inform insightful and valued lyric writing. Once accepted into the cultural domain, faithful followers grant the songwriters a licence to speak on their behalf through song - as a genre-specific authority, advocate or representative. Intra-personal intelligence facilitating perception, self-reflection, self-analysis, reasoning and rumination, rounds out the seven capacities and provides a lens through which useful observations can be presented through song.

An unexpected conclusion.

Having covered the initial seven intelligences described in Frames of Mind (1983), I then considered the eighth – naturalistic intelligence (introduced by Gardner in Creating Minds, 1993) – to see if it was a good ‘fit’ for the songwriting process as I have experienced it over the years. My first impressions were that a Darwinian ability to identify species in nature was too remote to be relevant and useful for teaching songwriting to university students. However, as I delved deeper into songwriting research and andragogy (teaching adults), I noticed that the ‘Big-C’ creators in the songwriting realm (those who created significant works) seemed to know what to write, and when to write it.

As a session musician, I have been lucky to have worked with a wide range of songwriters (98 record albums at last count), and I can say that the very best seem to have a special ‘knack’ for making outstanding songwriting choices – ones that seemed to resonate with their specific audience, at a specific time. The exemplars in the field always seemed to have a kind of ‘musical radar’ as to what would work and what wouldn’t. On reflection, it hit me that what they had in abundance (that mortal ‘Pro-c’ creative professional songwriters had only in moderation) was an ability to recognize subtly different song ‘species’. They possessed, somehow, a musical version of naturalistic intelligence that allowed them to notice what others didn’t; a vocal nuance here, a subtle internal rhyme there, a softening of the arrangement density, an unusual but evocative choice of bass-note, or a microscopic tempo shift.

But I observed there were even more Darwinian aspects to the Big-C creative songwriter’s toolkit.

Beyond just noticing the finest of detail in the songs they listened to, wrote, recorded and performed, these exemplars of the songwriting realm were also observing at once the cultural and sub-cultural rise and fall of genres, sub-genres, trends and patterns in songs and songwriting craft. Not only were they aware of what was likely to be embraced by the listening audience right now, they were conscious of the waxing and waning of style as songs ‘survived or became extinct’, as it were.

Naturalistic intelligence in the songwriting domain

Their naturalistic capacity then (applied to the domain of songwriting), gave them an advantage; that of discriminant pattern recognition. Rather than recognize natural phenomena like cloud formations, bird beaks, and survival of the fittest life forms, these masterful songwriters recognized the social phenomena in the evolution of song formations, lyric trends, and survival of the most resonant song forms. They could discriminately make ‘intuitive’ selections from innumerable song choices, based on patterns recognized, observed and absorbed, and they would apply that expert algorithm to their songwriting craft.

It should be stated, however, that such ability does not ever guarantee success – it merely increases their chances of audience acceptance, and promotes industry confidence. The probability of audience acceptance combined with industry confidence considerably influences the field of intermediaries described in the Systems Model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988) and predisposes them to select the song for inclusion as a worthy addition to the cultural domain.

So songwriters engage in all eight multiple intelligences, and the very best songwriters have the naturalistic intelligence to stand above the rest. This mapping of MI theory into songwriting practice may explain why Neil Finn chose a Csus2 chord to open Don’t Dream It’s Over, why Paul McCartney wrote Yesterday with a seven bar structure, and why Gotye had Kimbra sing the third verse and bridge of Somebody I Used to Know - they simply observed important nuances, trends and patterns that the rest of us missed.

 Dr. Clive Harrison is a renowned session musician, composer, songwriter and music author based in Sydney, Australia. A former President of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers, his career spans 46 years, and he currently lectures in contemporary music performance, songwriting, composition and recording. 

Proposal to Integrate Music and Math Education

Notes by Howard Gardner

As a serious lover of music (of various genres), I’m delighted when anyone recommend that musical thinking/ musical intelligence be part of school curricula. Indeed, it is tragic that in so many American schools, music (and other art forms) are the first to be marginalized—athletics almost never is!

As is argued in this article, music can often provide a promising ‘entry point’ to the understanding of various curricula—from mathematics to history to science.  And it can work especially well for those who are blessed with strong musical intelligence.

Yet, I get nervous when people suggest that we should use music instrumentally (no pun intended). We do not justify the teaching of mathematics just because it might heighten one’s musical intelligence. Once we use music only to raise math scores, music becomes vulnerable if we find another way to raise math scores even more.

Part of education should be the ability to appreciate and to create in various art forms.  Involvement with the arts enriches life. Ask anyone whose life is rich with the arts whether they would willingly give up the arts, and I guarantee that the answer is ‘no’. As far as they are concerned, as far as I am concerned, if the arts help with math or SAT scores, that’s just a bonus.


New Research Supports Existence of a Music Center in the Brain

Natalie Angier's article New Ways Into the Brain's 'Music Room' discusses new findings from Dr. Nancy Kanwisher and Dr. Josh H. McDermott that suggest that there are neural pathways that react almost exclusively to music. Unlike previous studies that failed to find a distinct, anatomical music center in the brain, Kanwisher and McDermott's study showed that music circuits occupy a different region of the brain's auditory cortex than speech.

When I proposed the theory of multiple intelligences many years ago, one of the most important criteria for the identification of an intelligence was its localization in the brain. To be sure, this was not the only criterion:  some abilities (e.g. face recognition) that are localized are insufficiently broad to qualify as an intelligence;  and some intelligences have a broad or varied representation in the brain.

It’s long been known that musical abilities have a cortical representation that differs from language abilities:  that is why one can have aphasia without amusia, or amusia without aphasia.  But the new approach to brain imaging developed at MI has made a notable discovery; there are distinct neural pathways in the auditory cortex which respond preferentially to the sound of music, and those pathways are clearly different from those that respond to preferentially  to linguistic sounds.  Notable is the testimony of Elizabeth Margulis of the University of Arkansas. She points out that proponents of musical intelligence used to have to claim that music’s specialness derives from its integration of parts of the nervous system that had evolved for other purposes.  But now, says Margulis, “when you peer below the cruder level seen with some methodologies, you find very specific circuitry that responds to music over speech”.

I have always maintained that no single line of evidence can prove or disprove MI theory; there are no decisive experiments. Rather, what determine the validity of the theory is the steady accumulation of empirical evidence from a variety of sources and a variety of sciences.  This research, from the laboratory of distinguished MIT research Nancy Kanwisher, is one more brick of evidence in favor of the edifice of multiple intelligences.

Mozart, Multiple Intelligences, and the Vienna Method

Musicians utilize far more than just musical intelligence in their daily practice and performance. As Joshua Lange of Vienna Virtuoso explains in the following article (which originally appeared in the ASCD Multiple Intelligences Network Newsletter), MI theory has strong implications for the overall value of music education and MI informed pedagogy can create more skilled and developed performers.


Mozart, Multiple Intelligences, and the Vienna Method

By Joshua Lange

 Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, and many other masters studied and worked in Vienna, and the city still today boasts many of the best music tutors in the World. On the other side of the globe, in his work on prodigies and savants, Harvard Professor of Education Dr. Howard Gardner covered Mozart’s 'musical intelligence' and showed how talent development mixes with genius through context and culture. I show here how Vienna Virtuoso, the new and official online classical music academy of Vienna, is turning the old school of identifying musical genius locally into the new school of  creating musical genius globally through Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences.

In Gardner’s well-established work in neuropsychology, he found not a single, general intelligence, but several ‘brain potentials’ that could be verified. He showed us how creation at higher levels of human knowledge - such as orchestral composition - require a combination of ‘intelligences.’ Gardner stresses to educators that ‘an intelligence never works in isolation,’ and although he has repeatedly warned about the profiling of students as ‘musically intelligent,’ he himself characterizes the ‘orchestra violin player’ as a striking example of how Multiple Intelligences are combined on stage and in practice.

Gardner goes further in his conception of recognizing individual talent in music, suggesting that bodily-kinesthetic intelligence can be observed in how the player interacts with the physical form of the instrument and presents himself while playing; visual intelligence observed in sight-reading, the ability to present oneself with style and elegance, and the composition of music; logical-mathematical intelligence observed in the coordination of time and symbol in the thousands; interpersonal intelligence observed in the constant communication across the orchestra or ensemble; and intrapersonal intelligence observed in the discipline to follow something through and the self-confidence to perform publicly.

At Vienna Virtuoso, we believe that using MI Theory with learning management software and video-enabled tutoring can advance a music student’s skills exponentially. Our online program in Vienna makes the practice process faster, more convenient, and global, while also collecting data about MI in action and using it to develop talent. The tutor reviews short video practices, looking for improvements on several areas of ‘intelligence’ that relate to the pupil’s self-defined goals. For example, if the pupil is on a concert musician track and already has strong musical intelligence (aka ‘talent’), more attention will be given in feedback sessions to observations of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence - poise and the way he ‘touches’ the strings or keys, and interpersonal intelligence - the way he ‘communicates’ his music to different audiences.

In our understanding, musical intelligence relates to what is normally referred to as the musician’s “ear,” which is the element that differentiates the average from the extraordinary. Yet, particularly for competition and audition preparation, we find that musicians are judged on a range of features that go beyond a single "musical" intelligence. Whether the focus on the performer’s hand movements or the performer’s interaction with the audience, intelligences work together to create greatness. For an example of this, watch the sample video on our website where Professor Stefan Vladar responds to a student’s Mozart 20th Piano Concerto practice by showing him when to be prominent and when to soften his touch and allow the orchestra to be prominent.

By using MI Theory, Professor Vladar is focusing on the bodily-kinesthetic interaction with the musician’s "ear" and the interpersonal intelligence necessary to interact with the orchestra to take the student’s playing from above average to extraordinary. And having recorded 30 professional albums and performing as a soloist and conductor everywhere in the World, a tutor like Professor Stefan Vladar is not easy to find. In the European classical music tradition there are clear hierarchies of ability that restrict the best students to the best tutors. This system works to some extent, and the traditional Vienna School’s methods can be observed across cultures and time periods in the best conservatories and concert performers still today.

Thus a bridge needs to "connect" 21st Century uses of MI theory and a 400 year old tradition of individual talent development in music that seems to work well already. From a Vienna School perspective, to improve in music at a concert level, thus to firmly develop "musical intelligence," students have to be one-to-one with a competent expert.This is difficult, as noted in the MI research, because like the Viennese school of music tutoring, assumptions in MI Theory of how to develop talent is based on individual profiles of intelligence, and this can become quite expensive. In fact, most families today cannot afford a private music tutor.

However, it is the 21st Century after all, and we can now find tutors everywhere. But the quality of content depends on the people and the methods. For example, we hire Master’s Degree students at Vienna’s prestigious conservatory to use MI methods to tutor around the world in over a dozen languages, for one-third of the price of a face-to-face tutor, and directly from the same room in Vienna where Mozart taught his students! But without MI Theory, we wouldn’t motivate students nearly as effectively as with MI. We observed that when recorded in short video feedback form and aligned to an external rubric that accounts for MI, tutor observations over time can be translated into progress reports used for advancement within the program, result in better student awareness of their own intelligence strengths, and more importantly, result in better performance.

This leads inevitably to self-confidence, self-direction, and motivation to learn more about one’s strengths and weaknesses as well as technical skill. The traditional Viennese Method could do those things, but it wasn’t so much fun, nor was it so easy! We further find that MI Theory combined with leadership development, technology, and standardized curricula forms a strong foundation for assessment of instrumentation and performance in music. In sum, Vienna Virtuoso shows that with internet-based education technology, there are few limitations to implementing an MI-Informed pedagogy on a global scale at the same level of quality worthy of the name Mozart.


Josh Lange, MA, MEd, IDLTM

Josh Lange has held appointments as English Lecturer at two world-leading research universities before coming to Vienna. He holds a MA in English, a MEd in Interdisciplinary Higher Education, and the prestigious IDLTM from Cambridge University. He has won the 2012 International Teaching Excellence Award from University College London (UCL) and Columbia University. Josh has published in leading journals such as Stanford Social Innovation Review and Humanizing Language Teaching, and is Editor of the EU Guide to Utilizing University Intellectual Property for the Benefit of Society.

Readers who wish to contact Joshua can reach him at