Gordon Music Learning Theory

Gordon Music Learning Theory

The Gordon Music Learning Theory, often referred to as simply Music Learning Theory, is one of a number of theoretical models of music learning. Developed by Edwin E. Gordon and based on research and field testing, it is a stage specific model of how students learn music and how it should be taught. It was first presented in his 1971 The Psychology of Music Teaching and has been revised and clarified in his subsequent texts.[1] The teaching method is sequential and uses the concept of audiation, Gordon's term for mentally hearing and comprehending music.[2] Music Learning Theory has many characteristics in common with rote-first methods such as those developed by Suzuki, Dalcroze, Kodaly, and Orff. Students build a foundation of aural and performing skills through singing, rhythmic movement, and tonal and rhythm pattern instruction before being introduced to notation and music theory.[3]


Music learning sequences

Music Learning Theory uses three basic learning sequences - skill learning, tonal content, and rhythm content.[4] As a method of instruction, the learning sequences are combined in various learning sequence activities which, in turn, can be combined with classroom activities. In this method a skill level cannot be achieved except in combination with a tonal or rhythm content level.[5]


Audiation is fundamental to Music Learning Theory,[6] and knowledge of its role is considered basic to an understanding of the learning sequences involved.[7] The theory proposes that audiation is a cognitive process and the musical equivalent of thinking in language. In contrast to aural perception, audiation takes place when music is mentally heard and understood when the physical sound is no longer present (or never has been). Although Gordon was the first to coin the term audiation in relation to music learning theory,[8] the subjective experience of hearing in the absence of physical sound (often referred to as auditory imagery) has long been studied by psychologists and neuropsychologists.

Music aptitude

Music Learning Theory explicitly takes into account students' differing potentials for musical achievement when designing their individual learning programs. In this theory, musical aptitude is considered to be normally distributed in the population, with relatively few people having high or low aptitude and the majority having average aptitude.[9] Gordon devised several instruments for testing musical aptitude in children – most notably the Primary Measures of Music Audiation (PMMA) and the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation (IMMA) and emphasises the need to develop whatever aptitude the child has from an early age:

"The fact is, music aptitude is something we're born with; it's an innate capacity, and unless it's nurtured at an early age, by age 9 nurturing will no longer help." – Edwin Gordon [10]

The IMMA and PMMA aptitude tests have been frequently used in studies on the development of children's musical abilitities,[11] including those by Peter Webster (1987) and Sam Baltzer (1990) which found no relationship between measures of music aptitude per se and measures of creative thinking in music.[12]

Notes and references

  1. ^ Luce, David W., "Music Learning Theory and Audiation: Implications for Music Therapy Clinical Practice" in Music Therapy Perspectives, American Music Therapy Association, 2004. Accessed via subscription 28 December 2008
  2. ^ Dalby, Bruce. "About MLT". The Gordon Institute for Music Learning. Retrieved on 2008-12-01
  3. ^ Dalby, Bruce. "About MLT". The Gordon Institute for Music Learning. Retrieved on 2008-12-01
  4. ^ Dalby, Bruce. "About MLT". The Gordon Institute for Music Learning. Retrieved on 2008-12-01
  5. ^ Gordon, Edwin E. (1980). Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns(1984 ed.). G.I.A. Publications, Inc.
  6. ^ Shehan, Patricia K. (February, 1986). "Major Approaches to Music Education: An Account of Method.". Music Educators Journal 72(6), 26-31.
  7. ^ Gordon, Edwin E. (1980). Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns(1984 ed.). G.I.A. Publications, Inc.
  8. ^ Schneider, Peter, Source activity and tonotopic organization of the auditory cortex in musicians and non-musicians, PhD Dissertation, University of Heidelberg, 12 December 2000.
  9. ^ Dalby, Bruce. "About MLT". The Gordon Institute for Music Learning. Retrieved on 2008-12-01
  10. ^ Quoted in Howard, Sharma, "Teaching music to children should begin at an early age", Norwich Bulletin, 24 November 2007
  11. ^ Kreutzer, Natalie Jones. "Music Acquisition of Children in Rural Zimbabwe: A Longitudinal Observation, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 2001. Accessed via subscription 28 December 2008
  12. ^ Peter Webster, "Refinement of a Measure of Creative Thinking in Music," in Applications of Research in Music Behavior, Clifford Madsen and Carol Prickett (eds), University of Alabama Press, 1987; and Baltzer, Sam, A Factor Analytic Study of Musical Creativity in Children in the Primary Grades, Ed.D. Dissertation, Indiana University, 1990; both cited in Webster, Peter and Richardson, Carol, "Asking children to think about music", Arts Education Policy Review, 1993. Accessed via subscription 28 December 2008.

Further reading

  • Bluestine, Eric (2000). The Ways Children Learn Music: An Introduction and Practical Learning Guide to Music Learning Theory. Chicago: GIA Publications. ISBN 1579991084
  • Gordon, Edwin E. (1971). The psychology of music teaching. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Gordon, Edwin E. (1979). Primary Measures of Music Audiation. Chicago: GIA Publications.
  • Gordon, Edwin E. (1989). Learning sequences in music; Skill, content and patterns. Chicago: GIA Publications.
  • Gordon, Edwin E. (1997). Learning sequences in music: Skill, content and patterns; A music learning theory (1997 ed.). Chicago: GIA Publications.
  • Gordon, Edwin E. (1997). A music learning theory for newborn and young children (1997 ed.). Chicago: GIA Publications.
  • Gordon, Edwin E. (2001). Jump Right In: The Music Curriculum: Reference Handbook for Using Learning Sequence Activities (3d rev. ed.). Chicago: GIA Publications.

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