Musical Intelligence

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Of all the gifts with which individuals may be endowed, none emerges earlier than musical talent" (Gardner, 1983, p. 99). Leonard Bernstein had lots of it; Mozart, presumably, had even more (Gardner, 1993b). Types of musical skills one might encounter in young, exceptionally talented individuals (called prodigies) might include playing a Bach suite for solo violin with technical accuracy as well as considerable feeling; performing a complete aria from a Mozart opera after hearing it sung but a single time; or playing on a piano a simple minuet the child has composed. There is a wide range of musical skills and abilities found in the human population and of ways in which people encounter music through the senses, media, and modalities. These abilities might be shown through singing, playing instruments by hand or with the mouth, writing or reading musical notation, listening to recordings, or moving to music.

Music has been described as the controlled movement of sound in time, and the "succession of tones and tone combinations so organized as to have an agreeable impression on the ear and its impression on the intelligence is comprehensible" (see Sessions, 1970). Composers, for example, work with tones, rhythms, and an overall sense of form and movement when deciding how much melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic repetition is appropriate and how much variation or elaboration is required to achieve their musical ideas (Gardner, 1983). Of the constituent elements of music, pitch and rhythm are central to the tonal and temporal aspects and provide the structural and organization components of the aural expression (Wright, 1985). While pitch and rhythm can exist independently, most often musical elements coexist.

Musical intelligence involves musical memory, a sensitivity to sound, and a responsiveness to sound sequences and structures. In addition, most people who have been involved intimately with music acknowledge the importance of emotions. Music conveys emotions or affects by capturing the forms of these feelings—it imitates the world around us and our human emotions (Worth, 2000). However, these emotions are more in the abstract than directly linked to events, objects, or persons. Music, which is perhaps the most abstract of the various art forms, is similar to abstract art—there is no object to which our emotions can be directed. In some ways, understanding music is a purer process than understanding language, because language is complicated with outside referents in order to determine meaning and to communicate. Music does not have easily detectable referents. Instead, it represents what is closest to us, too close to be put into words. It has the capacity not only to "go beyond words, but to exist only beyond words" (Worth, 2000, p. 105). Music is about "the experience that moves us, that reaches the deepest part of our interior world, that part in which the human spirit resides" (Eisner, 2001).

By: S. Wright - Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall -


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