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What Is Musical Intelligence?

One of Beethoven's gifts was said to be his musical intelligence.
Musical intelligence might come naturally or be learned.
Some people can think in rhythm.
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  • Written By: Sarah Valek
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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Musical intelligence is the capacity to think in music and rhythm. People possessing it are considered to have a strong appreciation for music, can easily remember songs and melodies, have an understanding of timbre and composition, can identify differences between musical pitches and generally enjoy being immersed in music. The ability to play instruments comes naturally to this type of person.

Musical intelligence is part of the multiple intelligence (MI) theory developed by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner. According to MI theory, people are born with different types of intelligences. Gardner’s view of multiple intelligence is contrary to the traditional view of intelligence, which is defined as the ability to be proficient in math, science, general logic and all other forms of knowledge. According to these traditional views, testing is the gold standard for measuring how smart a person is.

Gardner outlines eight forms of intelligence: visual-spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, naturalist and musical-rhythmic. According to Gardner’s theory, a person can have one form of intelligence, like musical, but not have another form, such as intrapersonal, and still be considered smart. People with musical intelligence are often recognized as child prodigies with an amazing talent to think in patterns, sounds and rhythms.

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Beethoven, Mozart and cellist Yo-Yo Ma are considered to have musical intelligence, as are composers, conductors, music critics, instrument makers and musicians. People with this kind of intelligence are sensitive to meter, tone and melody and can easily distinguish between the sounds of different instruments. Musical people can play a variety of instruments and may be constantly heard singing or making some type of quality music. They think and learn best using music.

Multiple intelligences are not fixed. People who aren’t born proficient in music can still learn skills through practice. You can exercise your musical intelligence by learning about music theory, learning to play a new instrument, writing your own songs, exposing yourself to new music and actively listen to classical music.

Children should be exposed to music at a young age to fully stimulate their musical talents. Parents are urged to sing to their baby, expose their children to a variety of music, show children how to make rhythm and listen to live music. There are many studies describing the neurological connections of musical intelligence. The “Mozart Effect®,” a theory by music educator Don Campbell, claims that listening to Mozart stimulates early brain development, leading to a higher rate of musical intelligence. Both the Mozart effect and the theory of MI are still subjects of controversy and are not fully accepted by the scientific community.

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Spar1128
Post 5

I play by ear, and have been doing so for most of my life. I am 36 years old, and have been playing a variety of instruments by ear since the age of four. I have taken lessons to read music throughout my early school years, but that was never the reason I kept first chair in band all the way through my school years. I kept first chair because when I hear a song, phrase, or even a note or pitch change it is instantly locked in, whether I like it or not. All of my classmates in band disliked me because I would give the sheet music back to the teacher, and play the song, note perfect, on the first attempt.

I remember when my band teacher/instructor first tried to explain to the other kids why I didn’t have sheet music, and why I always kept first chair. It made me look like a brown-noser, or the teacher’s pet. My teacher could never really find the right words to say to the other students to make them understand clearly why I didn’t have to read music.

One day, one of my rival trumpet players in class was bickering about first chair, and he kept asking the teacher why, why, why. Finally I stood up walked over to the guy and took his sheet music and said, “Now play that whole song.” The look on his face was priceless; he didn’t get past the first line. That’s when I said. “That’s why, right there. There is your reason.” I had to explain to the other kids that I didn’t choose to be naturally talented, but that great musicians came from both sides of my family. Even though I was blessed with an amazing talent, there were times like this when I felt cursed.

I am very creative in many different ways. When I hear music, I see shapes, colors, images and sometimes my imagination can drift so far that I become the music. Music isn’t a choice for true musicians; it’s a lifestyle. It’s oxygen. Music is not what we do, but who we are. Even if a truly talented musician who plays by ear suddenly stops playing and doesn’t touch an instrument for years, it will still be there. It doesn’t go away. It is wedged deep inside your existence as a musician. The same goes for all talented artists.

I choose not to read music because I feel that my music comes out more freely, gracefully, and passionately when I don’t. When you are playing from sheet music, there’s no room for change or to alter it, and to me it feels like I’m being forced to do something. To this day, I close my eyes and play my piano in complete darkness. It’s a very open and free form of feeling the music. I use music to deal with my emotions. It’s an escape from everything in existence. I am truly a dreamer, and my dreams are the only thing I have that no one can ever take away from me.

anon342856
Post 4

I play by ear, and have been doing so for most of my life. I am 36 yrs old, and have been playing a variety of instruments by ear since the age of four. I have taken lessons to read music throughout my early school yrs. but that was never the reason I kept first chair in band all the way through my school yrs. I kept first chair because when I hear a song, phrase, or even a note or pitch change it is instantly locked in, whether I like it or not. All of my classmates in band were disliking me because i would give the sheet music back to the teacher, and lick every single note perfect on the first attempt.

I remember when my band teacher/instructor first tried to explain to the other kids why I didn't have sheet music, and why I always kept first chair. It made be look like a brown noser, or teachers pet. My teacher could never really find the right words to say to the other students to make them understand clearly why I didn't have to read music. One day one of my rival trumpet players in class was bickering about first chair, he kept asking the teacher why, why, why. Finally I stood up walked over to the guy and took his sheet music and said "Now play that whole song". The look on his face was priceless, he didn't get passed the first line. That's when I said "That's why, right there, there is your reason". I had to explain to the other kids that I didn't choose to be naturally talented, great musicians came from both sides of my family, Though I was blessed with an amazing talent it was times like this that I felt cused. I am very creative in many different ways, when I hear music, i see shapes, colors, images, and sometimes my imagination can drift me so far that I become the music. Music isn't a choice for true musicians, its a lifestyle, its oxygen. Music not what we do, but who we are. Even if a truly talented musician that plays by ear suddenly stops playing and don't touch an instrument for years, It will still be there, it doesn't go away, it is wedged deep inside your existence as a musician. The same goes for all talented artist, I choose not to read music because I feel that my music comes out more freely, graceful, and passionate. Where as when you are playing off of sheet music, there's no room for change or alter, to me it feels like i'm being forced to do something. to this day I close my eyes and play my piano in complete darkness. Its a very open and free form of feeling the music. I use music to deal with my emotions, its an escape from everything in existence. I am truly a dreamer, and My dreams are the only thing I have that no one can ever take away from me.

Spar1128

TheWraith517
Post 3

I was born with what is considered natural music theory. Many say it's a gift, but it's not; it's an emotional curse.

Granted, I can create amazing music out of thin air, and I can create it in real time for hours and hours. I can also hear a voice on TV/radio and visualize their face. But being able to predict where music and musicians are going to go next isn't really fun.

It's also true people like us we can jam with anyone on any instrument and you can't lose us within scales, but that takes a lot of enjoyment out of music and makes a lot of music very cliche for us.

What's not that commonly known about us is we can take an actor's script and re-phrase it so it better suits their vocal phrasing, making them much more natural sounding actors. Yet not many of us actually become professional directors, even though it's very clear we hear what's good and what's bad, what works and what doesn't.

GigaGold
Post 2

I have a friend who can't read music, but can play intricate melodies by ear. It is incredible to see him pick up a guitar or any other instrument that he hasn't had any lessons in and start jamming away on it like an expert.

BostonIrish
Post 1

While being a terrible person and a slob, Mozart was an unequalled musical genius. It could be true that he was given a very high dose of MI, while denied other forms of intelligence, as is the case with many "geniuses." There is often a give and take of different areas of intelligence, and this is a good thing, since it enables people to be interdependent on one another for expertise and skills in different areas of knowledge.

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