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.

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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

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

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.

Movement

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.

Conclusion

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?

Howard Gardner’s Interview with Tiching Blog Featured In Spanish Book, “Hablamos de Educación”

In 2013, Howard Gardner was interviewed by the Spanish website, tiching.com.

Recently, this blog appeared in the Spanish education book, ”Hablamos de Educación”, or “Let’s Talk About Education”. Pages from the book featuring the interview can be found below, along with an English translation.

All around the world, the MI Theory continues to have an impact on education.

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2013 Interview with Tiching.com, English translation. This interview appeared in Spanish in its entirety in 2013 on blog.tiching.com. 

Tiching: Your Multiple Intelligences Theory is known around the world, but how can you define the term “intelligence”?

Howard Gardner: An intelligence is the biological and psychological potential to analyze information in specific ways, in order to solve problems or to create products that are valued in a culture.

T: Your Theory explains that exist eight different intelligences. Do we have all the intelligences in various grades or each person has only one type of intelligence?

HG: As implied by the definition, I reject the notion that human beings have a single intelligence, which can be drawn on for the full range of problem solving.  What is usually called ‘intelligence’ refers to the linguistic and logical capacities that are valued in certain kinds of school and for certain school-like tasks.  It leaves little if any room for spatial intelligence, personal intelligences, musical intelligence etc.

All human beings have all of the intelligences. But we differ, for both genetic and experiential reasons, in our profile of intelligences at any moment.  We can enhance our intelligences, but I am never going to become Yo-Yo Ma, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, or Pele, the soccer player.

T: We attended your Conference in Montserrat College and you talked about two new intelligences that you want to introduce (pedagogical and spiritual). How has this issue advanced?

HG: In order for me to ‘endorse’ an intelligence, I need to carry out lots of research.  I have had not had the time to research ‘teaching intelligence’ and that the survey I conducted years ago of ‘existential intelligence’ left me uncertain about whether it is a full-blown intelligence.  Yet I use these terms informally and anyone else is welcome to do so as well.

T: Which criteria do you use in order to include a new type of intelligence in your theory?

HG: My eight criteria for an intelligence are laid out in chapter 4 of my 1983 book FRAMES OF MIND.  These criteria are drawn from several disciplines and several kinds of populations.  There is not a single foolproof equation for determining whether a candidate intelligence does or does not qualify. I weigh the various considerations and make the best judgment I can. My guess is that ‘teaching intelligence’ and ‘existential intelligence’ would do pretty well on the 8 criteria: but as I’ve said, I have not been able to do the required research to be confident about my conclusion.

T: Do you think you will include more types of intelligence in the future?

HG: Only in a speculative manner.  My colleague Antonio Battro has written about a ‘digital intelligence’ and that is certainly worth thinking about.  However, at present, what he calls ‘digital intelligence’ seems adequately accounted for by logical-mathematical and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence—the skills of coding and of manipulating a mouse and/or a cursor.

T: You are working on Oasis Project, what are its objectives?

HG: This is a website, which will be launched in the summer of 2013  multipleintelligencesoasis.org  It represents my effort to describe MI theory, to highlight powerful applications, and to point out problematic assertions—hence the image of an oasis (water in the middle of a parched desert). At first it will only be an English but I’d be delighted if we could find a way to produce a high quality version in Spanish.

T: Most of the members of our community are teachers, how can they identify the intelligence of their pupils?

HG: When speaking to parents, I encourage them to take their child(ren) to a children’s museum and watch carefully what the child does, how she/she does it, what he/she returns to, where there is definite growth.  Teachers could do the same or could set up ‘play areas’ which provide ‘nutrition’ for different intelligences… and watch carefully what happens and what does not happen with each child.

When a child is thriving, there is no reason to spend time assessing intelligences. But when a child is NOT thriving—in school or at home—that is the time to apply the lens of multiple intelligences and see whether one can find ways to help the child thrive in different environments.

T: Once intelligences are identified, how can they be enhanced? Are empowerment mechanisms different for each type of intelligence?

HG: Intelligences are enhanced when a person engaged in activities that involve the exercise of that intelligence. It helps to have good teachers, ample resources, and personal motivation.  Anyone can improve any intelligence; but it is easier to improve the intelligence if those factors are available and if you have high potential in that intelligence.

T: Should school curriculums be rethinked in order to enhance all the intelligences? If yes, what should be transformed?

HG: I don’t think that it is necessary to rethink curricular goals. But it is certainly worth thinking about whether these goals can be reached in multiple ways. I think that any important educational goal can be realized via several routes.  In Chapter 7-9 of my 1999 book THE DISCIPLINED MIND, I show how to teach important lessons in science, history, and music, through alternative intelligences routes.

T: Which is the importance of new technologies, such as Tiching, in the learning process of each pupil?

HG: Any good teacher should become acquainted with relevant technologies. But the technologies should not dictate an education goal. Rather, the teacher (or parent or student or policy maker) should ask: can technology help to achieve this goal, and which technologies are most likely to be helpful?

T: Which is the intelligence that you have more developed?

HG: I think that I am strongest in linguistic and musical intelligence, and I continue to work on my interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence.

T: In which project/s are you working on now?

HG: For the last twenty years, I have been engaged in the GoodWork Project, a study of how professions survive in a time when markets are very powerful. The GWP now has many offshoots- which you can read about at thegoodproject.org. With Richard Light, a close colleague, I am starting a study of Liberal arts and sciences in the 21st century.  We want to understand how best to create and preserve a form of higher education that we value but that is in jeopardy for many reasons.

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Howard Gardner Comments on Proposal to Integrate Music and Math Education

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.

 

Why Teachers Should Embrace The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences

In a recent Huffington Post article, founding editor of Future Kerala Dipin Damodharan made the case for teachers to utilize Multiple Intelligences in the classroom. In “alternative” education, educators believe that the goals of education should be knowledge and growth. This view of education is in conflict with the idea that education is simply a means to land lucrative careers. As Mr. Damodharan states, MI can be used in “alternative” education settings as a tool to encourage students to gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum they’re being taught and to become global citizens. By utilizing two key components from MI theory, individuation and pluralization, teachers can tailor make their modules to play to their students’ strengths, improve upon their weaknesses, and keep their minds engaged.

 

Read the blog in its entirety here. 

Howard Gardner Comments on Article Regarding Standardized Testing and Inequality in Schools

Recently, I received correspondence from Dr. Matthew Knoester of the University of Evansville. Dr. Knoester shared with me his article  ”Standardized Testing and School Segregation: Like Tinder for Fire?” which can be found here.   In this piece, Knoester and Au review research on the effects of segregation and discuss how standardized testing is used to further facilitate racial segregation in schools today.

I agree generally with the critique presented in this article.  The problem as I see it is that many of our schools, at various levels, valorize the kinds of skills involved in standardized testing and so there is a vicious (or at least non virtuous) circle. I was once asked, by the deans of admission at several leading law schools, whether I could help change the LSAT. I terminated the conversation with one direct question:  “Are you willing to change what happens in Law School?”

Once we begin to truly value other kinds of skills and intelligences, then perhaps the veneration of ETS-style instruments will begin to give way to  a more nuanced and differentiated view of higher education.