Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences: Musical Intelligence

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences: Musical Intelligence

Article excerpt

IN THE LAST INSTALLMENT of "Mindful Voice," Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner's revolutionary Theory of Multiple Intelligences was examined as a paradigm shift in the history of education. In the years since the publication of Gardner's groundbreaking book Frames of Mind in 1983, the cognitive revolution continues to unfold at a rapid pace, and offers new insights about music in general and the art of singing in particular.

Cognitive scientists have long acknowledged the mystery of music, chiefly by noting its utter "uselessness" in the most basic biological sense, that is, the human striving for survival and reproduction.

Music is an enigma . . . What benefit could there be to diverting time and energy to the making of plinking noises, or to feeling sad when no one has died? . . . As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless.1

Two theories posited among evolutionary psychologists (those who study the evolution of the human brain) run counter to this argument. One theory is that music may have functioned as a type of mating call among early humans;2 the other is that the voice of the mother crooning her baby to sleep, which morphed into the lullaby, in a small yet significant way may have helped ensure the survival of the species.3


Developmental psychologists agree that one of the earliest talents to emerge in the developing child is musical. Gardner noted that, except among children whose parents create musical opportunities for them via private lessons, for most children "there is little further musical development after the school years begin."4 This may seem merely regrettable, but when contrasted with the development of language, should be deplored by all who are concerned with human development.

[W]hereas, in the case of language, there is considerable emphasis in the school on further linguistic attainments, music occupies a relatively low niche in our culture, and so musical illiteracy is acceptable.5

Those who believe that differences in early opportunities and training are the real determinants of musical excellence may find accord with the challenge to the notion of talent itself that was put forth by the cognitive research team of Michael Howe, though possibly not their blunt conclusion: "Innate talents are, we think, a fiction, not a fact."6 I believe Gardner offers a more credible solution to the nature-vs.-nurture dichotomy.

I reject the "nature-nurture" dichotomy, as do most other biologically informed scientists. Instead, I stress the constant and dynamic interaction, from the moment of conception, between genetic and environmental factors.7

For the child of exceptional musical talent, the move from an intuitive, "gifted" musical ability to more formal requirements, like reading notation, is often fraught with resistance and even crisis. Because innate musical abilities are situated in the right hemisphere of the brain, while logical/mathematical reasoning is situated in the left, the ability to cross back and forth over the corpus callosum (the major neural connection area between the left and right hemispheres of the brain) is essential to mastering Western classical music. This may help explain why some musically gifted people may resist formal musical training; if they are naturally inclined to right brain activity, this crossing over entails dedicated learning, which by its very nature, unmasks and destabilizes intuitive talents. For precociously talented children and adults alike, this crisis may devastate the natural desire to make music.

Interestingly, the more musical training a person has, the more he tends to access left brain function when processing musical information.8 Gardner stated at the time Frames of Mind was published that it was not clear why this is so; a hypothesis at that time suggested that people with a natural musical intelligence would also tend to evince heightened logical/mathematical and spatial intelligences, and vice versa. …

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