What is Musical Intelligence? How Can I Improve It?

January 15, 2018

Musical intelligence is a land where the creative and artistic essence of mankind is represented. A land with its own universal language. A language we should all improve, one every child should have within their reach.

At the same time, few skills require as much sensitivity and such a subtle mastery of rhythm, pacing, pitch, and tone…

To this day, nobody has been able to pinpoint in history the exact instant music was first expressed. Anthropology, in fact, defends the theory that music has always been there, forming part of our evolutionary history.

Anthropology says it has always been imprinted into a very special spot of our brains. Actually, it’s known that 40 thousand years ago, flutes with various different holes already existed. This kind of instrument was found in excavations in Germany.

 “’Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”

Here’s an interesting fact. Some studies even talk about the symbolic ability of cavemen to perforate animal fingers for an unusual purpose: to create music.

It’s as if in some way the power of sound, music, and chants — with ceremonial, magical or playful purposes — has always belonged to our species. Something that seemed to have essentially one exclusive purpose: to unite us as social groups.

As neurologists describe, music is something that brings us the most pleasure. It’s even comparable to food and sex. Any musical expression is a pathway for our emotional language.

Also, as revealed in a study conducted by Gottfried Schlaug, a German neurologist, music favors structural changes in our brain which enhance the development of gray matter.

Improving our musical intelligence is then an exceptional way to improve many other areas of our lives.

Sheet music in the form of a heart.

Musical intelligence and Howard Gardner

It’s been over thirty years since Howard Gardner published his reference work: “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” Today, we’ve all heard about the theory of multiple intelligences and about those 9 human skills.

Within these, musical intelligence has of course always had a special spot due to being its own language and constituting a place for the expression of sensitivity.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche-

In this article, we’re not going to go into the validity of this classification. Because something we all already know is that the  Gardner’s Multiples Intelligences is controversial.

There is criticism from people who defend a single factor of intelligence (Spearman’s G factor). That said, this approach has helped us see intellect in a much broader sense. In fact, it has sparked a revolution for the better in the world of pedagogy and education.

Considering music a competence on its own

When it comes to musical intelligence, Howard Gardner states in his books that it is actually a completely separate intellectual competence. Its function can be found in a particular area of the brain.

Thus, while linguistic abilities are found almost exclusively in the left hemisphere, for most people the majority of musical abilities are concentrated in the right hemisphere.

Colorful swirls on a brain.

On the other hand, something Noam Chomsky has always suggested is that we have a genetic predisposition towards communication and learning articulated language.

Howard Gardner says something similar and many experts agree with him. He says that newborns also have a natural predisposition to music and elements like tone, melody, and rhythm.

However, Gardner quotes Jeanne Bamberger in his works. Jeanne is a musician and psychologist from MIT. She’s an expert who says that “musical thought implies its own rules and limitations and cannot be assimilated by simple linguistic or logical-mathematical thought.”

Therefore, we’re talking about a type of ability or intelligence that we should encourage from a very early age.

How can we improve our musical intelligence?

We know some people are born with a natural musical ability. In fact, there are some astounding examples, such as Anthony Thomas “Tony” DeBlois.

Tony is a blind boy with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Tony knows how to play over 20 musical instruments and can play over 8,000 compositions from memory.

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music, and I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
-Albert Einstein-

The fact that you came into the world without an early, prodigious interest in music doesn’t mean you can’t acquire good musical intelligence. Actually, what you need is an educational and family environment that fosters its development.

One that makes this type of discipline approachable. Where you can develop the creative aspects of music and work on this kind of language. A language combining emotions, curiosity, rhythmic patterns, songs, etc.

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, created by Paul McCartney, holds this philosophy.

musical intelligence in a baby playing the piano

Skills to develop in order to improve your musical intelligence

Now, many musicians, psychologists, and pedagogues have something positive and important to say to us. What is it? That music is an element of good health, a way to improve the self-esteem of children.

While it fosters creativity, it also improves their attention span. In addition, music reduces anxiety, encourages reflection, and improves social interactions.

Really, there’s no downside to introducing youngsters to the world of music. There, they may work on the following skills:

  • Identifying the rhythm, tone, and melody of a musical piece.
  • Developing the ability to play a song or even to modify it.
  • Improving their ability to emotionally connect to a melody, a musical piece or a song.
  • Knowing about different musical genres.
  • Learning how to identify instruments.
  • Improving their ability to improvise rhythmic sounds using any type of object.
  • The ability to compose music.

In conclusion, musical expression is a natural form of human communication. It’s a rhythmic flow that has captivated mankind since the beginning of time. And it has the ability to make us better, smarter people.

Let’s do what we can, then, to give our youth access to the power of music.