Music Learning Theory operates under the assumption that we learn music in a very similar way that we learn language. Although music isn’t a language in the strictest sense, we can certainly communicate with each other through music.
If thinking is an essential part of language, then there must be musical thinking. Musical thinking is called audiation.
Therefore, if we are going to learn to think musically, we need to follow parallel steps that we use in language acquisition.
Too often in music, we learn many parts without too much reference to the whole. For example:
we learn songs in music class without ever knowing the big picture (What tonality or meter we are in, for example).
We learn guitar chords for individual songs without making generalizations from song to song.
Music Learning Theory aims to break that cycle by asking us to make generalizations about music, to put our seemingly isolated musical parts into a whole so that the big picture makes sense.
In its simplest form, here is how WHOLE-PART-WHOLE plays out in MLT:
We get a fuzzy notion of the whole of a tonality (Major, Minor, Dorian, Mixolydian, for example) or meter (Duple, Triple, for example) simply by being exposed to it.
We learn, or are taught, patterns, the parts that make up that tonality or meter. For example, in each tonality, we learn:
In each meter, we learn:
Once we understand the parts, we return to the whole with greater understanding. The parts we learn are no longer in isolation because we are learning them within the context of a tonality or a meter.
We will learn to make generalizations about music from song to song, and the mystery of how music “works” becomes a thing of the past.
Click here to see a lesson using Rote Song Procedure. This is an interesting way that MLT teachers present songs to students. Students first listen to the song as a whole. Then, the teacher asks them to isolate the parts - melody, macrobeats, microbeats, resting tone, bass line. Then, the song is performed together, and the students have a greater sense of the whole.
Listen to Ed Gordon give a lecture on the tenets of Music Learning Theory. This mp3 is hosted by the Gordon Archives at the University of South Carolina.
Click to Listen
A resource for musicians, music teachers, and parents of future musical prodigy
Learn the language of music.
Learn the tonalities with these short, catchy tunes.
Short songs in varied tonalities and meters with words to sing for your baby.
Vocal musings for listening and audiation purposes.
Andrew Mullen is a teacher, folk musician, multi-instrumentalist, song-writer, and lifelong learner. He has taught all levels of students in a number of subjects, and is currently a middle school teacher and curriculum coach in Burlington, Massachusetts. Mr Mullen holds Masters degrees in Music Education and School Administration, as well as certification from the Gordon Institute of Music Learning (GIML) in Elementary General and Early Childhood Music. He is currently entertaining Doctoral scholarships.