Many teachers are often intrigued by Gordon’s Music Learning Theory, but, when put to the task of trying to implement it in their classrooms in a meaningful way, are bereft of any concrete tangible way to start.
Picking up the mammoth “Learning Sequences in Music” may leave more questions than answers. Having read that weighty tome a dozen or so times, I still find it difficult to wade through. Each sentence could be unpacked into its own chapter!
Learning Music Learning Theory Learning Theory
I’ve often joked that learning Music Learning Theory could have its own learning theory! Having learned a lot about MLT from many of Dr. Gordon’s students in GIML PDLC’s (Professional Development Level Courses), I have seen many approaches to teaching MLT, both to newbies in workshops and level 1 courses and to advanced students in seminars and level 2 courses.
I have also spent a great deal of time studying the way that Dr. Gordon presented MLT by watching many videos of him teaching, listening to the various lecture series that accompanied the 1980, 1984, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2007, and 2012 editions of “Learning Sequences in Music,” and listening to various seminars and classes he taught. I am a self-identified Gordon Geek!
Having spent all that time synthesizing Gordon’s teaching, I have developed a sort of informal learning theory about how to learn Music Learning Theory. A...Learning Music Learning Theory Learning Theory! (LMLTLT...because everything needs an acronym!)
The First Five: The Tenets of Music Learning Theory
Many different MLT pedagogues have varying opinions about the core tenets of the approach. Though opinions vary about what should or could be on a top 5 list, I present my own “First Five Ideas in MLT” that would be included in a LMLTLT. These are my top five simply because they will allow teachers to incorporate MLT into their classroom in a slow and sequential manner.
THE FIRST FIVE
Audiation as the foundation of musical understanding
The Music/Language Parallel
The MLT Three: Skills, Context, Content
The Whole Part Whole Learning Model
Two Teaching Modalities: Learning Sequence Activities and Classroom Activities
Let’s break each one of these down a bit more with the understanding that each of these “First Five” will be the subject of its own article.
The same way that we can visualize an image in our brain and bring meaning to it, we can “hear” music. We can have musical thoughts. But to truly audiate, we must understand the thoughts we are having.
Are you audiating?
If you are listening to a piece of music, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you know what tonality or meter you are in?
- Can you pick out the various pitches and give them an aural label?
- Do you know the underlying harmonic progression?
- Would you know what chords to play on the piano or guitar?
- Do you know if a modulation took place?
- Could you transcribe the rhythm?
If you can do all of those things, you are well on your way to being able to audiate! But remember, as Dr. Cindy Taggart says: “Audiation isn’t yes or no; it's a matter of degree.”
Why do we want our students to audiate?
The answer to this question is a simple one: because we want our students to be independent musical thinkers. (Bluestein)
If we continue to draw the analogy between music and language, the need for audiation becomes even clearer! We teach our students words and how to use them in sentences not so they can simply echo us forever, but so they can use those words to make their own thoughts and express them through their spoken or written language! They could not do that if they were simply echoing the words, and never had a chance to apply them through language improvisation.
Gordon argues that we want the same thing for our students in music. We teach them musical patterns so that they can use those patterns to make their own music, thereby triggering musical thought.
Gordon on Audiation
In addition to his prolific writing, Dr. Gordon also left us with many of his lectures memorialized in audio for generations to come. This lecture, which accompanied the 1997 edition of Learning Sequences in Music, brilliantly summarizes audiation. (GIML members can hear all of these lectures in the members-only area!)
Dr. Heather Shouldice on Audiation
For those who haven't checked it out yet, GIML faculty member Dr. Heather Shouldice has a new podcast devoted to MLT. One of her recent episodes focuses on audiation. Please subscribe to her podcast and listen to this episode!
2. We learn music in a very similar way that we learn language.
Gordon’s research suggested that the process for learning music is very similar to the process for learning language. Although music is a language per se, if we treat the music learning process like we do the language learning process, our path to musical understanding becomes quite clear.
See my article about this comparison: The Music/Language Parallel.
3. The MLT Three: Skills, Context, Content
Aside from the obvious goal of audiation, to get started with MLT, you need to get a handle on three things right off the bat: Skills, Context, and Content.
I do a deep dive into the MLT 3 in this article.
One of the tenets of Music Learning Theory is the concept of Whole-Part-Whole instruction in curriculum development. Gordon argued that efficient learning takes place using this long-standing learning model.
In an MLT-inspired classroom, both of the “wholes” are all of the normal classroom activities that typically happen in a general music class or band, choir, or orchestra rehearsal. The “parts” are the Learning Sequence Activities, the active teaching of musicianship through pattern training. (See #5 below.)
See my article Whole Part Whole in the Music Classroom for specific examples of how this plays out in instruction.
5. Learning Modalities: Learning Sequence Activities vs. Classroom Activities
As stated above, we need to be cognizant of what teaching modality we are in.
Learning Sequence Activities
That is not to say that there cannot be informal patterning happening in your classroom activities. That is just to say that Learning Sequence Activities should ideally be an isolated portion (roughly 5 minutes) of your class each day.
In my article Two Teaching Modalities: Learning Sequence Activities and Classroom Activities, I share a video example from my classroom of a Whole-Part-Whole series of lessons with bucket drums.
After you understand the First Five, you should move on to The Following Five, which will be discussed in LMLTLT Part 2.
1. Gordon’s Skill Learning Sequence: The 30,000 Foot View
Learn the two generic types of learning (Discrimination and Inference) and the levels of sub-levels of musical skill that we can teach our students.
2. Tonal Content
Learn the basics of tonality ATG (according to Gordon), as well as an understanding of MLT’s preferred solfege system, moveable Do with a La-based minor.
3. Rhythm Content
Learn the basics of meter ATG, as well as an understanding of MLT’s preferred rhythm solfege system, moveable Du.
4. Navigating the Skill Learning Sequence.
Now that you have an understanding of each of the levels, learn how to navigate through the sequence through stepwise and bridging movement.