A Teacher’s Guide to Musical Intelligence

Musical intelligence can help children develop a sense of rhythm, boost pattern recognition skills, and retain information.

A Teacher’s Guide to Musical Intelligence

A Teacher’s Guide to Musical Intelligence

Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do! These notes aren’t just from the classic film The Sound of Music; they’re also the building blocks of every song ever made. Music is one of the most pivotal ties that bind people together, regardless of their age or background. 

Music plays a significant role in early childhood education because it can be used in various ways to teach children things like language, numbers, and other foundational learnings they’ll need to live a full life. Also, when children are exposed to music often, they can develop a sense of rhythm, boost their pattern recognition skills, and start to learn words in both their native language and others.

Because of these reasons—and more—it’s important for early childhood educators to develop their children’s musical intelligence during their lessons. Musical intelligence is a fundamental competency children can use to retain information, learn instruments, and appreciate music throughout their lives. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss what musical intelligence is, why it’s important for children, and activities early childhood educators can use to increase their class’ burgeoning interest in music.

young boy listening to music through headphones


What is musical intelligence?

Musical intelligence is the ability to learn, compose, perform, and appreciate musical patterns. When someone displays musical intelligence, they’re likely to produce an accurate tone, have a natural rhythm and be able to stay on rhythm, and understand and maintain timbre with their voice or an instrument. 

People like Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Sebastian Bach, and Ludwig von Beethoven displayed high levels of musical intelligence from a young age. But keep in mind that they were outliers; everyone is born with some sort of musical intelligence. Even if someone has a lower musical intelligence than their peer, it can be nurtured and developed. Let’s dive deeper into why that is.

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences

Many people think of intelligence through an academic lens because competencies like logic and language are taught and tested on in schools. But, this lens isn’t inclusive for children who aren’t inherently gifted in these areas. So, many people have theorized that there are multiple intelligences that people can have, most notably Howard Gardner. 

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was first proposed in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In the book, he broadens the definition of what intelligence can be described as and outlines several competencies people can fall into. 

Along with musical intelligence, Gardner also identified these competencies in his theory:

  • Naturalistic intelligence: The ability to understand living things and nature
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: The ability to coordinate your mind with the body
  • Visual-spatial intelligence: The ability to visualize the world in 3D
  • Linguistic-verbal intelligence: The ability to find the right words to express yourself
  • Intrapersonal intelligence: The ability to understand yourself, what you feel, and what your needs are
  • Interpersonal intelligence: The ability to empathize and sense the feelings and motives of others
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence: The ability to quantify things and make and prove hypotheses

All of these intelligence types are found in varying degrees within everyone, and if someone is less proficient in one, they’re likely more gifted in another. With proper teaching and encouragement, children can boost their intelligence in any of these competencies.

Characteristics of children with musical intelligence

Musical intelligence is relatively easy to spot in children; you just need to know what to look for. Some of the most common characteristics of musical intelligence to look out for include:

  • The ability to sing in high and low keys
  • The ability to remember a rhythmic pattern after hearing it a few times
  • The ability to sing on key or play an instrument
  • The ability to dance well without a lot of instruction
  • The ability to easily remember songs
  • The ability to understand musical structure and note

If a child displays several of these characteristics, they likely have high musical intelligence. As their teacher, you can use this information to better understand how their brain operates so you can teach them more effectively.

Why is musical intelligence important?

Musical intelligence is important because it can be a jumping-off point for early childhood education. Music is a part of our lives even before we’re born, and because of that, every child has some sort of musical intelligence. As a teacher, you can use this natural affinity to musical intelligence to your advantage by incorporating music into your lessons to teach foundational knowledge to young children and encourage them to understand meaning through sound.

Additionally, music and movement are powerful tools frequently used in early childhood education. They promote physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development in children, enhance learning, and help teach new concepts. If a child displays musical intelligence, they’re more likely to thrive during lessons that incorporate music and movement. Once that child is ready to enter kindergarten, their teacher can relay their aptitude for musical intelligence to their new teachers. 

Musical intelligence activities

Like all other intelligence competencies, musical intelligence can be cultivated and developed. As a teacher, it’s important to incorporate activities that can enhance musical intelligence within every child. Doing this will help create a solid foundation for their interest and aptitude for music. Below are some activities you can use to promote musical intelligence in your class.

Listen to diverse music during the day

The easiest way to introduce children to music is to play it for them. Playing diverse types of music during pivotal times of the day, like playtime and snack time, introduces them to different instruments, song structures, and rhythms that they may not have heard before. This will foster more curiosity in music and give them more opportunities to create their own unique songs. 

For this activity, find diverse artists who play child-friendly music and create a playlist that you can play throughout the day. Then, frequently add to the playlist so it will continue to play music your children haven’t heard before.

Create songs and rhythms 

Children are naturally drawn to music, and you can use that to your advantage by creating songs and rhythms to teach foundational concepts or alert them to transitions in their day. Doing this will help them more easily retain information and create a routine because you’re creating a  mnemonic device they can easily remember. 

Creating songs and rhythms doesn’t have to be complicated; you can make thousands of songs with just a few notes and rhythms in your arsenal. Additionally, as you create your songs, make them relevant to your children's activities or learning. For example, if it’s story time, make up a short song that alerts them to get ready for this new activity.

Conduct music appreciation activities 

Along with playing music, teaching children about music will help instill a sense of appreciation for music. And when they appreciate music, they’ll be more likely to understand it better now and in the future. 

During your music appreciation activities, you can read books about famous musicians, attend concerts in your local area, show them videos of concerts, musicals, or plays, or give your class musical instruments and teach them about each one in detail.

Play age-appropriate musical instruments 

One of the characteristics of having musical intelligence is the ability to play an instrument. There are plenty of age-appropriate instruments for young children, so all you need to do is create space and time for them to explore their instrument, whether it’s a drum, shaker, or piano. 

Measure time using a metronome

Metronomes are tools musicians use to stay on tempo when performing music. One way to connect children to keeping time in a musical sense is to play the metronome for them. For this activity, as you’re playing music, play your metronome along with it to help children connect the dots between the idea of rhythm and tempo and the actual practice of it.

As you’re doing these activities, you can use an activity tracker, like brightwheel’s daily activity report, to record children’s actions and share them with their families. This industry-leading software makes it easy to record activities, share real-time updates, send daily reports, and access the learning portfolio for every child as they learn and grow in your classroom. 

Final thoughts

Musical intelligence is an important competency that many children possess, but many more can unlock it to make sense of the world around them through sound, music, and rhythm. As you’re building your lesson plans, make sure that you include elements of music and movement so children can start exploring their musical intelligence in a meaningful and powerful way.

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