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Do We All Have a Musical Brain?

Updated on November 28, 2015

Cross Section of a Musical Brain (Artist Rendition)

Collage by Kim Milai
Collage by Kim Milai | Source

Practical Applications

Sixteen 2nd graders each sit in front of a computer in the lab. They all have headphones on and are following the instructions on the program to do their practice example of the test. The purpose of this test is to better assess musical aptitude in identifying pitch and rhythm.

You can see students smiling as the program explains how they are to help a little dog get back to his dog house. They go to a different window and listen to two rhythm patterns at a time. Some examples are the same and some are different. They need to click on the answer they think is correct. Students cannot tell if they are correct during the course of the test. Instead, each answer adds a paw print taking the dog closer to the house. Students are not punished for getting the wrong answer but the visuals are an encouragement to continue and concentrate through the 60 examples.

My school piloted this program before including it in the testing criteria for our gifted performing arts program. This software program uses a friendly interface to test same or different tones (pitch) and rhythms. It takes a total of 40 minutes with a 5 minute break in the middle. There is some correlation between the ability to recognize examples at a high rate of accuracy and the ability to sing and play music in tune and on time.

Note that this does not test musicality or emotional feel in a performance. This was just one of the building blocks in the total picture of a child's music assessment.

Bonus Points - Which musical excerpt is included in the title brain collage?

The answer is above the comments section.

See results

Gordon and Audiation

Edwin E. Gordon along with others developed this software program which is called the Intermediate Measures of Music Audiation. He is a Research Professor at the University of South Carolina. Gordon is also an author, lecturer and researcher into the field of music education.

His focus is on:

1 How to teach music sequentially and methodically initially without music notation

2 How to scientifically measure these results with accuracy and meaning

I am not necessarily a proponent of everything Gordon does. I found some of his sequential lessons a little too dry. However, I applaud his desire to make music more capable of being studied scientifically.

Gordon coined the word audiation. Audiation means to hear the music inside your brain without outside cues. Can you hear the song My Country Tis of Thee in your head right now without singing or humming? Just like a visual artist can imagine their work of art without seeing, a musician can 'hear' the tones and rhythms in their head without actually hearing.

His Music Learning Theory starts instruction without notation or any written music. The students learn tonal and rhythmic patterns and internalize them.

Gordon's Book on Music Learning Theory

Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children
Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children

This book is dry and academic, but accurately describes Edwin E. Gordon's theory of audiation and music instruction.


Experts on Music and the Brain: Jessica Grahn does a wonderful TED talk on music and the brain.

Edwin Gordon explains the practical applications of his music learning theory.

Have you always wanted to see inside Oliver Sack's brain? Here's your chance!

Few people know that Bobby McFerrin is an educator as well as a musician.

Your Brain on Music

Music Brain Map


Brain on Music

Current Research shows a direct relationship between learning music and brain development. As you grow, your brain increases its neural pathways and connections based on its experiences. It is proven that music changes brain anatomy; certain parts of the brain actually increase in size!

Performing music has even more benefits because in order to play correctly, you need to coordinate many parts of the brain simultaneously:

Auditory - Visual - Cognitive - Motor - Emotional

In the past, it was thought that music only stimulated the right hemisphere of the brain. Now we know it stimulates different parts of the brain including math and language centers. Dr. Gottfried Schlaug at the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory at Harvard Medical School says science can demonstrate the relationship between ability in detecting music pitch and ability in hearing and working with language sounds (phonemic awareness).The National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada found musicians have a rehabilitative advantage by the way their brain uses multi-sensory processing.

Translation: If a musician has a stroke or brain injury, they have chances for a better recovery because of their multi-sensory neural brain networks. In the Music Educators Journal, Donald A. Hodges says all humans respond to music no matter their ability, disability, or age. Even the hearing impaired can respond to rhythm and vibration. He also agrees with other experts in that music registers in different parts of the brain and that music training changes how the brain is organized (for the better).

In Conclusion: Whether utilized or not, we all have a musical brain. Lifelong learning in music helps sustain brain power. So, get out that piccolo and dust off that tuba!


Music Training Sharpens Brain Pathways, Studies Say by Sarah D. Sparks 2013

More Evidence that Music Benefits the Brain by Megan Brooks 2013.

Music Educators Journal 2002

image used for educational purposes no infringement of copyright is intended.

Ability Development by Shinichi Suzuki

Ability Development from Age Zero
Ability Development from Age Zero

This book is an easy read although somewhat ackward in the translation from Japanese. Shinichi Suzuki has gotten astounding results in young children in their very musical performances of violin and other instruments. He makes a case for his philosophy of 'every child can.'


And the answer is...

Bach Fugue!

Sing me a tune!

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    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      @BenjaminFrancs: Thank you so much. I enjoy compiling information like this.

    • profile image

      BenjaminFrancs 3 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I loved it!

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      @Andromachi: I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thank you Andromachi for stopping by!

    • Andromachi profile image

      Andromachi 3 years ago

      Great lens. Thank you very much for your hard work sharing this information. It was new for me and totally loved it. Even though I am not an artist nor a musician I always do the same as charito1962 says as well.

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 4 years ago

      @John Dyhouse: Great question! I am not a scientist but from what I understand, most people who claim to be tone deaf are just untrained. Those that are never got the chance to grow the neural pathways that connect noticing the tonal differences to the conscious brain. Unfortunately they may be stuck. Suzuki hypothesizes that with early training the synapses are developed and they won't be tone deaf. What do you think?

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 4 years ago

      @Charito1962: Yep you got it!

    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 4 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I guess I do have a musical mind. Being an artist - and a music lover at that - I always hear a tune playing in my mind wherever I am. I also tend to sing to myself while walking.

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 4 years ago from UK

      Very, very interesting. However, although we all have a musical brain, many people claim to be tone deaf and cannot sing in tune or keep a rhythm let alone play an instrument. How does that fit with this premise?

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 4 years ago

      @Heidi Vincent: Thank you so much. I will definitely check it out.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 4 years ago from GRENADA

      Very interesting experiment at the beginning of your lens, kimmilai. I have known about the great effects of the musical brain for some time now and this is a great lens with lots of good info. Thanks for sharing. I did a lens on music and its health benefits a while back which you might like:

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 4 years ago

      @esmonaco: You're so welcome! I agree I learn a lot here too!

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 4 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Very interesting work here, this is why I like squidoo because I'm always leraning something. Thanks :)