Frequently Asked Questions

What is audiation? Is it something new and esoteric?

What is the objective of Music Learning Theory?

Why is there so much attention focused on tonal and rhythm audiation?

Why are tonal and rhythm content taught separately, in isolation from each other and from other musical elements?

Does the focus on tonal and rhythm audiation mean that the other elements of music are ignored?

How are tonal and rhythm audiation developed?

How much time should be spent on pattern instruction?

How is pattern instruction accomplished?

What happens during the rest of the class or lesson?

What are the characteristics of classroom activities?

Is Music Learning Theory a method or a curriculum?

What kinds of music teachers can use Music Learning Theory?

Does using MLT mean abandoning traditional goals? Will my band program, for example, start to look like something other than a “traditional” band program?

Do I have to “Jump Right In,” or can I make a more gradual transition to teaching audiation?

Where can I learn more?


What is audiation? Is it something new and esoteric?
The term audiation is relatively new, having been coined recently by Edwin E. Gordon. The general idea, however, is not new at all. To audiate means to think music in the mind. Good musicians of all cultures have audiated since the dawn of music. The power of Gordon’s word is that it provides a well defined way to think about essential cognitive musical processes, thereby clarifying the steps teachers should take to help students fully comprehend music.

What is the objective of Music Learning Theory?
MLT is specifically concerned with developing the ability to audiate the tonal and rhythm content of music.

Why is there so much attention focused on tonal and rhythm audiation?
First, the rhythmic and tonal realms constitute a very large portion of what makes music music. Further, the great depth and complexity of tonal and rhythm content necessitates a careful focus on sequence. Music learning theory provides a comprehensive and elegant approach to the many hierarchical levels of both content and skill.

Why are tonal and rhythm content taught separately, in isolation from each other and from other musical elements?
Tonal and rhythm content in music are challenging enough to teach in isolation. Their interaction with each other – to form melody, for example – and other musical elements significantly compounds the complexity of the music teaching task. By spending some instructional time focusing on each separately, clarity is enhanced and confusion minimized.

Does the focus on tonal and rhythm audiation mean that the other elements of music are ignored?
Not at all. MLT’s emphasis on tonal and rhythm is not meant to suggest that musical elements such as timbre, phrasing, expression and style are unimportant. The traditional model serves well for teaching these nonsyntactical musical elements, for which sequence is less important than it is for tonal and rhythm elements. A teacher who implements MLT for teaching tonal and rhythm skills is likely to approach the other musical elements in much the same way as any other capable music teacher.

How are tonal and rhythm audiation developed?
Tonal and rhythm pattern instruction – what Gordon calls learning sequence activities – is the “heart and soul” of music learning theory. Tonal patterns are taught in a context free of rhythm; likewise, rhythm patterns are chanted rather than sung.

How much time should be spent on pattern instruction?
Typically, five to eight minutes per class period. A common mistake made by music teachers trying to implement MLT is to spend too much time in learning sequence activities. Brief but intense episodes of pattern instruction, carefully sequenced over extended time periods, lead to optimal audiation development.

How is pattern instruction accomplished?
The general manner is call and response, with students echoing the teacher in specific ways determined by the various levels of skill outlined in Gordon’s theory. See the About Music Learning Theory section of this website for more detail.

What happens during the rest of the class or lesson?
The bulk of any music class – everything except the five to eight minutes of learning sequence activities – is spent in classroom activities.

What are the characteristics of classroom activities?
Whereas learning sequence activities involve the “parts” part of the Whole/Part/Whole MLT curriculum – that is, tonal and rhythm patterns – classroom activities involve musical wholes, namely, real music literature. In this sense, an MLT classroom looks like any other music class. The crucial difference is that the time spent in tonal and rhythm pattern instruction develops essential audiation skills that are otherwise likely to be left to chance. Students who have engaged in learning sequence activities are able to bring greater aural comprehension – and
also more skills, such as improvisation – to the music literature they study during classroom activities.

Is Music Learning Theory a method or a curriculum?
Music Learning Theory is a theory of how children learn when they learn music.The teaching strategies and techniques derived from MLT comprise a comprehensive method for developing tonal and rhythm audiation. MLT prescribes an elegant sequence for achieving specific content and skill learning goals, as well as carefully devised teaching techniques for delivering instruction. How a teacher incorporates MLT into a given curriculum depends on numerous factors related to the type of curriculum and its long-term objectives.

What kinds of music teachers can use Music Learning Theory?
Music Learning Theory is relevant to every music teaching setting, both formal and informal. MLT has the power to enhance any lesson: band rehearsals, orchestra rehearsals, choir rehearsals, jazz band rehearsals, elementary general music class, Orff ensembles, private lessons, undergraduate aural skills, early childhood, and so on. All music
teachers can use MLT to improve students’ aural comprehension of the music they sing, play, read, compose or improvise.

Does using MLT mean abandoning traditional goals? Will my band program, for example, start to look like something other than a “traditional” band program?
Not necessarily; it’s up to you, the teacher. You decide what kinds of activities your music program emphasizes. An MLT-influenced program will fit in just fine with traditional programs in a given district or region. Its students, however, are likely to possess certain skills – the ability for instrumentalists to play by ear, for example – that traditionally trained students frequently lack.

Do I have to “Jump Right In,” or can I make a more gradual transition to teaching audiation?
In most cases it’s a good idea to take an incremental approach to incorporating Music Learning Theory in your teaching. Before attempting to implement learning sequence activities, you might first introduce singing, performing “by ear,” and movement activities. The methodology section under “About Music Learning” on this website describes some important general principles of the MLT philosophy. The May 1999 issue of Music Educators Journal has an article suggesting ways to “ease in” to audiation-based instruction. (Although the article refers specifically to instrumental instruction, most principles addressed are relevant to all music teaching.)

Where can I learn more?
This website has quite a lot of information in the About Music Learning Theory section. There are many publications available from GIA Publications; go to giamusic.com for details. Gordon’s Music Learning Theory magnum opus is Learning Sequences in Music: Skill Content and Patterns. See it at the GIA site. The best thing to do is take a Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML) certification workshop. These are offered each summer in several locations around the U.S.

-Bruce Dalby