Musical ability is often viewed in all-or-none terms: some are blessed with “talent,” others must do without. Recent research, however, reveals that music aptitude, like all human characteristics, is normally distributed in the population. All persons have the potential to achieve in music. Relatively few have high aptitude, a similar number have low aptitude, and the majority of persons fall somewhere in the middle of the “bell curve” with average aptitude.
Music Learning Theory is unique among music teaching methods in accounting directly for students’ differing potentials to achieve in music. Students of average aptitude are taught more tonal content and rhythm content than low aptitude students, and high aptitude students learn more content than average aptitude students. By teaching to students’ individual differences, teachers lessen the risk of boring students with high potential and frustrating students with lower potential.
Measuring Music Aptitude
Music aptitude can only be measured with a valid music aptitude test. Music teachers’ judgments about students’ musical “talent” are often based significantly on musical achievement, not the potential to achieve. It is not uncommon, for example, for students of average aptitude to achieve at a high level as a result of a rich musical background and dedicated effort. Only a valid music aptitude test can distinguish between actual achievement and the potential to achieve further. Because many students with high music aptitude have not had the opportunity to achieve in music, a music aptitude test can reveal musical potential that might otherwise remain unknown to those students and their teachers.
It is NOT the purpose of aptitude testing to identify students for inclusion or exclusion in music activities. All children have the right to a comprehensive musical education. Music aptitude testing helps music teachers meet the unique needs of each student.
It is important to use a music aptitude test that is appropriate for the level of musical development of the students being tested. Teachers can choose from among five music aptitude tests of Edwin E. Gordon for testing children three years old through college age.
Developmental and Stabilized Music Aptitude
Research indicates that music aptitude is developmental during the early years of life. A child’s aptitude at birth is innate, but can fluctuate until about age nine according to the richness and diversity of musical experiences the child undergoes. After age nine, one cannot expect to achieve in music beyond the limit of one’s stabilized music aptitude. It is essential that children receive lots of high quality informal guidance and formal instruction in music in order to best realize their potential for musical fulfillment throughout life. Informal music experience prior to age five is particularly important.