Elementary School Music

Edwin Gordon & Music Learning Theory

Posted in Readings & Research by P. Conrad on May 22, 2006


Edwin E. Gordon is probably America’s leading theorist of music education and learning, particularly as it regards the young. He was a bassist for Gene Krupa in the 1950s before going into academic work. Gordon’s primary focus was on the phenomenon of “audiation” or inner-hearing: when a person knows a song or piece of music well enough to be able to actually hear it in his or her head. Developing children’s inner hearing is an important part of teaching music literacy.

Gordon’s field is known today as “Music Learning Theory.” Not everyone will want to spend time looking at all the research, but there are a lot of very useful ideas in Gordon’s work; The Gordon Institute for Music Learning is one place to explore music learning theory, on-line. Books, teaching tools, and song collections inspired or affirmed by Gordon’s work are available from GIA Publications.

They also publish the Conversational Solfege series written by John Feierabend, a Kodály specialist and professor at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music.

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  1. J. Beams said, on April 24, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    I have completed the level one mastership certification and have found Edwin Gordon’s theory fascinating. I am a Kodály specialist and although I see some differences in how music concepts are presented, I do not see any differences in the overall philosophies. It is my belief that Kodály and Gordon could have collaborated and come up with some incredible discoveries. I believe that “audiation” applies to known as well as unknown music. One can be audiating as one sight reads a score and “hears” the notes on the page, as a literate person silently comprehends words on a page.

    I am teaching in the San Francisco bay area. I would love to collaborate with other teachers that are using the Gordon Theory, especially those in my area.

  2. Dr. Rizz said, on July 25, 2009 at 2:09 am

    In a respect, the philosophy IS similar. Sound before sight. Doesn’t the Kodály method advocate teaching so-mi songs before getting more complicated? I have some strong views about some of this, but I’m willing to really listen to folks.

  3. Kathryn said, on April 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Gordon strongly advocates that adults should expose children to a variety of tonalities (and meters) from birth. He explains that pentatonic songs do not develop tonal audiation on pp.167-169 in his book Learning Sequences in Music. The problem with focusing on a minor third or on pentatonic songs is that there is no leading tone or subtonic. Without major or minor chords accompanying a pentatonic melody, there is no functional tonality. He also argues that in spontaneous speech chant, children often include a tone one half step higher than the lower member of the minor third, which might imply Phrygian. The credibility of pentatonic as being so organic is doubtful. I am certified in GIML Early Childhood Level I, and I I teach elementary music as well. I have students in 1st grade who can independently sing “do” as the resting tone for major and “la” as the resting tone for harmonic minor.

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