Music as a Form of Intelligence

Wanna be great at guitar playing, but think you suck at other subjects? Whilst recently reading a book on how our brains function – The 12 Brain Rulesby John Medina, and then again during my studies, I learned about a man named Howard Gardner. He was a psychologist who revolutionised the way we think about intelligence. (The way we think about thinking!).

Best known for his his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, he surmised that – contrary to traditional belief – human intelligence may not be necessarily limited to the realms of mathematics and linguistics. His theory described 9 separate realms of cognition in which a person can be described to be ‘intelligent’:

  • Musical–rhythmic and harmonic
  • Visual–spatial
  • Verbal–linguistic
  • Logical–mathematical
  • Bodily–kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic
  • Existential

(This is straight from the Wikipedia page).

Musical – Rhythmic and Harmonic is one of the distinct categories of intelligence. Whilst most people are strong (or ‘intelligent’) in one or a few of these areas, it suggests that someone could be very musical whilst not being thought of as being ‘intelligent’ in other areas. A person could perhaps be very good at playing guitar, piano or another instrument, but does not excel academically in other areas. As a guitar teacher, I try to remember this when I decide how to approach giving lessons and teaching new students.

The 12 Brain Rules was re-released after a new chapter was written on music and the brain. This was due to the fact that Medina now considered music to be of enough importance to discuss as a separate topic when describing how our brains work.

In the past, there have also been links between mathematics and music theory, which would make sense as so much of music theory is basically just maths. (Systems, formulas, sequences etc). From what I’ve observed as a guitar teacher, students who are good at maths are often good at music theory. If a student of mine is quick to pick up on theoretical concepts I often ask them if they do well in maths at school.

Gardner’s theory is much debated, but however the science all fits together and however our brains work, it’s well worth considering the possibility that music is a distinct part of our cognition.