Music Learning Theory


Music Learning Theory is an explanation of how we learn music. Although it has direct influence on method, it is not a method or a theory of teaching. Because it is concerned primarily with learning processes, Music Learning Theory emphasizes learning and expansion of student's minds. Music Learning Theory outlines a process for learning music by explaining what students need to know at a particular level of learning to proceed sequentially in stepwise and bridging movement to more advanced levels. It provides students with foundation for understanding what they are learning when they are being taught to listen to and perform music.

Music Learning Theory comprises and combines knowledge of audiation (Gordon's term for the ability to think music in the mind with understanding), sequential music learning, and music aptitude. Music Learning Theory principles guide music teachers of all stripes–early childhood, elementary general, instrumental, vocal, the private studio–in establishing sequential curricular goals in accord with their own teaching styles and beliefs. The primary objective is development of students' tonal and rhythm audiation. Through audiation students are able to draw greater meaning from the music they listen to, perform, improvise, and compose.

Complete information about Music Learning theory and audiation can be found in Edwin E. Gordon's Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Pattern (G-2345).

Edwin E. Gordon Edwin E. Gordon Edwin E. Gordon has been known throughout the world as a preeminent researcher, teacher, author, editor, and lecturer in the field of music education. Since 1997 he was Distinguished Professor in Residence at the University of South Carolina, following his retirement as the Carl E. Seashore Professor of Research in Music Education at Temple University in Philadelphia.

In addition to advising Ph.D. candidates in music education, Dr. Gordon has devoted many years to teaching music to preschool children. Through extensive research, Professor Gordon has made major contributions to the study of music aptitudes, stages and types of audiation, music learning theory, and rhythm in movement and music, to name just a few areas.

Before devoting his life to the field of music education, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in string bass performance from the Eastman School of Music and played string bass with the Gene Krupa band. He want on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1958.

Professor Gordon and his work have been portrayed nationally and internationally on the NBC Today Show, in the New York Times, in USA Today, and in a variety of European and Asian publications.

Dr. Gordon passed away on December 4, 2015 in Mason City, IA, where he was cared for by his daughter Pam.

Read Gordon's "Roots of Music Learning Theory" on Edwin Gordon's Facebook page


Beth Bolton
Beth Bolton is currently serving at Temple University's Boyer College of Music and Dance as Associate Dean, Associate Professor of Music Education, Student Teaching Coordinator, Curriculum Director-Early Childhood Music at Temple Prep, Coordinator: Student Teaching.

B.M.E., Ft. Hays State University; M.M., Emporia State University; Ph.D., Temple University; author, researcher, lecturer, early childhood music specialist; author Music Play, Jump Right In: The Music Curriculum, The Childsong Collections, The Early Childhood Song and Chant Book.

Alison Reynolds

Cynthia Taggart
Cynthia Crump Taggart is Professor and Chair of Music Education at Michigan State University, where she directs and teaches in the Early Childhood Music Program of the Community Music School of Michigan State University's College of Music. As an MSU faculty member, she received the prestigious Teacher-Scholar Award. Prior to teaching at MSU, she taught at Cast Western Reserve University, where she won the Undergraduate Teaching Excellence Award for the Humanities and Social Sciences. She has extensive elementary and preschool teaching experience in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. She has also served as President of the College Music Society.

Taggart's publications include co-authorship of Music Play, Jump Right In: The Music Curriculum, and Best Music for Young Band, as well as co-editorship of Learning from Young Children, The Development and Practical Application of Music Learning Theory, and Readings in Music Learning Theory. In addition, she has written extensively for professional journals. Her research interests are early childhood music, elementary general music, measurement, psychology of music, music learning theory, and music aptitude.

Wendy Valerio
Dr. Wendy Valerio is Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Children's Music Development Center (CMDC) at the University of South Carolina where she teaches graduate and undergraduate music methods courses and conducts early childhood music development research which has been sponsored by The Texaco Foundation and The Presser Foundation. Her work is featured in Musical Experience in Our Lives: Things We Learn and Meanings We Make (Rowman & Littlefield), Listen to Their Voices (Canadian Music Educators Association), Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, Music Play: Bah Bah, Bebop, Beethoven (GIA), and she is co-author of Music Play (GIA), and Jump Right In: The Music Series (GIA).

After teaching elementary general music in the public schools of Lawrence, KS, Valerio received MM and PhD degrees from Temple University. She holds Kodaly Level 1 and Level III Orff Schulwerk certification, and is a member of the International Society for Music Education, Music Educators National Conference, Society for Music Teacher Education, Alliance for Active Music Making, Gordon Institute for Music Learning Mastership Certification Faculty, American Orff Schulwerk Association where teaches movement and special topics for Orff Schulwerk Teacher Training Levels I and II.


Bruce Dalby
Bruce Dalby is Professor of Music at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music education, aural skills development, and improvisation. His university-level teaching experience also includes jazz band, symphonic band, and conducting. He has ten years of experience as a band director in the public schools of Idaho and New Mexico.

Dr. Dalby received his undergraduate education from Utah State University in Logan and did his graduate work at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where he received his Master of Science and Doctor of Education in Music Education.

His research and teaching interests include Music Learning Theory, improvisation, general musicianship and ear-training instruction, intonation and rhythm training, and applications of technology in music teaching and learning. He has appeared as adjudicator and clinician at numerous state, regional, and national music festivals and conferences.


Christopher Azzara
Pianist, arranger, author, and educator, Christopher Azzara has made important contributions to advancing the understanding of creativity and improvisation music learning. An innovator in the area of music teaching and learning, Dr. Azzara is Professor of Music Education and Affiliate Faculty of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music. He is author of numerous articles, arrangements, and books, including Developing Musicianship Through Improvisation and Jump Right In: The Instrumental Series (GIA). Dr. Azzara's work has appeared in journals such as the Journal of Research in Music Education, Early Childhood Connections, Music Educators Journal, and The New Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning (MENC/Oxford).

After receiving his Bachelor of Music from George Mason University, he taught instrumental music in the Fairfax County Public Schools and performed as a pianist in the Washington, DC area. He later received his Master of Music and Ph.D. in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music. Prior to joining the Eastman faculty, Dr. Azzara was Associate Professor of Music Education at The Hartt School of Music, Dance, and Theatre of the University of Hartford. His research and publications focus on meaningful relationships among listening, creating, improvising, reading, composing, and analyzing music in vocal and instrumental settings.

He performs as a soloist and in various ensembles, including the Chris Azzara Quartet, and has played on and produced studio and educational recordings. An active teacher and clinician, he has presented and performed throughout the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Lithuania, Poland, and Japan.

Richard Grunow
Richard F. Grunow is Professor of Music Education at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. A leading innovator in beginning instrumental music instruction, Dr. Grunow is an active lecturer and clinician, having presented extensively throughout the United States and abroad. His research and teaching focus on applications of Music Learning Theory to instrumental music instruction, instrumental and choral score reading, measurement and evaluation, and music literacy.

Professor Grunow is author of numerous articles and co-author of the MLR Instrumental Score Reading Program, MLR Instrumental Score Reading Test, Choral Score Reading Program, Creativity in Improvisation, and Developing Musicianship through Improvisation. He is principal author of Jump Right In: The Instrumental Series, a comprehensive beginning instrumental method for recorder, woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion. The series features over 350 recordings of folk songs and classical melodies comprising a variety of tonalities and meters from a broad range of cultures. Performances are by artist faculty and students at the Eastman School of Music and members of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and Rhythm & Brass.

A Wisconsin native, Dr. Grunow received a Bachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of Wisconsin - Platteville. From 1967-74, he taught instrumental music in Beloit, Wisconsin Public Schools. He received a Master of Music and a Ph.D. in Music Education from The University of Michigan, served as Director of the Instrumental Laboratory School, and was on the faculty in the Music Education Department prior to his appointment at Eastman in 1979.


James Jordan
James Jordan is recognized and praised around the musical world as one of the nation's pre-eminent conductors, writers, and innovators in choral music. The most published performer/author in the world, he has authored more than 30 books on all aspects of the choral art, and he has been described as a "visionary" by The Choral Journal. His book Evoking Sound was named as a "must read" on a list of six books by The Choral Journal. At Westminster Choir College, he is Professor and Senior Conductor, and conducts the Westminster Schola Cantorum and the Westminster Williamson Voices.

Jordan has made two recordings of the music of James Whitbourn with the Westminster Williamson Voices on the Naxos label. Another recording, Angels in the Architecture, has also garnered wide critical acclaim. Gramophone hailed him as a conductor of "forceful and intimate choral artistry" and regarding the recording of Annelies, Choir and Organ wrote, "Jordan's instinctive understanding of the score makes this a profound and emotionally charged experience." Reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic have praised the Westminster Williamson Voices as "without peer" (American Record Guide) noting that the ensemble "performed with utmost truth and precision" and with "supreme artistry" (The Choral Journal), and "sing with a precision and finesse normally found in the best of the UK's large chamber choirs" (Gramophone).

Jordan's career and publications have been devoted to innovative educational changes in the choral art, which have been embraced around the world. His writings have shaped far-reaching changes in conducting pedagogy and the teaching of rhythm applying Laban Effort/Shape to music teaching at all levels. In 2012, he received the Iorio Research Prize from Rider University.

Jordan's residencies, master classes, and guest conducting have taken him throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. He has conducted more than 30 All-State Choirs. In 2009, he was named to the choral panel for The National Endowment for the Arts. He serves as artistic director of the Westminster Conducting Institute, one of the nation's leading summer programs for the training and education of conductors, and this summer inaugurates the Westminster Choral Institute at Oxford, a unique partnership with St. Stephen's House, one of the Halls of Oxford University.