What is music intelligence? Music intelligence is the ability to think musically, which includes understanding and creating musical structures, appreciating different styles of music, and using music in various ways to achieve specific goals.
In this article, we'll dive into music intelligence and all it encompasses. We’ll take a look at great examples of musically intelligent people, the traits they possess, why music intelligence matters, potential careers, and ways to improve your music intelligence.
Music Intelligence Definition Expanded
The definition of music intelligence is the skills and abilities to produce or appreciate music and musical expression, including pitch and rhythm.
Music intelligence is one of the nine multiple intelligences outlined in Howard Gardner's influential book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner proposed that each individual has varying degrees of all nine intelligences. People use these intelligences in different ways to solve problems and create new products or ideas.
While some people are strong in linguistic or logical intelligence, allowing them to excel in writing or mathematics, others may have a greater capacity for musical intelligence. Music intelligence is an understanding and appreciation of music, the ability to create musical compositions, and the skill to use music in a variety of settings.
People with high levels of music intelligence often have perfect pitch, which is the ability to identify or recreate a given musical note without any reference tone. They may also be able to remember long and complex musical pieces after only hearing them once.
While musical intelligence is often associated with those who play instruments or sing, it's important to note that anyone can be musically intelligent. You don't need to be able to read sheet music or play an instrument to possess musical intelligence.
Examples of Music Intelligence
There are many ways that music intelligence manifests itself. Some people may use their music intelligence to compose original songs or create new pieces of music, while others may employ it in more practical ways, such as using music to relieve stress or boost their mood.
In a few famous examples of people who had strong music intelligence, we can see how these individuals used their skills to their advantage:
Beethoven, arguably the greatest composer of all time, composed some of his best-known works after he had gone deaf. Through his music intelligence, Beethoven imagined every note played by every instrument in the orchestra in his head as he created new music.
As a pioneering rock artist, Jimi Hendrix is another excellent example of music intelligence. He was one of the first guitarists in mainstream rock to utilize tone-altering effects with his guitar and stereophonic phasic effects in album recordings, opening the door for more artists to use effects of this nature.
Stevie Wonder wrote and produced his songs despite being born premature and losing his sight shortly thereafter. He was also a child prodigy, displaying traits of music intelligence from his earliest days.
He also ushered in a new vanguard of electric keyboard pianists, making him a legend and inspiration to many modern-day musicians. His skills spanned genres, from R&B, pop, funk, jazz, soul, and pop.
Traits of Music Intelligence
Want to know where you fall on the music intelligence scale?
Those with high music intelligence typically display the following traits:
- Looking for patterns around them and in their environment
- Naturally good rhythm
- Quick to pick up on and memorize foreign languages
- Drawn to sounds
- Use music to focus
- Enjoy singing or dancing
- Skilled in playing one or more instruments
- Excitement and passion for music
- Ability to remember songs—lyrics, melodies, notes—easily
It shouldn't be a surprise that Gardener views band directors, orchestra conductors, musicians, composers, and music critics as having a notably high music intelligence. Folks like these have simply used their highest skills to lead them to a career they love and are good at.
Though you can see certain traits among those with high music intelligence, there are some varied characteristics that you may also see.
Appreciation For All Kinds of Music
Those with music intelligence often appreciate all genres of music, not just one or two. They're able to find the beauty—and sometimes even the humor—in a wide range of music, from classical to pop to metal and everything in between. They may also love to perform music or simply appreciate it as a bystander.
Composing or Writing Music
One possible trait among those with high music intelligence is the ability to compose or write music. Music composition or writing may manifest itself in different ways, such as writing songs, playing by ear, or improvising.
Another possible trait of those with high music intelligence is the ability to play one or more instruments, including reading the sheet music. Although, some music intelligence levels are so high that individuals may be able to play beautiful music without the need for sheet music to guide them. Some may even be able to hear something once and play it back.
Constant Presence of Music
Some people with high music intelligence find that they're never without music. They always have music playing, hum tunes to themselves, or tap out rhythms with their fingers.
Constantly having music playing may not be intentional, but for some, music is such a constant presence that it's hard to imagine life without it. It can help musically intelligent people stay focused, calm, and present. For those who aren't as musically intelligent, the constant presence of music can easily become overstimulating.
Because music is always present for those with high music intelligence, they often think in musical terms or use music to help them think through problems.
When trying to find a solution to a problem, they might hear a specific melody or chord progression in their head that helps lead them to the answer. Or, they may learn things by turning them into a rhythm and a rhyme.
Why Music Intelligence Matters
Music intelligence is a vital part of human growth and development. First and foremost, it allows people to enjoy and appreciate music more deeply. It can also lead to a career in music or music-related field, which is a fulfilling way to make a living. Additionally, those with high music intelligence often find music helps them focus, relax, and think more creatively. After all, what is music intelligence if you’re not using it to your benefit?
For some people, music is simply a fun hobby. But for others, it's a way of life. Understanding music intelligence can help you figure out where you fall on the spectrum and how you can use your skills to improve your life.
Honing music intelligence through music education is valuable, especially for children, as it provides several developmental benefits:
- Music lessons or interactions require patience and focus
- Understanding rules of pattern formation
- Learning musical notation helps kids strengthen their deductive reasoning and decoding skills, which can help them learn how to read
- Music helps children memorize things
- Understanding different notes (quarter notes, half notes) helps kids comprehend fractions from an early age
Introducing music to children from a young age can help them develop important skills and traits that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Careers for Musically Intelligent People
People with high music intelligence often find themselves drawn to careers in music or music-related fields. Good job paths could include anything from being a professional musician to working as a music therapist. Other career options might include:
- Composer: creates works of music
- Conductor: conducts orchestras or bands
- DJ: creates beats and mixes tracks that make people want to dance
- Music Producer: works in studios to create the technical side of the music
- Music Teacher: teaches basic music skills to kids or adults
- Sound Engineer: perfects the sound quality and performance at concerts, events, or in-studio
- Songwriter: writes lyrics or music and works with singers
- Singer: performs or records songs
- Music Therapist: helps improve health, well-being, social skills, communication skills, and cognitive skills through music
- Choir Director: directs the rehearsal and performance of a group of singers
- Music Critic: critiques popular music or musical events
- Speech Pathologist: uses music to assess comprehension and elicit expressive communication and language
There are endless possibilities for those with a high music intelligence.
Improving Music Intelligence
As with any intelligence, some people are born with a higher musical IQ than others. However, that doesn't mean that those with lower levels of music intelligence can't improve their skills. Here are a few ways you can work on honing your music intelligence:
- Listen to a variety of genres and artists
- Play an instrument or sing
- Attend live concerts or musical events
- Write music
- Listen to music with lyrics and try to pick out the meaning
- Study music theory
- Take music lessons
- Join a choir or band
- Practice regularly
- Be patient and have fun!
No matter what level of music intelligence you start at, there are ways to improve your skills. By expanding your musical horizons, practicing regularly, and taking lessons, you can develop your abilities and better enjoy the music in your life.
What Is Music Intelligence? Final Thoughts
Music intelligence is a critical part of our lives, even if we don't realize it. It helps us communicate, express ourselves, and connect with others. For some people, music is simply a fun hobby. But for others, it is a way of life. Understanding music intelligence can help you figure out where your music intelligence lies and how you can use your skills to improve your life.