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Audiation, Aptitude, and Assessment

June 24, 2009

Audiation, in the simplest terms, is defined as hearing music that is not physically present. And for Dr. Edwin Gordon, the acclaimed music researcher, music professor and author who coined the phrase, it is the foundation of all music learning.

Aptitude, specifically music aptitude, is one’s innate rhythmic and melodic talent and potential for musical growth.

Assessment is the act of evaluating, appraising, and/or estimating the features, qualities, performances and needs of individuals.

How do these three relate?  Through development of audiation, students learn to understand music. This is our ultimate goal as educators: to bring our students to understanding, and higher order thinking. Knowing our student’s aptitude gives us a starting point to gauge instruction and form our assessments. Assessment, in all its forms, is about setting the benchmark, and then measuring growth.

There are specific concepts that are necessary for music comprehension. Is it how many quarter notes equal four beats? Or that the note on the second line of the treble staff is G? Indeed, there is a correlation between music and math and spelling, but not at its core. Fundamentally, music is about hearing. Music is sound; the notes on the page representative of that sound. If the students can’t process the sound they have labeled, they do not truly comprehend the music.  As music educators, many assess the ability of students to note name, or make up a rhythm sentence that equals four (and rarely three). Audiation starts at the foundation, just as language learning starts with hearing and imitating, and links concepts just as the alphabets links letters to form words.   

Musical Memory

Audiation is to music what thinking is to language. When listening to speech, we organize the sounds in our head to comprehend the words and ideas being spoken. The musician or listener hears the music, retains what he has just heard, gives meaning to the sounds, and predicts what will come next, based on his prior knowledge of those patterns of sound. The bigger the musician’s musical vocabulary, the more advanced the audiation process. All students have the ability to audiate, based on their aptitude and experiences.

Setting the Benchmark

Talent, specifically measurement of musical talent, is an elusive concept. Music aptitude, however, is not quite the same. It’s the potential to learn music, and all students possess this potential to varying degrees. An assessment cannot truly be valid without the benchmark of student potential. To set this benchmark, the place where we begin to assess learning, we start with the innate potential of the student to learn and comprehend music. This is the doorway to differentiated instruction. The most useful tool to set this benchmark is Dr. Gordon’s Musical Aptitude Profile. This simple aptitude test can be given to any grade level from kindergarten through college. It comes in age and aptitude-appropriate versions.

Evaluating with Knowledge

Responsive teaching in music begins with knowing the individual student’s true music potential. “Measuring” talent requires an inexact science of guesswork. Measurement of music aptitude leaves no room for speculation. A responsive teacher knows the student’s exact capabilities, can teach to those capabilities, and realize when the student has grown beyond those initial capabilities. When music students are engaged at their individual learning level, students will take risks, because the frustration level is low.

The Three A’s

Using the sequential yardstick of aptitude and audiation to form meaningful assessments gives greater credibility to our music programs. Measuring for aptitude removes the guesswork and allows for accurate differentiated instruction. Teaching students to audiate immerses them in much more than note naming and rhythm addition. Then when the time comes to name those notes and form those rhythm sentences, students will have experienced them in numerous and varied settings, and experienced their true meaning in relation to other notes and rhythms, giving meaning to those concepts.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2009 12:45 am

    Linda, I was very pleased to read your article after you left a comment on my blog. Clarify for me:

    AUDIATION seems to be the same as what I call a
    “thinking singer”: the music student must hear and, more importantly, feel the music: connect the lyrics, know the high points of a phrase before singing it, use fully each punctuation mark, and of course use the nuances of dynamics in the phrasing.

    Am I close?


  2. August 6, 2009 9:45 am

    Yes, Michelle, I think you are close. At the crux, audiation is knowing what you’re hearing, even before you hear it, by way of predicting. To go deeper, it is to understand exactly what you are hearing, in terms of the function (how each note relates within the framework-i.e., tonic or dominant), and to understand how the rhythm fits within a duple, triple, or combined framework. It’s what all musicians, young and old, should be able to do, I believe. Music Learning Theory attempts to teach all this, even before the child reads music! There’s a nice little article that describes audiation here:–Another_Way_of_Knowing.pdf

    Happy singing!


  1. Is Music Science? - SwingSet Group, Inc

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