Musical Development

For the second week of our Psychology and Sociology in Music Education course, we looked at how the theories we discussed in Week 1 can be applied specifically in music. The readings and lectures sought to address three important questions:

  1. How can we apply developmental theories to music teaching and learning?

  2. What is intelligence? What is talent?

  3. How does an individual's musical ability develop? What is ability? Can we measure ability? What about achievement?

We also had to complete a weekly Reading Response and a paper.


We had quite a bit of reading for this week, as looks to be the norm for this course. The readings were divided into three groups:

Reading Response

Prompt: In what ways do students’ perceptions of intelligence and talent play out in classrooms?

Response: From my personal experience in the classroom, students tend to perceive intelligence and talent as innate, gifted qualities. This is similar to the definition of giftedness from Jaap & Patrick (2015, p. 143), who also referenced definitions from Gagné (2004) and Dai (2005). This runs contrary to the belief that socialization and culture play a role in developing intelligence or ability — a belief that plays a role in theories and measures like Binet and Simon's Intelligence Test (McInerney & Putwain, 2017, p. 148), Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (p. 145; Gardner & Moran, 2006), and emotional intelligence (Cherniss, Extein, Goleman, & Weissberg, 2006; Waterhouse, 2006a, 2006b). Radocy and Boyle defined ability as "being able to do something, regardless of how a person acquired the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience" (p. 384). Aptitude, according to them, is a part of ability related to "genetic endowments and environmental experiences" (p. 384). This view of aptitude contains some perceptions of innateness as well as socialization.

My best educated guess for why students tend to perceive intelligence and talent as innate gifted qualities is that they do not observe their peers' learning; students only observe their peers' abilities. If learning is "an observable change in behavior" (Radocy & Boyle, 2003, p. 385), students likely only observe the result of that learning — an ability — and perceive it as a result of innate intelligence or talent. Students do not observe how their peers have learned or developed, nor do they observe how their peers continue to learn. Instead, they observe those with "high ability" (Jaap & Patrick, 2015, p. 263).


Prompt: Write a short paper in which you connect some aspect of the material from the first two weeks to your personal teaching practices. The purpose of the assignment is to demonstrate an understanding of some aspect of educational psychology as well as an ability to relate theory and practice. In your paper, you should (a) explain the key concepts or ideas associated with one of the topics or theories from the first two weeks of the course, (b) describe some research in education (which could include music education) that addresses the topic or theory that you chose, (c) discuss how that research or those theories have influenced education (which could include music education), and (d) describe either how your current practices reflect the theories and research that you discussed or how those theories and research may lead to a change in how you approach teaching. Papers should be about 1000 words, not including references. An excellent paper will have a clear thesis (main idea) and a strong supporting argument, and will cite sources beyond the assigned course readings.



Measuring Musical Ability: How Definitions Limit Quantification

            A recent trend in education is that of using professional learning communities (PLCs) to improve student achievement.  A PLC is defined as “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Many, & Mattos, 2016, p. 10).  PLCs accomplish this task by working to answer four critical questions:

  1. What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should every student acquire as a result of this unit, this course, or this grade level?

  2. How will we know when each student has acquired the essential knowledge and skills?

  3. How will we respond when some students do not learn?

  4. How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient? (p. 36)

In their work to answer the four critical questions, PLCs will have to define knowledge, skills, and dispositions, which will allow them to determine how to measure those abilities. The act of defining concepts like intelligence, learning, ability, or achievement limits the extent to which students can demonstrate them.

Researchers have developed several different definitions for the concepts involved in the four critical questions.  Radocy and Boyle (2003) warn that the difficulty of defining concepts like intelligence and musical ability clouds the relationship between the two, citing Kagan’s caution that different definitions are implied by different measurement tools and conceptions of intelligence (p. 391). Jaap and Patrick (2015) discuss the works of Pratt and Persson, showing that how teachers conceptualize learning and ability profoundly influences their teaching approaches (pp. 264-265).

Radocy and Boyle (2003) define intelligence as being able to cope with the intellectual demands of an environment (p. 391).  Other examples come from the psychometric approach to intelligence, which looks to define intelligence through data from measurements (McInerney & Putwain, 2017, p. 141).  Psychometric models of intelligence include Spearman’s general factor of intelligence, Thurstone’s Primary Mental Abilities, structure of the intellect, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, or the concept of emotional intelligence (pp. 142–147, 156; Cherniss, Extein, Goleman, & Weissbert, 2006, p. 240).  Gardner claims musical intelligence as one of multiple intelligences (Radocy & Boyle, 2003, pp. 393–394).  Radocy and Boyle (2003) define abilityas possessing the necessary experience and skills to accomplish a task which they differentiate from successively narrower concepts of aptitude—ability acquired without formal instruction—and capacity—ability that is endowed genetically or through maturation (pp. 384–385, 422). Using definitions for intelligence—or knowledge—and ability allows PLCs to answer the first critical question with content, setting up the second critical question which measures intelligence and ability.

In the second critical question, PLCs are measuring learning—an observed change in behavior (Radocy & Boyle, 2003, pp. 385–386, 422)—and achievement—an accomplishment that is often the result of instruction (p. 385).  Examples of intelligence measurements include the Stanford-Binet test and Wechsler’s Tests of Intelligence (McInerney & Putwain, 2017, pp. 147-149).  Examples of measurements of musical ability include the Seashore Measures of Musical Talents, Wing’s Standardized Tests of Musical Intelligence, and Gordon’s Musical Aptitude Profile (Radocy & Boyle, 2003, pp. 414-416).  

Measurements of any kind must be valid—measuring what they intend—and reliable—consistent from test to test, but Radocy and Boyle (2003) find that varying definitions of musical ability lead to varying degrees of validity in measurements (pp. 416-417). As examples, the Seashore Measures of Musical Talents became obsolete as new conceptions emerged (p.  414).   Wing’s Standardized Tests of Musical Intelligence reflected his belief that musical ability was mostly innate (p. 415), reinforcing the premise that different definitions of intelligence are implied by different conceptions and measurements of intelligence (p. 391).

One example of a conceptualization that has influenced music education is Gordon’s (1967) Musical Aptitude Profile (MAP).  Gordon’s definitions of aptitude and achievement (p. 52) align with those provided by Radocy and Boyle (2003, pp. 384–385).  Gordon (1967) believes that all aptitude tests are achievement tests to some degree, but aptitude tests tend to minimize course content and focus on the “product of environmental influences and inherited potential” (p. 52). Gordon (1967) declares the purpose of the MAP to be “to act as an objective aid in the evaluation of students’ musical aptitude so that the teacher can better provide for individual needs and abilities” (p. 52) and lays out several purposes including adapting instruction to student needs and evaluating the musical aptitudes of groups of students (pp. 52-53)—answering PLC critical questions two, three, and four.

My instrumental music PLC answered the four critical questions using concepts and measurements similar to those fined by Radocy and Boyle (2003) and Gordon’s (1967) MAP.  For the specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions we desired in our students, we chose musical abilities that align with Radocy and Boyle’s (2003) belief that they result from an interaction of intelligence, experience, physical coordination, and audition (p. 423).  Our measurements asked students to demonstrate achievement by accomplishing specific goals dependent on their own abilities and learning (Gordon, 1967, p. 52).  If students are exceeding or not meeting these measurements, we are able to adapt our instruction to meet their needs (p. 52).

Unfortunately, our conceptualizations limit what knowledge, skills, and dispositions we ask students to demonstrate to a small amount due to the need to measure more than six hundred students on sixteen different standards.  Our measurements are also limited to etudes from method books that can demonstrate many of these skills simultaneously.  These choices for concepts and measurements also limit our teaching approaches in rehearsals and ensembles, which potentially limits our students’ learning to only the enumerated standards.

We cannot measure students’ learning without defining it, but defining a concept limits our understanding of it.  As researchers have worked to conceptualize intelligence and learning, others have worked to determine the validity and reliability of their theories and measurements. Defining and conceptualizing are necessary, but researchers and educators need to be wary of how these concepts affect and limit their work.


DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T. W., & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work (3rd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Cherniss, C., Extein, M., Goleman, D., & Weissberg, R. P. (2006). Emotional intelligence: What does the research really indicate? Educational Psychologist, 41(4), 239-245.

Gordon, E. E. (1967). The musical aptitude profile. Music Educators Journal, 53(6), 52-54.

Jaap, A., & Patrick, F. (2015). Teachers’ concepts of musical talent and nurturing musical ability: Music learning as exclusive or as opportunity for all? Music Education Research, 17(3), 262-277.

McInerney, D. M., & Putwain, D. W. (2017). Developmental and educational psychology for teachers: An applied approach (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Radocy, R. E., & Boyle, D. J. (2003). Musical ability and learning. In Psychological foundations of musical behavior (4th ed., pp. 384–429). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.