Truly Scrumptious:  “Haven’t you noticed?  There aren’t any children. Not one.”

In the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on a novel by Ian Fleming (with a script co-written by Roald Dahl), there is a land where children are banished.  They are evil and are meant to be shut away and captured by the Child Catcher – the subject of many a nightmare for me!

The Child Catcher from the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”

It’s astounding to realize that developmental psychology and the modern practices of child-centered education are really only in their infancy.  It was only a little over 100 years ago that Dickens was writing of horrific conditions that faced children on an everyday basis.  There was little consciousness of the stages of human development and what was appropriate and possible for a child at each age.

Before educator/philosophers like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and others, children were effectively seen as miniature adults and expected to understand and behave as adults!

Well times have certainly changed, thank goodness.  Today we have many new theories and studies that have proven effective for parents and educators.

As a music teacher, your mission is to transfer your knowledge with sensitivity and to invoke passion, curiosity, and enthusiasm for beauty in music and life.  We, as educators, can better accomplish this by embracing and studying areas outside of just “technique and repertoire.”

In this article I want to give some insights on teaching using the framework of multiple intelligences.

Harvard University developmental psychologist Dr. Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1983 and theorized that everyone has a preferred mode of learning..  When his book was first published, he had identified seven modes of learning, but there are now eight or nine depending on which research you follow.

Here is a list of Dr.Gardner’s multiple intelligences from one of the leading proponents of the theory, Dr. Thomas Armstrong, whose website can be visited here.

The Multiple Intelligences

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

As a music teacher, you can start to see what kind of preferred mode of learning your student has. Ideally, we all have music smart students!  But then again, these are all aspects of all of us.  We are all smart in multiple ways with some areas stronger than others.  Someone who is considered hyperactive and really unfocused may just be “body smart.” Or someone who consistently talks during the lesson may not be trying to be rude or disrespectful, but rather is “word smart” and needs to process by speaking about the lesson.

Here’s a visual chart that can help you get an overview of the multiple intelligences.

Download a PDF here.

Think about your students as you look at this chart. You’ll quickly recognize some of your students and how they fit into one or more of these intelligences.  Keep in mind that we all use each of these in some respects, but we tend to lean more towards one or two in our everyday lives. Knowing the preferred intelligences of your students can really help with your mission to spark the joy of learning and to transfer the skills necessary for learning to your students.

To better understand this, you can take this free multiple intelligences quiz to assess what kind of smart you are.

Number Smart Students

Years ago, when I was sitting in my son’s preschool classroom, I noticed how much structure there was.  They had charts for attendance, the daily routine, and going to the bathroom, etc.  My son loved this!  He would also love to take all the books off the shelf and put them back in order from smallest to largest.  This was endlessly fascinating to him because he loved organizing and sorting.  It became obvious to me that he was number smart.  For kids who are number smart, I have found the use of a practice chart and daily stickers or check marks to be highly effective.

Body Smart Students

I’ve had several students over the years who are obviously more body smart and they struggle to sit long enough to focus.  I end up taking away the piano bench so they can play standing up and they love the kinesthetic learning games we play, such as using Curwen hand signs and moving magnetic notes on my Grand Staff magnet board.

Word Smart Students

I have some students who have been word smart and they are so funny! Everything is discussion and conversation, but if you really listen and ask them questions, they are synthesizing all the facts and you will be amazed by how much they know! They just need to tell it to you. This can be a little hard when you are asking them to just play the piece because they need to tell you everything they noticed or felt or heard first!


While we can do these personalizations in a private lesson, a classroom situation is very different. The challenge of teaching multiple intelligences in the classroom is huge especially given the typical structure of a classroom. Children are grouped, not according to these preferred modes of learning, but by age. A single teacher needs to teach everyone in the same way without losing their minds!  For some teachers, they just give up on those “problem students” and send them to detention or expel them from their class,but those kids could be highly musical as well.

With some creativity (and energy), I’m hoping some of these teachers could see it in a new way.  A simple walk outside with the class to observe the sounds of nature or industrial sounds, perhaps having them use a handheld recorder or smartphone, could be a fascinating and educational activity that would satisfy some of the more body smart and nature smart students in the class.

Schools and Multiple Intelligence

Schools face the challenge of meeting the needs of as many students as possible, but this creates a situation where some students might fall through the cracks.  One of the most articulate and eloquent speakers on the subject of education and its challenges is Sir Ken Robinson. He has written several books on education and his TED Talk is one of the most viewed ever.

I discovered this excellent animation of one of his talks that discusses the problem of our school system, which generally only rewards students who are word smart or number smart.  Additionally, there has been an “epidemic” of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses in the United States.  Here’s a clip that starts at the section about ADHD. I would highly recommend watching the video by Sir Ken Robinson in its entirety if you have time.

I hope this discussion of multiple intelligences has piqued your interest in approaching your music students in a fresh new way.  I welcome your comments below.

We discuss learning styles in the Musicolor Method™ training course – Learn more.

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