Musical Intelligence

The Ability to Perform, Compose and Appreciate Music

Musical Intelligence. Gary Burchell/ Taxi/ Getty Images

Musical intelligence is one of Howard Gardner's nine multiple iIntelligences. It involves how skillful an individual is performing, composing and appreciating music and musical patterns. People who excel in this intelligence typically are able to use rhythms and patterns to assist in learning. Musicians, composers, band directors, disc jockeys and music critics are among those that Gardner sees as having high musical intelligence.


Yehudi Menuhin, a 20th-century American violinist and conductor, began attending San Francisco Orchestra concerts at age 3. "The sound of Loiuis Persinger's violin so entranced the young child that he insisted on a violin for his birthday and Louis Persinger as his teacher. He got both," Gardner, a professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, explains in his 2006 book, "Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice." "By the time he was ten years old, Menuhin was an international performer."

Menuhin's "rapid progress on (the violin) suggests that he was biologically prepared in some way for a life in music," Gardner says. "Menuhin his one example of evidence from child prodigies that support the claim that there is a biological link to a particular intelligence" -- in this case, musical intelligence.

Famous People Who Have Musical Intelligence

There are plenty of other examples of famous musicians and composers with high musical intelligence.

  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Perhaps history's greatest composer, Beethoven composed many of his best works after he had gone deaf. He said he imagined the notes -- of all the many instruments in an orchestra -- in his head.
  • Michael Jackson: The late pop singer enthralled millions with his sense of rhythm, musical ability and seeming ability to defy the laws of physics in his dance moves.
  • Eminem: A contemporary rapper, who displayed his extraordinary creative skills in his records and such films as "8 Mile." 
  • Itzhak Perlman: An Israeli-American violinist, conductor and teacher, Perlman appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" twice, the first time when he was just 13, and made his debut at Carnegie Hall when he was 18.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Another of history's greatest composers -- and a contemporary of Beethoven -- Mozart was the very definition of a child prodigy, showing incredible musical intelligence at a very early age.

Enhancing Musical Intelligence

Those with high musical intelligence learn well by using rhythm or music, enjoy listening to and/or creating music, enjoy rhythmic poetry and may study better with music in the background. As a teacher, you can enhance and strengthen the musical intelligence of your students by:

  • Including music in lessons where appropriate
  • Allowing them to include music for independent projects
  • Connecting music to a lesson, such as talking about what music was popular during historical periods
  • Using songs to help students study for exams
  • Playing Mozart or Beethoven as students study in class

Studies show that listening to classical music benefits the brain, sleep patterns, the immune system and stress levels in students, according to the University of Southern California.

So, get out your CD player or stream classical music as your students read quietly, study or work on their other intelligences during class.