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The Musical Child - Part 1

What is Musical Giftedness?

Musical intelligence was defined by Howard Gardner, author of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, as "an individual who likes to sing or hum along to music, appreciates music, may play a musical instrument and remembers song melodies." Children who have an extremely high musical intelligence are prodigies. In this series, we will explore what is means to be "musically gifted," what teachers and parents can do to foster these gifts, and what the the two types of musical giftedness. In this first article, we explore the definition of musical giftedness and what it means to say a child is a prodigy.

Clara Schumann (pictured), wife of composer Robert Schumann and a composer in her own right, called them, "youngsters sent into this world already made." David Henry Feldman in Nature's Gambit stated that prodigy was more than just an extraordinary talent; it was a phenomenon which offered "insights into the workings of the human mind."

The word prodigy comes from the Latin prodigum. It first appeared in English in the seventh century and was used to explain something "out of the usual course of nature." Legends surround many well-known musical prodigies that lend themselves well to this definition. The German word wunderkind (literally wonder child) describes these cases quite well. However, prodigy has to mean a child with an exceptional talent without being out of the usual course of nature. Barbara Jepson, in an article for the New York Times, described it as those who "display a level of poise, technical prowess, and musicality beyond their years. Some prodigies are viewed as simply acting as mimics and even derided as "well-trained circus animals." While others are amazing, not only due to their talent or confidence, but also with their great ability to move the audience with their music.

The U.S. Office of Education declared in 1972 that "Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These children are children who require differentiated educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize areas of their contribution to self and society."

The three characteristics of giftedness are precociousness, independent learning ability and exhibit a "rage to master." Firstly, precociousness can be defined as the child taking the first steps to mastering some domain at an earlier than average age. Learning in this area comes easy to them, and they progress quicker than most children. Secondly, being an independent learner (or marching to one's own drummer) means that the gifted child learns in a different way than other children.They need little help or scaffolding from adults; they are eager to teach themselves. As such, they invent their own rules and devise novel, idiosyncratic ways of solving problems. Thus they are, by definition, creative. The last characteristic, a rage to master, can be defined as intrinsic motivation. They show an intense and obsessive interest and will lose sense of the outside world while learning. All of these aspects of the gifted child combines lead to high achievement.

Many parallels can be drawn between musically talented children and other gifted children, especially those with talent for the visual arts. Children with an exceptional talent for music (or for other arts) are sometimes referred to as "talented," rather than "gifted." “Gifted" is often reserved for children with high scholastic ability. However, talented children do resemble scholastically gifted children in important ways. They posses the three characteristics of

giftedness. As with other gifted children, artistically gifted children often have one dominant gift with ordinary abilities in other areas.

Of all of the types of extreme giftedness, musical prodigies are the most prevalent. It is important the musical prodigies be understood separately from savants. who posses only an average or below average I.Q. Savants do not have understanding of their particular ability. Yet, the average I.Q. of a gifted composer is only slightly above average. The composer who probably had one of the highest I.Q. was Mozart, who's estimated I.Q. is set at 155. This is well below "genius," and far below the estimated I.Q. set at 200 for Goethe and John Stuart Mill. There is only a .30 correlation between musical intelligence and standard intelligence.<