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The Musical Child - Part 2



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 second installment, we explore what teachers and parents can do to help the musical child succeed.


The most basic thing a parent or teacher can do to encourage a musical child is to introduce them to a wide range of music styles, genres, instruments, and eras by listening. According to research from the Al-Anba newspaper, "Parents who want their children to become another Mozart or someone like Stevie Wonder or Vanessa Maw should make them listen to music from the time of birth." However, these people mentioned were all lucky to have both exceptional natural talent beyond most people and an enriching environment, where musicality was encouraged. But, if music is not encouraged children will begin to loose some of their natural talent by the age of eight months. Children's education laboratory coordinator, Professor Gini Safran of Wisconsin College said, "We know that early listening to music helps in developing full musical level."


Parents can help or hinder the development in significant ways. They can be attentive to obsessive. For example, cellist Janos Starker often tells the amusing story of his mother who used to make sandwiches, so he would not have to get up

for a snack. She even bought a parrot and trained it to say, "Practice, Janos, Practice." Pianist Ruth Slezynska tells how her father forced her to practice nine hours per day and would not allow any mistakes." He would hit her at any wrong note. At 15 years old, she understandably suffered a breakdown that ended her career.

A more famous example of the hindering parent is Leopold Mozart, father to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his equally talented sister, Maria Anna Walburga. MoLeopold is often criticized by history for his overprotective parenting and his exploitative manner. Many psychologists looking back at Leopold detect a dark pattern of manipulation. His own writings seem to verify this.


Regular education teachers as well as parents and music teachers can be crucial encouragers for musical students. Teachers can incorporate background music into the classroom. This can help calm down the students, introduce a new unit, help students understand other cultures, or simply set a mood. Students can be asked to have make "Lyrical Lessons," meaning that they can write songs about specific lessons or a particular unit. Similarly, these students can be asked to make Team Chants accompanied by clapping, snapping, or other percussion. Making discographies or bibliographies of musical selections can also be beneficial. Lastly, teachers may wish to convey an image or a word using nonverbal music, allowing the students to guess the concept. Moreover, teachers can also help musically intelligent students to excel by making an accessible listening lab available. Setting the classroom rules to music may help as well. Lastly, teachers can help them calm down when they are angry by asking him or her to "play" their favorite song in their head to avoid rash decisions.

The private music teacher's role is essential for a prodigy to be able to become a SUCCESSFUL adult musician.

The private music teacher's role is essential for a prodigy to be able to become a successful adult musician. Parents need to pay close attention to the quality of the first piano teacher their child has. In a study conducted for Benjamin Bloom's Developing Talent in Young People, a majority of adults who had been child prodigies had reported that their first teachers had been "average." However. quickly the parents would switch teachers so the child could learn more efficiently.

Without solid training and parental support, many musical prodigies simply can not make it as adult musicians. In fact, the greatest recorded musical prodigy was not Mozart, it w as French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns began the piano at two and a half and excelled in reading and writing both language and music by age three. He also was fluent in Latin at seven and studying natural history. During his eighty-six years, he composed prolifically, conducted and wrote literature as well. He even dabbled with the sciences. Still, according to historians, he was a failure; everyone thought his music would be as great as Mozart's. It was not despite a lifetime commitment to trying. (This is not to diminish the significance of his works, including The Swan from Carnival of the Animals.) The one apparent ingredient that Saint-Saens lacked was simply "the muse;" he lacked solid musical creativity need for becoming a successful musician.

These children need balance to make the switch from a musical machine into a WELL-BALANCED adult, and the music teacher can act as an advisor and provide musical stability.

Moreover, these children need balance to make the switch from a musical machine into a well-balanced adult, and the music teacher can act as an advisor and provide musical stability. The music teacher is able balance the child's work between technique, phrasing, and interpretation. Prodigies are often used to being considered exceptional; often when they reach adolescence and other musicians, whom they believed inferior, catch up. Teachers also need to pace the student's progress; it can be devastating for them to realize that you learned everything as a child and there are no more challenges for you as an adult musician.

There are some music teachers who specialize in "turning out" musical prodigies like an assembly line. Julliard's Dorothy DeLay possesses a skill for training violin prodigies. She trained Itzhak Pearlman, Midori. Nigel Kennedy, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Sarah Change among others. Delay claims that her students only practice four to five hours per day, but in reality she requires that they practice the violin for 10 to 12 hours per day. It's no surprise her students can progress phenomenally in a relatively short time period!

Time after time, evidence shows that environment is the number one factor for the success of children with musical giftedness. In the early part of the twentieth century, Eastern European Jews encouraged their children to pressure violin playing because they say it as the only way they could better themselves in their society. A child who was a successful violinist could improve the living conditions of the entire family. Moreover. musical prodigies seem to be widespread in Asia where the society values hard work and has a high respect for accomplishment. Also, Eastern society holds teachers in an elevated position, something that the West has yet to do!

We are here to guide students of ALL ages on their creative journeys. We believe a strong foundation in fundamentals while encouraging individual expression is the key to a holistic music education. To learn more about music education and enrichment through Perennial Music and Arts, email us.


Perennial Music and Arts where creativity blooms.



Bloom, Benjamin S., ed. (1985). Developing Talent in Young People. New York: Random House.

Boerner. Steve. The Mozart Project.

De Mink, Freya. Musical Prodigies: Past, Present, And Future.

Jourdain, Robert. (1997). Music, The Brain and Ecstasy. New York: William Marrow and Company, Inc.

Kenneson, Claude. (1998). Musical Prodigies: Perilous Journeys, Remarkable Lives. Portland. Or: Amadeus Press

Multiple Intelligences: What Does The Research Say?

Renuad, Lucie. (2000). Child Prodigies: A Poisoned Paradise?

Using Multiple Intelligences Theory In Choosing A Career.

Watson Fellow to Explore Myth. Reality of Musical Wunderkind. The Chronicle.

ZIker, Sally Yahkne. (1991). The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids: How to Understand, Live With, and Stick Up for Your Gifted Child. Minneapolis. MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Winner, Ellen. (1996). Gifted Children: Myths and Realities. New York: Basic Books.


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