Using Audiation as a Key to Successful Musical Learning

by Will Smith, Drum instructor at The Lesson Studio

As a young man my father taught me an important lesson that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “Think before you speak.” These words were simply my dad’s way of preparing me for the real world. Lucky for us musicians a parallel exists in the music world so I can share with you a derivative of my dad’s advice. I’ll say to you “Think before you play.” I’d like to expand a concept called audiation to help you do just that, “Think before you play”.

Audiation is a musical tactic often overlooked by a vast majority of musicians even though they use it every day. Let me clear things up for you! Audiation is defined as a high level thought process involving mentally hearing and comprehending music even when no physical sound is present. Let’s give it a shot together, sing in your head, without making any physical sounds, the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Amazing! You have just used audiation. This is an excellent habit to begin using during your practice times because the beauty of audiation is that we can sing and move all in our brain without ever having to sing or move physically.

What does this mean to us as music educators?

1) We should first acknowledge the pioneer of audiation, Edwin E. Gordon who identified the key concepts behind the process of audiation and encouraged the adoption of this process into every music educators’ tool belt. Gordon suggests that in order to audiate while musicians perform music through imitation, they must be able to do the following: sing what they have played; play a variation of the originally melody; play the melody in a different keyality, tonality, or with alternative fingerings; or to demonstrate with body movements the phrases of the melody.

2) We should incorporate these strategies into our lessons even if at a minimal level to help our students become stronger musicians. I like use the old elementary P.E. basketball example. “Imagine the basketball going into the hoop when you let go of it.” This is exactly audiation in sports form… tell your students to “think the first phrase through from m.1 to m.9” then to play exactly what they were able to audiate. I promise you will notice an immediate difference in the confidence a student has in their ability to play that certain phrase.

3) We should use this process as a key for improvisation skills. As a music educator, I am always striving to teach my students to think on their own and on their feet! Improvisation is a great strategy to use with students especially when accompanied by audiation. Using audiation helps the students get to a level of achievement where they feel comfortable looking away from sheet music, but then remind them that the sheet music also exists in their mind, and audiation can unlock that musical manuscript.

I’ll conclude with a note from Gordon’s website (http://giml.org/mlt/audiation/): “Through development of audiation students learn to understand music. Understanding is the foundation of music appreciation, the ultimate goal of music teaching.”

Will Smith, Drum Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Will Smith

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