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In the English language, imagination implies a visual mode. Since there was no word similar to imagination for the auditory mode, music education researcher Edwin Gordon coined the word audiation in 1975. Audiation is to sound in the same way that imagination is to images. For example, audiation may involve mentally hearing and comprehending music, even when no physical sound is present. It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. In essence, audiation of music is analogous to thinking in a language. The term audiation should not be confused with audition, the mere perception of sound. Audiation is also more than just a musical form of auditory imagery. Developed audiation includes the necessary understanding of music to enable the conscious prediction of patterns in unfamiliar music and sound.

According to Gordon:

Although music is not a language, the process is the same for audiating and giving meaning to music as for thinking and giving meaning to speech. When you are listening to speech, you are giving meaning to what was just said by recalling and making connections with what you have heard on earlier occasions. At the same time, you are anticipating or predicting what you will be hearing next, based on your experience and understanding. Similarly, when you are listening to music, you are giving meaning to what you just heard by recalling what you have heard on earlier occasions. At the same time, you are anticipating or predicting what you are hearing next, based on your musical achievement. In other words, when you are audiating as you are listening to music, you are summarizing and generalizing from the specific music patterns you have just heard as a way to anticipate or predict what will follow. Every action becomes an interaction. What you are audiating depends on what you have already audiated. As audiation develops, the broader and deeper it becomes and thus the more it is able to reflect on itself. Members of an audience who are not audiating usually do not know when a piece of unfamiliar, or even familiar, music is nearing its end. They may applaud at any time, or not at all, unless they receive clues from others in the audience who are audiating. Through the process of audiation, we sing and move in our minds, without ever having to sing and move physically.[1] (Gordon, 1997, pp. 5-6)

Teaching audiation[edit]

Audiation is an essential element of Music Learning Theory, a research-based explanation of how humans learn music when they learn music. Although the term audiation has so far not entered into common music parlance, it has been gaining acceptance among music educators. Gordon criticizes traditional-minded educators for not directly teaching audiation, which he views as the foundation of musicianship.

In the Kodály method, the term "inner hearing" is regarded by some to be the same process as audiation. The Kodály method suggests the following simple practice technique to develop inner hearing: sing or play a piece of music alternating measures between singing out loud and performing only with inner hearing. For example, a student could sing all the odd numbered measures out loud but all the even numbered measures with inner hearing.

Despite certain similarities between inner hearing within the Kodály Method and audiation, Gordon argues that the two things are not the same. He states: "Although serving as the first step towards developing audiation, imitation should not be confused with audiation itself. Imitation, sometimes called inner hearing, is a product, whereas audiation is a process."[2] (Gordon, 2001, p. 4)

Gordon believes that "most students and probably most musicians memorize a piece of music without being able to audiate it contextually."[2] (2001, p. 5) He 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 original melody; play the melody in a different key, tonality, or with alternate fingerings; or demonstrate with body movements the phrases of the melody. According to Gordon, failure to do these things means that "they are not audiating what they have performed."[2] (Gordon, 2001, p. 5) To teach audiation is therefore more than to simply teach imitation or what as also known as "inner hearing".

Types of audiation[edit]

  • listening to music (think, write)
  • reading music (think, write, perform)
  • writing music in dictation
  • recalling music from a performance (think, write, perform)
  • writing music from recall
  • creating or improvising music (think, write, perform)
  • writing music as it is created or improvised


  1. ^ Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns (1997) by Edwin E. Gordon (ISBN 1579990045)
  2. ^ a b c Preparatory audiation, audiation, and music learning theory: a handbook of a comprehensive music learning sequence (2001) by Edwin E. Gordon (ISBN 1579991335)