Edwin Gordon

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Edwin E. Gordon, Research Professor at the University of South Carolina's Gordon Archive, is an influential researcher, teacher, author, editor, and lecturer in the field of music education. Through extensive research, Gordon has made major contributions to the study of music aptitudes, audiation, Music Learning Theory, rhythm in movement and music, and music development in infants and very young children.

He is the author of several seminal works in the field of music education, including Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns (ISBN 1579990045); A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children (ISBN 1579992595); and Preparatory Audiation, Audiation, and Music Learning Theory (ISBN 1579991335).

Gordon received his bachelors and masters degrees in string bass performance from the Eastman School of Music, a second masters degree in education from Ohio University, and the Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Before turning his attention solely toward the field of music education, he played string bass with the Gene Krupa band.

Gordon continues to present seminars and lectures throughout the world, in addition to being widely published in international research and professional journals.

Music Learning Theory[edit]

Skill Learning Sequence[edit]

Music learning theory includes eight levels of skill in two basic categories, discrimination and inference.


Students perform a music task to correspond to the teacher's performed example.

  • aural/oral—students learn to hear and to perform tonal patterns sung or rhythm patterns chanted by the teacher with a neutral syllable.
  • verbal association—the teacher sings with syllable-name tonal patterns or chants with syllable-name rhythm patterns that were made familiar at the aural/oral level. Students reproduce the patterns in an echo response.
  • partial synthesis—familiar patterns are grouped into phrases.
  • symbolic association—the teacher shows students familiar patterns in rhythmic notation.
  • composite synthesis—students comprehend the sight of music notation in terms of tonality and meter.


Patterns that are unfamiliar to students are incorporated into the learning process.

  • generalization—students compare unfamiliar music to music they have learned by rote.
  • creativity/improvisation—students perform patterns that are different from but related to patterns performed by the teacher.
  • theoretical understanding—students consider why music is what it is and the common applications of music theory.

Content Learning Sequence[edit]

The two separate sequences are tonal and rhythm.

Tonal content learning sequence[edit]

  • tonalities in one part
  • changes in tonality or key in one part
  • two or more tonalities or keys in two or more parts
  • harmonic progression in two or more parts

Rhythm content learning sequence[edit]

  • rhythm patterns in usual meters
  • unusual meters in one part
  • changes of meter or tempo in one part
  • two or more parts in the same meter or tempo
  • two or more parts in different meters or tempos

The Jump Right In series uses music learning theory.


Mark, M.L. (1986). Contemporary Music Education. New York: Schirmer Books.

Further reading[edit]

Gordon, E. (1984). Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns. Chicago: G.I.A. Publications.

Gordon, E. (1971). The Psychology of Music Teaching. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

External links[edit]