Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading my way through a handful of the dozens of books written by Dr. Edwin E. Gordon (1927-2015), thinker extraordinaire in the realm of music learning theory. Although I found his writing style requires some getting-used-to — due partly to the necessity of learning the terminology he uses — I have found it extremely worthwhile to do so as I strive to incorporate aspects of his Music Learning Theory (MLT) into my practice as a piano teacher.
In this article, I’d like to present a list of the Gordon books I’ve read so far, accompanied by brief descriptions what each book addresses. My hope is that this article will provide useful recommendations for those interested in Gordon’s MLT and wondering which of his book(s) to read first. For this reason, the books are listed in order by how highly I would recommend them to someone new to Gordon’s writings. Each review below includes a link to where the book can be purchased from GIA Publications or Amazon. As I read more of Gordon’s books, I plan to add more descriptions to this list.
Before I begin, I’d like to preface by saying that there is a book about MLT that was not authored by Gordon that I would recommend reading before reading Gordon’s books. That book is Eric Bluestine’s The Ways Children Learn Music (GIA | Amazon). Bluestine’s book offers an excellent, friendly primer of the premises of MLT and the shortcomings of conventional music education. I consider it a must-read for any music teacher. Read my full review of Eric’s book here.
Now, let’s get on to discussing Gordon’s books!
Discovering Music from the Inside Out: An Autobiography – Revised edition, by Edwin E. Gordon
Published in 2006 and revised in 2014, Gordon’s autobiography is a wonderful read. It tells the story of his early life growing up as a boy, his careers as a working musician (including playing bass for the Gene Krupa Band), and his work as a professor and researcher. The book sheds light on the circumstances that prompted Gordon to examine the way music is conventionally taught, the nature of music aptitude, and how we learn music.
This book was fun to read, and I consider it a great starting point for anyone even mildly interested in Gordon’s Music Learning Theory. Bottom line: If you are interested in music education and you enjoy autobiographies, I would recommend this book to you.
Quick and Easy Introductions: Introductions to Music Learning Theory, Audiation, Preparatory Audiation, Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children, by Edwin E. Gordon
This pamphlet, first published in 2013, is available as a free order from GIA publications (just pay shipping) or as a free PDF download here. Unfortunately, the pamphlet is more jargon-y than ideal, in my opinion, for an introductory explanation into MLT for the layperson (whether parent or music teacher). However, the pamphlet does cover the main tenets of MLT is a concise format and is readily available at the click of a button, so I highly recommend checking it out to get your first taste of Gordon’s academic writing.
Essential Preparation for Beginning Instrumental Music Instruction, by Edwin E. Gordon
Published in 2010, this book addresses the musical readinesses Gordon believed students should have before beginning formal instruction in a given musical instrument. Each chapter of the book addresses one of the five music readiness vocabularies: (1) listening, (2) performing (singing and chanting rhythms), (3) improvising, (4) reading, and (5) writing. Gordon examines each of these vocabularies in the context of teaching rhythm as opposed to tonal content, as well as in the context of working with preschool ages as opposed to elementary school ages. Throughout the book, Gordon shares specific examples of activities teachers can use with their students to build these readinesses. The suggestions offered in this book point out a way towards the possibility of a teaching approach where students become musically well-equipped before beginning formal study on a chosen musical instrument.
Bottom line: This is an excellent book for piano teachers or any music teachers who are interested in learning how to build musical skill in students apart from their instruments. The book will challenge your preconceived notions about music education and change your teaching for the better. Although this book does use a good amount of MLT terminology (as all of Gordon’s books do), it is more accessible than Gordon’s seminal “Learning Sequences In Music” text. This might be the best way to dive into Gordon’s academic style of writing if you are new to his MLT.
A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children (2003, 1997, 1990, 2013), by Edwin E. Gordon
This is the text used for the Early Childhood Professional Development Levels Course offered through the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML.org). If you are or wish to become an early childhood music educator who uses MLT principles, this is a book for you to read. I found this book to be slightly more accessible than the “Learning Sequences in Music” text and felt it gave me a better perspective of what my piano students would ideally know before beginning private lessons at the piano. If they don’t already have those skills, I can use principles from this book to help them gain those skills.
Read this book if you are interested in knowing more about what music learning looks like for babies and toddlers through preschool — before we get them as piano students. It will help you recognize when students do not yet have readiness for formal instruction and what you can do to help them gain the readiness they need.
Learning Sequences In Music, 2012 Edition, by Edwin E. Gordon
This is the text used for the Instrumental Music Professional Development Levels Courses (PDL courses) offered through the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (GIML.org). There have been many revisions since “Learning Sequences in Music” was first published in 1980. The 2012 edition is current. If you are serious about getting into MLT, you will want to purchase and study this book. It is Gordon’s seminal work, and is easily the most definitive, comprehensive book on Gordon’s MLT.
“Learning Sequences in Music” (LSM) is 400 pages in length and is academic reading. The easiest way to work through the book is to take one of GIML’s PDL courses, when you’ll have nightly reading assignments over two weeks and class time for discussion and questions with an instructor.
Also check out the accompanying 2007 Study Guide, the 2012 Study Guide Supplement, and the wonderful Learning Sequences in Music Lecture CDs (8-CD set) — consisting of 30-minute introductions by Dr. Gordon to each of the 15 chapters of his book. I would especially recommend the CD set. It is wonderful to hear Gordon’s voice as he explains and expounds upon the ideas presented in the book.
Untying Gordian Knots, by Edwin E. Gordon
This is a short pamphlet published in 2011 that is also available as a free PDF download hosted on the GIML.org website. The book consists of short chapters titled according to the concepts being discussed. This book is most useful as a reference handbook, as a way to look up a particular topic and refresh one’s memory on what Gordon has to say on the matter.
Rhythm: Contrasting the Implications of Audiation and Notation (Second Edition; CD included), by Edwin E. Gordon
This book was first published in 2000, and the second edition was released in 2009. If you’ve already read Gordon’s LSM (above) and want to dive deeper into Gordon’s thoughts about rhythm in music, this is the book for you. It covers many of the main concepts from LSM while elaborating on the Gordon’s meter classifications, taxonomy of rhythm patterns, difficulty level taxonomy of rhythm patterns, rhythm solfege, and more. I thoroughly enjoyed working my way through this book.
How Children Learn When They Learn Music, by Edwin E. Gordon
Written and self-published in 1968, this book was an early precursor to Gordon’s seminal “Learning Sequences in Music” text. Upon ordering “How Children Learn When They Learn Music”, I wondered whether this thin volume would be a good recommendation for those new to Gordon’s writings; however, I found it not to be the case.
When asked by GIA Publications to revise the book for reissuing in 2015 (the same year Gordon passed away in December), Gordon decided for the sake of historical point of view to preserve the book’s use of previous terminology dating from his early career. Examples include “tempo beat” instead of the newer “macrobeat”, “meter beat” instead of the newer “microbeat”, and “melodic rhythms” instead of “rhythm patterns”. Due to the use of older terminology and concepts, and the fact that this book was written before Gordon named and fully developed his foundational concept “audiation”, this book is best read, in my opinion, after first gaining familiarity with Gordon’s theories and terminology in their more mature forms. It’s better to first learn the current terms and concepts before the previous ones.
This is not to downplay the merit of the book. The book holds value for those already familiar with Gordon’s work and interested in knowing the origins of Gordon’s ideas fifty years later.
In short, read this book if you are already familiar with the MLT’s current terminology and you wish to gain a historical perspective of the evolution of Gordon’s ideas.
Corybantic Conversations: Imagined Encounters between Dalcroze, Kodály, Laban, Mason, Orff, Seashore, and Suzuki, by Edwin E. Gordon
“Corybantic Conversations” was published in 2009 as a creative venture on Gordon’s part to imagine what conversations would ensure if some of the greatest music education thinkers across the centuries — Dalcroze, Laban, Mason, Kodály, Suzuki, Orff, and Seashore — could engage directly with each other. The book is organized as a dialogue between those individuals, with each chapter addressing particular topics. If you are a fan of Gordon’s MLT, you will enjoy learning Gordon’s perspective on each individual’s lifework as well as Gordon’s imaginings of each individual’s perspective of the others — especially if you have experience with one or more of the music education thinkers aforementioned.
The Aural / Visual Experience of Music Literacy: Reading and Writing Music Notation, by Edwin E. Gordon
This book discusses how to go about teaching students to read and write music after they have sufficient listening, performing, and improvisation readiness vocabularies. My recommendation is to wait to read this book until you’ve guided students through Aural/Oral, Verbal Association, and Partial Synthesis levels and are ready for more information about guiding your students through Symbolic Association and Composite Synthesis as they learn to read and write music notation.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for future updates as I add more books to the list.