In Memoriam: Edwin E. Gordon, Creator of Gordon Music Learning Theory

music research
Dr. Edwin E. Gordon, 2015 Lowell Mason Fellow


“My best recommendation to music teachers of the next century is to improvise, improvise, improvise! Get rid of notation. Learn from music learning theory to teach children to make music without the aid of notation or music theory. Follow religiously the process of the way we learn language.” Edwin Elias Gordon 1927 – 2015

Edwin E. Gordon was known throughout the world as a preeminent researcher, teacher, author, editor, and lecturer in the field of music education. Since 1997 he was distinguished professor in residence at the University of South Carolina, following his retirement as the Carl E. Seashore Professor of Research in Music Education at Temple University in Philadelphia.

He passed away on December 4, 2015, in Mason City, Iowa, where he was cared for by his daughter Pam.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) announced Gordon’s selection as a Lowell Mason Fellow in October. This distinction is one of music education’s most important honors, and is designed to recognize the accomplishments of music educators, music education advocates, political leaders, industry professionals, and others who have contributed to music education in their unique way.

Gordon was a pioneer in research into musical aptitude, the psychology of music, and how musical aptitude develops in the young child. His research into music learning theory and the sequence of development of musical learning have provided the basis for much of what is taught, and how it is taught in our music classrooms today. His stature as a researcher into how musical thinking develops makes him worthy of the designation of Lowell Mason Fellow.

“We applaud Dr. Gordon for his 61 years as a member of our association,” said Michael A. Butera, NAfME Executive Director and CEO. “He has worked tirelessly on behalf of the field of music education and has shown over these many years how music orchestrates success. We congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.”

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Gordon played the string bass as a symphonic and jazz musician. He has performed with a number of orchestras and ensembles, including the renowned Gene Krupa band.

Gordon and his work have been portrayed nationally and internationally on the NBC Today Show, in The New York Times, in USA Today, and in a variety of European and Asian publications.

His work reflected a deeply held philosophy about the value of music in the lives of all human beings: “Music is unique to humans. Like the other arts, music is as basic as language to human development and existence” (from Gordon, Edwin E. A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children. Chicago: GIA Publications, 1990, pp. 2-3).

Read Gordon’s “Roots of Music Learning Theory.”

Watch Gordon present an overview of Music Learning Theory to students, faculty, and guests at Rhode Island College.

Read an electronic remembrance of Gordon.

Dr. Edwin E. Gordon archive at the University of South Carolina


Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, December 14, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (