Music Aptitude: Critical Ages for Music Learning

When are the most critical times for music instruction? Edwin Gordon’s studies help pinpoint these critical times.

Ages 5 to 9

In one study, school children were given music aptitude tests every year from ages 5 to 9. The results varied according to the availability of music instruction:

1)  In schools where there was little or no music in the curriculum,

  • Between age 5 and 6—scores declined dramatically
  • Between age 7 and 8 and 9—scores declined slightly

2)  In schools where music instruction began at age 7,

  • Between age 5 and 6—scores declined dramatically
  • Between age 6 and 7—scores declined somewhat less
  • Between age 7 and 8 and 9 (the years with music instruction)—scores went up slightly

Because of the dramatic change between ages 5 and 6 and the slight changes after age 7, average scores at age 9 were significantly lower than they were at age 5.

3)  In schools that provided an excellent music program beginning at age 5,

  • Between age 5 and 6—scores went up dramatically
  • Between age 6 to 7—scores went up somewhat less
  • Between age 7 and 8 and 9—scores went up slightly

Ages 9 to 18

Gordon found markedly different results with this age-group. Music aptitude scores remained unchanged regardless of music instruction. In general, the music aptitude of students who played instruments, sang in chorus, or studied music in other ways remained unchanged at both age 9 and age 18. The same was true for students with no music education during this period.

Gordon says, “By the time a child reaches approximately age 9, his or her level of music aptitude can no longer be affected by the music environment, even by a music environment of extremely high quality” (A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children, 1997, p. 10).

Students could still learn music and increase their musical abilities. However, the ease and clarity with which they were able to acquire musical skills and comprehend music seemed determined by age 9.

Music Aptitude Testing

Music aptitude tests are of two types:

  1. Developmental—For children younger than 9, music aptitude is a product of both innate potential and early environmental influences. Testing at this stage of life measures developmental music aptitude.
  2. Stabilized—For children older than 9, environmental influences no longer affect music aptitude. Testing at this stage measures stabilized music aptitude.


 NAfME Position Paper on Early Childhood Education

A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children (1997) by Edwin E. Gordon

Gordon Institute for Music Learning Web site.

“All About Audiation and Music Aptitudes,” by Edwin E. Gordon, in Music Educators Journal, September 1999.

“The Importance of Music in Early Childhood,” by Lili M. Levinowitz, in General Music Today, Fall 1998.

—>Linda C. Brown, January 20, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (