Music and Emotional Intelligence

This series of posts explores connections between music and other Gardner-listed multiple intelligences. My previous posts discussed  Music and the Body, Music and Nature, Music and Words, Music and Numbers, and Music and Pictures.

In 2009 a report from the UK’s authoritative Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) criticized music educators for not exploiting music’s ‘powerful’ potential for improving pupils’ lives. Ofsted was referring to the emotional-intelligence benefits of music education.

When students engage in project-based learning they get opportunity to develop and practise a range of skills to which traditional schooling does not cater. Relating to peers involves decision-making, expressing opinions, tolerating and accepting different views, regulating emotions, cooperating, and not always getting one’s way. These are skills of emotional intelligence. Increasingly the world is acknowledging that emotional intelligence (EI)—also referred to as emotional quotient (EQ) and social and emotional learning (SEL)—is essential for school success, employment success, life success, and daily well-being. EQ comprises the concepts of self-smart and people smart. In Howard Gardner’s model of multiple intelligences these two elements are considered to be distinct intelligences. The influence that making music and listening to music imparts to the development of EQ is considerable.

There was a time when emotions were considered adverse to intelligence. Ancient Greece viewed the ultimate intellectual model as a tripartite psyche with the emotions and the appetite ruled by a superior intellect.

Fig 30 Tripartite PsychePeople were encouraged to use rational and logical thinking and to suppress emotion when making decisions.

It is impossible, however, to fully separate emotion from intellectual processes. For one thing the brain has more connections going from the (emotional) limbic system to the (intellectual) neo-cortex than vice versa. This might indicate that emotion influences decision and action more so than rational thought. When the rational mind is under stress it is swamped by emotion. Therefore, effective decision-making requires a good degree of EQ. Emotions drive attention, meaning, and memory. Suppression of emotions, which results in repressed emotional build-up, is unhealthy.

The little emotions are the captains of our lives, and we obey them without realizing it. – Vincent Van Gogh

Music presents an emotional encounter through the medium of sound. Music evokes emotion and emotion affects physiological change. Consequently music has the power to change us not only mentally but also physically. The core of individuality is based on one’s unique set of emotions. This is why the world’s most popular leisure activity is listening to music, for, in a powerful way music reveals to us our inner self. Hence, music education plays a special role in enhancing emotional intelligence, providing another advocacy opportunity for music educators. In 2009 I met Daniel Goleman at a conference in Washington, DC. Specialising in psychology and brain sciences, Goleman’s books on emotional intelligence are internationally renowned. Yet in the course of our discussion Goleman was frank about his own lack of understanding in regard to music’s contribution to EQ. Surprisingly to me the explicit utilisation of music education to advance EQ is yet to be deeply explored.

My next post will explore Music and Intrapersonal Intelligence (Self Smart).

 An excerpt from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin

The Music Trust (review)    VMTA (review)

“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, New Haven, USA.

“Super book. I am so impressed!” – Donna Michaels, USA

“Fantastic book, simply brilliant! – Ian Cooper, Norfolk, UK

“Don’t miss this opportunity!” – Mary George, USA

“Rarely do I come away feeling so inspired. Incredibly beneficial.” – Music Matters Blog

“Such a practical book. SO glad I purchased this. – Jocelyn Beath, NZ

“Most stimulating!” – Nicholas Carpenter, Prebendal, UK

“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Teacher of Strings, UK.

“Deeply impressive, the breadth of research is fascinating!” – Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.

“Awesome! I want to recommend it to every teacher I know” – Michael Williamson, Australia

“I loved it. Extremely helpful and inspiring!” – Cheryl Livingstone, Australia

“The best resource for music educators” – Andrew Heuzenroeder, Australia

“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

Amazon UK
Kindle US
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Australia: Contact for direct mail.

front cover final

Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents.  “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

BookCoverPreview Bk 2

Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!”  – St George College, Australia

Available at

BookCover VR

‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 123 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“Will prove useful for almost everyone”- Rhinegold Music Teacher Magazine.

“This is a great resource to add to one’s library of rehearsal tricks.”- Anacrusis, ACCC, Canada

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging.  Available at


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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Posted in Multiple Intelligence, Music Education, prep, primary
3 comments on “Music and Emotional Intelligence
  1. Thanks -*-> I am finding, with respect to your “Music evokes emotion and emotion affects physiological change” remark above, that a principal positive way this can happen is to guide relaxation toward and eventually with a 60 BPM anchoring tempo. Matching the number & pace of seconds in a minute, this tempo also 1) mirrors a heart at rest and 2) opens a variety of rhythm options as ‘WELL’.
    These days positive life models can be challenging to find. Seems we can find a powerful one within our own physiology and our time structures -*->
    Thanks again -*- I’m looking forward to your forthcoming ‘Intrapersonal Intelligence’ post as well.

  2. Thank you for your article. I loved it. Dr. Ludmila Knezkova-Hussey ( concert pianist and composer). Canada

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