Developing Critical Thinking Through Music

Sep 27, 2023

Did you know critical thinking is a skill that can be taught? That’s right! Critical thinking is a purposeful, active, and conscious process; one that can grow and be honed. And what’s more, music can be used to develop it. This is thanks to music’s ability to tap into logic, reasoning, and creativity – especially when it comes to problem solving!

Let’s take a closer look.

What is Critical Thinking?

First and foremost, if we’re going to discuss a topic, it’s best we understand what it is first. The truth is, critical thinking is a dynamic and complicated subject, but there are a few ways it can be defined:

  • One of the most well known definitions comes from the Socratic Method. Here, critical thinking is evident when individuals consider opposite sides to an argument, search for evidence to support their conclusions, and challenge one another with high quality, informed questions.
  • Anther definition relies on a person’s ability to self-correct and make decisions based on investigation and evidence; and when the strategies they use can be used in other situations.
  • Finally, philosophers Richard Paul and Linda Elder suggest that critical thinking happens when; your ability to process information improves; all relevant information you can gather can be used to ask significant questions; you can examine and justify conclusions; you can stay open to other points of view.

Despite this shifting definition, music has been shown to help us with each of these complicated mental acrobatics. In fact, according to Emma Walton Hamilton, language and arts expert:

We know, absolutely, for a fact, that there is no better way for children to learn critical thinking skills, communication skills, empathy and tolerance than through music. This is true across every boundary, across cultural and socio-economic boundaries. Music is a great leveler in terms of unifying our world.”

Critical Thinking & Music

For a long time, and until only recently, the prevailing theory held by the educational community was that only certain subjects were needed to promote the development of critical thinking skills. However, this idea changed when John Dewey insisted that all subjects promote critical thinking; as long as the lessons is presented through a problem-solving framework, and reflection is encouraged.

Since both listening to and performing music offer a challenge where there is no single goal, they can both help to develop flexible, divergent, lateral, and deep thinking.

Music Touches Different Kinds of Thinkers

But why is it that music has such a profound impact on critical thinking? One reason may be that both listeners and performers of music are encouraged to explore the emotions they have while listening or performing. Furthermore, they learn to handle and honour the feelings they have about these experiences. This, in turn, can lead to the exploration of more extensive parts of the brain, which creates:

Divergent Thinkers

These students consider many different answers for each situation. This is the opposite of “convergent thinkers,” who expect to find only one correct answer for each situation they encounter.

Flexible Thinkers

These individuals imagine different kinds of possible ideas to respond to questions, problems, or situations. This is very different from “fluent thinkers.” A fluent thinker, when asked what they want for lunch, for example, may have five answers, but all of them burger places. The flexible thinker, on the other hand, may suggest a variety of cuisines.

Elaborate Thinkers

These are those who can expand on or combine ideas. If we continue the example of going for lunch, an elaborate thinker may consider the flexible thinker’s suggestions, and then provide a number of reasons why one of them is best; e.g. the service, location, etc.

Original Thinkers

These people are the non-conformists. They can come up with elaborate ideas to any given question. For our lunch example, they are the kind to suggest buying food for a picnic, and finding a nice, sunny spot to eat.

Music Methodologies to Encourage Critical Thinking

So, how can those who both listen to and play music harness this incredible power? We’ve got a few strategies that may help:

Driving Questions

Starting off any musical experience with the right questions creates opportunities to consider multiple conclusions. The most effective questions start with “how,” “why,” or “what if…” With that in mind, consider the questions like these while listening, practicing, or performing:

  • How does the sound of silence make you feel?
  • Why do you spend time learning, and how will you learn new things in the future?
  • What if you could repaint your bedroom? What colours would you choose and why?

They may seem unrelated to music, but your brain is already doing the work as you experience the music, and driving questions like these deepen that work.

Diverse Soundtracks

Soundtracks to movies, TV shows, and video games are specifically composed to elicit emotion. For this reason they can be used as the foundation for thinking routines. Play soundtracks and consider what they may mean regarding events, plot predictions, and moods. Consider why they may have been chosen.

Rhythm & Movement

Incorporate the meanings of other educational material with drumming, rhyme, and other forms of so-called “corporal language,” or body language, like dancing. Connecting the academic with music and movement creates a deeper connection and experience.

Final Thoughts

The fact is, critical thinking techniques must be taught. This is due to the simple fact that no one critical thinking technique that is useful in every situation. Instead, we face hundreds, or even thousands of different circumstances that require different strategies. For this reason, those with flexible critical thinking skills have an invaluable toolbox for facing the challenges that come their way.

Want to boost the critical thinking skills of your children – or even your own? Check out all The Music Studios programs, classes, and lessons, and start today!