Feeling the BEET with Edwin Gordon's Music Learning Theory


Edwin Gordon’s highly recognized and esteemed research leading to the Music Learning Theory (MLT) is defined as

“An explanation and description of appropriate ways students learn one or more styles of music.” p5 of Quick and Easy Introductions by Edwin Gordon

It is not a teaching method that you purchase and follow exclusively. YOU can apply and integrate MLT into your current teaching method, NOW. This is great news! You don't need to reinvent your approach to enhance it with the MLT philosophy. Keep reading and I'll explain how.


My morning of MLT

I received a free guide about MLT called Quick and Easy Introductions from a workshop I attended at Rockley Music in Lakewood, Colorado. Thomas Hoops, MME immersed himself in the MLT approach and generously shared how he implements MLT in his private piano lessons. I, along with the small crowd, hung on his every word and dynamic examples that morning. He provided this free guide to all of us. As you can imagine, I grabbed one! Get your guide here.

Don't let the words “quick and easy” fool you. Each page is LOADED with terms, lists and sublists of steps. It's really too much to process in a quick read. After absorbing what I could and watching Mr. Hoops in action, my head was spinning with ideas on how to integrate my Rhythm Produce cards with MLT.

“Learning is from the inside out whereas teaching is from the outside in.” - pg 9

The following paragraphs are my suggestions for approaching rhythm using a healthy mix of my Rhythm Produce Cards and a touch of MLT.

I highly recommend using the steps below AFTER your students have become familiar with the Rhythm Produce words used.

Disclaimer: I am not pretending to be an MLT expert. What follows is my personal interpretation of Mr. Gordon’s extremely intricate and respected research. I’m sharing what I gleaned from just one workshop and applying it to how I teach rhythm in my studio.

Learning the terms of MLT

According to MLT, the first step to comprehension of ANY concept is Discrimination Learning which means a student must identify something (any concept) as the SAME or DIFFERENT.

The next important learning mode is called Inference or what some may call transfer of learning.

Discrimination = recognize what is familiar. Inference = identify what is unfamiliar on the basis of what is familiar.

Next, all concepts or what MLT calls content must be understood within a context. For example, understanding that a quarter note symbolizes one beat is a content and grouping quarter notes into patterns or a meter is a context.

“Whereas tonality and meter establish music context, tonal patterns and rhythm patterns establish music content.” - p7

MLT uses the terms macrobeats and microbeats when describing rhythm. (I don't necessarily use these terms with my students.) When macrobeats or bigger beats are divided into two microbeats or small beats, that is called duple meter. Dividing a big beat into three smaller beats is called triple meter.

Don't get rid of that exercise ball! It is perfect for those who struggle to obey that steady beat. This young man always wants to rush but, this time the ball wouldn't let him. Sitting on the ball is not ideal for posture and hand position (I have an idea but haven't tried it yet) but, the internal clock was ticking when he played it without the ball. His timing was perfect!

Establishing Context or Meter

To experience the context and contrast of duple and triple meter, consider these steps:

#1 Imitation = While bouncing on or bouncing a ball, sing/chant Rhythm Produce words like PEAR, APPLE, STRAWBERRY or WATERMELON in duple and triple meter and ask students to repeat what they heard and felt. Do this several times.

#2 Distinguish = Guide students to imitate you chanting Rhythm Produce words and bouncing a ball on the macrobeat.

Chant patterns in both duple and triple while bouncing the ball and ask students to determine if they feel and sound the SAME or DIFFERENT. Do this several times for each pattern.



When both meters are well established and understood, ask students to imitate you, listen and identify if two patterns are the same or different.

Next ask them to identify which one is duple? Which one is triple?


#3 Inference = Encourage students to identify new produce rhythms on the basis of what is familiar by chanting and bouncing on a ball or bouncing a ball using examples below.

GREEN APPLE vs APPLE PIE = both in duple so they are the (SAME)




Establishing Content or Note Values within a Context

The same steps can be taken to introduce content or note values.

#1 Imitation = Ask students to bounce a ball keeping a steady macrobeat and chant with you the following patterns several times.


#2 Discrimination = After students successfully repeat after you, set the balls aside and clap patterns without saying the words and ask them to clap back. Ask students to decide if pattern one and pattern two are the SAME or DIFFERENT.



“Imitation is a product whereas audiation is a process.” p25


Building Audiation Skills

After students become comfortable bouncing, chanting, and playing these patterns, using simple visuals can assist with audiation, the process of using the mind’s ear.

I’ve created big BEETS to represent the macrobeats and smaller BEETS to represent the microbeats. Once you print, laminate and cut them, you can use double stick tape or poster putty and stick them on a dry erase board or just lay them on a table.

“It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. Audiation is the musical equivalent of thinking in language.” -http://giml.org/mlt/audiation/

Using the big BEETS and small BEETS, show students how to notate patterns. Here are just a few ideas to test audiation skills and to reinforce visual understanding of content and context (note values and meter) with the big and small BEETS.

#1 Post four big BEETS on the board (macrobeats) Point out that just like there are two parts to every bounce (macrobeat), there are two parts to every beat (micro beats.) For example: say “BOUNCE CATCH” or “1 &” or “ON OFF” for each big BEET. I compare this concept to the word MUSIC which is one word but two syllables.

#2 Place two small BEETS beneath each big BEET to show both parts of the a beat. Guide listeners to recognize these microbeats are the same as APPLE.

#3 Take away the second microbeat and the BEET becomes a PEAR.

#4 With BEETS, show PEAR APPLE PEAR APPLE on the board and students must clap the pattern you clap and determine if you clapped what was shown on the board or something different. Repeat as needed.

#5 Ask a volunteer to “fix” the BEETS to match the rhythm you clapped if it was different from what was on the board.

#6 Clap and chant APPLE APPLE PEAR PEAR and ask a volunteer to notate it on the board with big and small BEETS.

#7 Create a new rhythm pattern, clap and chant it and ask students to echo you, and ask them to decide if you clapped it correctly.

#8 Introduce new rhythm words and phrases






  • CARROTS and PEAS (triple meter!)

#9 Ask students to create their own patterns and write names of produce beneath.

#10 Ask students to notate BEET patterns with standard note values on dry erase flash cards used in the image below which can be purchased here.


These are just a few ways to connect produce rhythms and Music Learning Theory to make rhythm comprehension a reality for musicians at any age. It works for my students and I hope it does the same for yours.

Putting this work to work for you

Codifying rhythm (a scientifically proven learning strategy called dual coding) can work in your studio as well with the help of my resource called Rhythm Produce which includes:

  • this blog as a PDF

  • a Reference Sheet showcasing all the produce and the matching words or phrases

  • the BEETS to print, laminate and cut

  • Rhythm Produce Reference Sheet.

  • PDF of this blog post.

  • Rhythm Produce Index Cards displaying the produce and coordinating note value or rhythm pattern for use with students at the piano or off the bench.

  • Hand Pick a Pair Audiation Matching Game perfect for group lessons or off-bench time.

  • Rhythm Produce Supplement that includes produce names for longer durations.

  • Teaching tips for playing 3 against 4 polyrhythms.

  • Teaching tips for playing 4 against 5 polyrhythms.

Just follow this link.


EXTRA! Tack on BEETS when using tissue box rhythms found in Bucket Drumming for Piano Teachers, another dynamic resource for teaching rhythm perfect for summer camps and group lessons!


Note: All page numbers included in the article above are from Gordon's book Quick and Easy Introductions.

Wow, I'm hungry for a beet and arugula salad with goat cheese!