MI Theory and Musicianship Part I: Language and Visualization

Learn how to apply your non-musical skills and intelligences to your musicianship and songwriting.

Ultimate Guitar

Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory is a psychological theory that breaks down a person's intelligences into seven different types: Linguistic, Spatial, Kinesthetic, Logical-Mathematical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Musical.

At first glance, it may seem that to musicians and songwriter that only Musical Intelligence is relevant for refining their craft. I, however, believe that all separation is an illusion and that the seven intelligences can be brought together to aid musicians to achieve their fullest potential. In this series, I will discuss how the other six intelligences can be related to music and how you can use them to aid your songwriting and musicianship. In this article I will start with Linguistic and Spatial.

1. Linguistic

First up is Linguistic Intelligence, which has to do with language-based skills such as reading and writing. For all of the songwriters out there, developing your Linguistic Intelligence is essential for writing lyrics. Mastery in this area facilitates the conveying of ideas and emotions. The area where this is most noticeable is in phrasing. When writing lyrics, it is often difficult to convey what needs to be said in the rhythmic space available. I've lost count of how many times I have come up with what I thought to be great lyrics only to realize that they were too brief or longwinded to fit with the music. When in this situation, there is always the option of scrapping the lyrics of starting over. The skilled songwriter, however, recognizes that there is a better option: developing strong grammatical and vocabulary skills to create flexibility. This allows the lyricist to create or fill space as needed while conveying the same ideas.

To demonstrate this, lets look at a hypothetical situation where we need to fill a single bar and want to maintain a 4/4 time signature. For the sake of simplicity, lets assume that we want each syllable to land on a quarter note. Now let's say we came up with a line that goes "through the conflagration." If you tap along while singing this, you'll notice that it doesn't fit. As you can see below, the phrase has six syllables instead of four:

Through the con-fla-gra-tion1 2 3 4 5 6

We can solve this problem by switching out "conflagration" for a synonym, in this case "fire."

Through the fire1 2 3 4

While this exercise may seem simplistic, it goes to show that making an effort to develop your linguistic skills creates more options.

Another useful function of utilizing Linguistic Intelligence is finding inspiration for new music. Reading books is a great way to discover new ideologies and ideas for songs. Notable examples include Iron Maiden's "Brave New World," Machine Head's "A Farewell to Arms," and Mastodon's concept album, "Leviathan."

The best way to develop your Linguistic Intelligence is to just keep learning: read a book, look at an online dictionary's word of the day, write a poem. The results will not be immediate, but if you continue to seek out knew ideas and practice your language skills, your songwriting will thank you.

2. Spatial

Spatial Intelligence, otherwise known as Picture Smart, is based in visualization. In "In 7 Kinds of Smart," Thomas Armstrong defines this intelligence as "the ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and the capacity to perform transformations on one's own initial perceptions" (45). This is the mark of the artist and the architect. Interestingly enough, this trait is remarkably more present and developed among lefties.

Spatial Intelligence is useful for learning scales and modes, as visualizing these systems allows for a more thorough understanding of fretboard knowledge. A common ailment among beginner guitarists is what I like to call "Trapped in the Box Syndrome" (or simply TBS). A shredder diagnosed with TBS learns the scales in a fixed position and often feels trapped by the knowledge they have acquired. This is normal and to be expected when initially learning theory.

One way out of this trap is to realize that all the boxes are actually connected together. There is no start or end to a musical scale; it goes on forever. The scales we play on the guitar are just the intersection between our fretboards and the infinite stream of notes. I personally visualize the fretboard based on a connection of the scales between octaves.

To put this into perspective, imagine two basic pentatonic boxes, the first starting on the fifth fret, sixth string, and the second starting on the seventh fret, fourth string. The first shape is the same as the second shape. The only difference is that they are in different octaves. In order to release yourself from the confinement of these two boxes, look at the shape in the third bar to see that by connecting them with the tonic note at the seventh fret, fourth string, they are actually the same scale. This trend occurs through out the entire fretboard.

The interesting thing about Spatial Intelligence is the role it can play in note selection. Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel fame is known for using this in his soloing and songwriting. He utilizes what he calls creative visualization, stating that "using my mind and my imagination to access a deeper place within" has allowed him to create his music in Morbid Angel.

I personally use what I like to call Color Visualization when writing my music. To me, each note and key is associated with a set of colors. I associate note B and E with blue and coldness and D and E with a orange warmth. On the flip-side, F, A#, and D# are gray and black, representing darkness.

Like a painter, I arrange the colors of the notes and chords to paint a musical picture. This is a technique I use for writing or learning music that tends to stray outside of a logical harmony or key system. Anyone who's ever tried to learn a song by Lamb of God or Opeth knows that trying to figure out the key of their songs is usually a waste of time. Instead of trying to decipher the harmonic weirdness, I just focus on the flow of energy and color throughout the songs.

I will admit that this is not a technique I solely rely on. As I will discuss later in the series, I fully employ the same general scales in theory that all other musicians do. However, this system is useful for freeing yourself from any theoretical ties to express yourself more fully in your music.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn more about how you can apply your natural intelligences to your music.

About the Author:Ryan Loftus is a solo artist and multi instrumentalist from Philadelphia, PA. Specializing in metal, rock, and exotic music. Visit his website ryanloftusonline.com for more information.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Sweet article, definitely an interesting perspective on a new way to "break out of boxes," in terms of scales and lyrics. MI theory has almost no evidence backing it, though. Regardless, it's useful to break down different aspects of guitar playing/anything really