People with musical intelligence tend to be good at identifying tunes and pitch. They also, interestingly, are often very good at math.
If you’ve got musical intelligence and seeking a profession based on this skillset, below I’ve outlined 10 potential careers you can go into.
If you’d like to go into a deeper dive on musical intelligence (as well as some criticisms of the concept!), check out my articles on Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory or these examples of musical intelligence.
Musical Intelligence Careers
1. Music Teacher
A music teacher is a job that requires a lot of musical intelligence. You also have to have more than one of its attributes.
For example, not only must you be able to identify all sorts of musical genres, but a music teacher should be able to play just about every musical instrument possible, or at least a lot of them.
Not only that, but being able to explain music theory, teach your students how to play various instruments, and get them to appreciate music are also requirements of the job.
If you have a lot of musical intelligence, enjoy working with children, and find teaching others rewarding, then being a music teacher is right up your alley.
2. Record Producer
A record producer works with musicians and recording studios to create musical recordings.
They can be involved in the entire process of creating a song, from offering suggestions regarding lyrics, to fine-tuning a near-finished song.
They often help shape the artistic direction of a project by motivating musicians and helping them manage the creative process, which can be very challenging.
A record producer can be a fascinating job. Although it is not required that a record producer can play a musical instrument, they do need to possess many other attributes that make up musical intelligence.
For example, they need to have a keen sense of rhythm and an understanding of the nuances of pitch and tone. The musical intelligence they have, the better at producing they will be.
3. Movie Soundtrack Composer
The soundtrack of a movie can either make the film a masterpiece Grammy award winner or an unbearable two-hour nightmare.
This is why movie studios spare no expense on soundtrack production if they think they have a great film. Even a well-directed story will be a box-office flop if the soundtrack is horrible.
Although they may not be able to play any musical instruments, a soundtrack producer still possesses a great deal of musical intelligence in other forms.
For example, the soundtrack composer is responsible for writing an original score and arranging the various elements in a way that matches the scenes being portrayed on screen.
They need to have a very advanced understanding of how music impacts an audience by manipulating tone, pitch, and rhythm.
It’s a job that usually goes unnoticed by the audience, but film studios recognize the value for sure.
4. Symphony Conductor
When most of us observe a conductor at work, it might appear that they have a fairly simple job; move one’s arms up and down a lot.
It looks a little like aerobics. In reality, however, the job is quite involved.
The conductor spends significant time in rehearsal with the orchestra. During these sessions, the conductor will explain how they would like each song to be played, such as how fast a piece should be played, how loud, or when certain instruments should be highlighted or toned down.
A really talented conductor might even offer a very nuanced reinterpretation of a famous piece that only the most sophisticated audiences will appreciate.
And then comes the performance. Some conductors are infamous for scrapping all of those instructions during rehearsals and demanding the orchestra follow his/her spontaneity to the letter. Keeping your musicians a little on edge can bring out their best.
5. Disc Jockey
A disc jockey is usually referred to as a DJ, a person that plays recorded music created by others.
They work in radio stations, nightclubs, and music festivals. A DJ might also perform as a turntablist, which means that they use turntables to manipulate sounds on a phonograph while other music is being played.
Being a DJ requires a great knowledge of musical genres and the ability to read an audience’s mood so that they can select music that will create a specific reaction.
Understanding how to pace the music selected with various points in the flow of a show or nighttime event is equally important.
Playing one style of music for too long will create boredom or a sense of monotony in the audience, so the DJ is also responsible for keeping the pace of an event on track and interesting.
6. Rock Star
A lot of youth dream of being rock stars. The life seems glamourous, and the pay is pretty good as well.
Of course, to accomplish that dream requires the ability to play at least one musical instrument or sing.
Every band also needs to compose music that is appealing to a certain type of audience. That includes arranging the different musical elements of a song in a way that is compelling and writing lyrics that can create an emotional connection with fans.
Those are key characteristics of musical intelligence.
Although the success of a band hinges on more than just musical intelligence, such as marketing, stage presence, and not having your work stolen, the dividends of success can be very rewarding…in more ways than one.
Some people who don’t become rock stars can still make a living from their love of music.
Most pop and country musicians these days hire songwriters to compose songs on their behalf.
And in fact, there are many people you may know who started out as songwriters living in the shadows of famous singers.
Ed Sheeran wrote “Little Things” for One Direction before becoming famous himself. Bruno Mars write “Nothin on You” by B.o.B, and the Canadian country musician Tebey wrote prolifically for One Direction, Cher, and The Veronicas before he became famous for his song “Who’s Gonna Love You if I Don’t”.
8. Music Therapist
Music therapists are therapists who use music in their work with clients. Music can help clients to tap into their physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.
Furthermore, music therapy can help to improve communication skills, help with social anxiety, promote rehabilitation, and much more.
Music therapists can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.
9. Music Historian
Music historians generally get jobs in universities or libraries. Their job is to explore the history and progression of music over time.
They will often also explore how music has influenced culture and even affected the progress of history.
For example, they may explore how certain musicians influenced politicians; or how certain genres caused cultural movements, led to moral panic and were even banned.
A music historian may have a Ph.D. in music.
10. Session Musician
A session musician is a professional musician who doesn’t run their own band. Instead, this musician is hired to play on recordings or live performances of other artists.
They are generally not the primary artists or composers. Rather, they are the backup and support artists.
Nevertheless, their contributions can influence the final product and may provide a unique sound or interpretation of the song.
Session musicians often have to sight-read music, which means they play the music without memorizing it – they read and play at the same time.
Skilled session musicians will have a wide range of instruments that they are proficient in playing to make them valuable clients to hire.
While the academic concept of musical intelligence by Howard Gardner is widely questioned by scholars, it’s nonetheless a concept that is a valuable tool for explaining people who tend to learn and think through music.
These people often get jobs in the musical field, either through composing their own music or using music in the day-to-day of their profession.
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Fonseca-Mora, C., Toscano-Fuentes, C. & Wermke, K. (2011). Melodies that help: The relation between language aptitude and musical intelligence. International Journal of English Studies, 22(1), 101-118. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1815339
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
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Murphy, C. (1999). How far do tests of musical ability shed light on the nature of musical intelligence? British Journal of Music Education, 16(1), 39-50. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0265051799000133
Taylor, J. M., & Rowe, B. J. (2012). The “Mozart Effect” and the mathematical connection. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 42(2), 51-66. https://doi.org/10.1080/10790195.2012.10850354
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]