An important building block for learning music skills and concepts is audiation. You may be familiar with the term inner hearing. The term audiation (inner hearing of music or silently hearing music) was coined by music education researcher Edwin E. Gordon.
Audiation is Gordon's term for hearing music in the mind with understanding. It is the process of thinking music and comprehending music in the mind. Gordon describes audiation as the foundation of musicianship. 
Audiation is the process of mentally hearing and comprehending music, even when no physical sound is present. It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. In essence, audiation of music is analogous to thinking in a language.  (Gordon, 1997)
Mary Ellen Pinzino states that audiation is a way of knowing in melody and rhythm. It is a unique human capacity outside the realm of words. To audiate is to "think" music, but in melody and rhythm rather than in words. Audiation is another way of knowing. Audiation is the musical imagination. It is the man-made music of the mind. It is the sound fantasy that provides the framework for understanding the music we listen to, the music we perform, and the music we read and write.
Audiation is a process. It is the construction of meaning in music. It is the process of making musical sense of the music we hear, perform, read, and write. Just as thinking is essential to speaking, listening, reading, and writing language, audiation is essential to tuneful and rhythmic performance, music listening, reading, and writing. Audiation is the whole of music literacy.  (Pinzino, 2007)
Audiation or inner hearing takes place when we "silently hear" and give meaning to music without the sound, i.e., thinking a melody, clapping a rhythm pattern from a song while thinking the melody. The development of audiation is basic and invaluable in building all musical skills. We should always strive to cultivate the audiation of rhythm and tonal patterns, melodic lines, and phrases. Audiation must be the first step in one's music experience prior to introducing notation, and other aspects of music theory.
Try this exercise to experience audiation or inner hearing. Silently think the melody of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Did you think one note at a time? Or did you think groups of notes. Did you internally hear the notes as a pattern?
We do the same thing when we silently hear language. We hear words, not letters one at a time. The more words we have in our vocabularies, the better we hear and comprehend the meaning of what we are hearing. Just as we give meaning to language, we must give meaning to music through relevant patterns of tones and rhythms. Likewise, the more tonal and rhythm patterns we have in our music vocabularies, the better we will hear and comprehend the meaning of the music. To help your child or student develop music listening and speaking vocabularies, have the child listen and move to a variety of tunes. Invite them to sing many different melodies.
It is very important to develop audiation or inner hearing and listening skills in the early years of a child's life. What a powerful gift and music foundation to give a child.
2. Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns (1997) by Edwin E. Gordon
3. From Letters On Music Learning © 2007, Mary Ellen Pinzino
Come Children Sing Institute, Issue 12, Winter 1994 www.comechildrensing.com
Used with Permission
Author: Judy Henneberger - Silly Bus Educational Team - www.sillybus.net