Learning styles in the music classroom

Your brain constantly interprets a range of stimuli, from the feel of the chair you’re sat on to viewing the light from the screen to read these words, from the smell of old socks to the call of a crow. Some people have a tendency to learn better using some senses than others. There are three basic kinds of learning.

Three learning styles

  1. Visual (drawing, watching, reading, writing),
  2. Kinesthetic (moving, touching), and
  3. Auditory (listening).

Auditory learning might seem the one most people choosing to study music would lean towards. However, some “non-musical” people often have a passion and desire to learn an instrument, even though it might be more difficult for them than learning other things like a foreign language or a handicraft. An even if all your music students have a musical flair, things learnt in the classroom can be reinforced by appealing to a range of learning styles. While you might figure out that a student prefers one mode of learning over another, most people prefer a variety of activities. This prevents boredom, and strengthens weaker skills.

How to incorporate learning styles into lessons

For each learning objective think of an exercise that appeals to each learning style. For instance, you might want your student to recognises the features of a particular rhythm. You might achieve this by writing out the notes on a stave, or reading a phrase where the intonation follows the rhythm (visual), feeling the rhythm on a drumskin or play along themselves (kinesthetic), or listening to a short piece of music (auditory). Many students will be bright enough to pick up and remember the rhythm after one or two exercises, but it’s good to have a range of routes to go down depending on what questions or interests arise during the lesson.

Should teachers emphasise one learning style over others?

Sometimes students would like to focus on a particular mode, for instance a student might have a performance coming up and be tempted to practice playing their piece(s) over and over. It might be appropriate to devote most of the lesson to practice playing the whole piece, or running over particularly challenging sections. Or a student might really enjoy picking up new things in a certain way, like needing to hear a piece played before they can play themselves. Here teachers might begin to play everything before the student has a go.

Mix it up a little

You should punctuate a lesson with other activities, not just teaching one thing in one way. This can be refreshing, prevents them becoming “one-trick ponies”, and can even bolster the student’s preferred exercises. If your student is working towards an upcoming performance you might watch footage of a professional guitarist to see their fingering. Or you might write out the notation for a couple of lines from memory, and identify areas that were omitted or written incorrectly as areas to focus on. Or instead of demonstrating something first, you might encourage a student to sightread and play a new piece from scratch, or challenge them to include a twist into a piece they can already play.

I teach to a range of learning styles because it produces excellent, well-rounded musicians.

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