Learning Style Modalities & Music

At this year's CASSA Piano Pedagogy Workshop, there was a session on learning style modalities. I was quite excited about this session as it is an area I've been curious about ever since my science fair days in junior high. What I particularly enjoyed was that the presenter, Victoria Chow, B. Mus. Westminster Choir College at Rider University, spoke specifically about teaching tools and strategies to use when teaching. She spoke about three out of the four VARK modalities:

  • Visual: learn by look, easily distracted by movements
  • Aural/Auditory: learn by sound, easily distracted by noises
  • Kinesthetic: learn by feel, distracted by....themselves

The fourth, for those who are curious, is read/write (or tactile). Everyone has the ability to learn through any combination of these modalities. However, we all have one or two that we are strongest in.

Some of the music teaching suggestions Victoria gave are:

  • Visual Learners: music theory/analysis, demonstration, handouts
  • Aural: singing the tune, assigning moods to sounds, listening to recordings of performances, lessons, practices
  • Kinesthetic: theory/analysis, blocking chords, rote teaching, touch

At first, I thought I was a Visual-Kinesthetic learner but after taking the VARK questionnaire, discovered I am a tactile-kinesthetic learner. That explains why I was weakest in sight reading and ear training growing up (I have improved since I began teaching). It undoubtedly explains why I've been most challenged by my students who are strongest in auditory learning AND very weak in my strongest modalities.

Since the workshop, I've been playing closer attention to my students as they play something old and something new. I've also been paying closer attention to what they're focusing on while I'm talking. I have a good split of tactile-kinesthetic and kinesthetic-auditory learners in my studio. Next would be visual-kinasthetic. And then there's my handful of pure auditory learners.

This year, I'm singing more to my students (and still coaxing them to sing too), demonstrating and having them mimic me and doing more "on the spot" recordings and playbacks to my auditory learners (my digital recorder is great for this). I'm finding that I'm relying on Solfège a bit more to cater to this group.

I've been putting greater emphasis on sight-reading this term to build up all my students' visual learning, talking about patterns and reading intervallicly. With all students, I keep drawing everything back to "sound, look and feel" and then having the students jot down whatever notes they need to help remember. I've even adjusted how I write in their assignment binders for the tactile learners, listing specific ways to fix a trouble spot.

All in all, it's been extremely helpful. Although, I'm stumped as to why my some of my auditory learners are reluctant to bring a memory stick (to copy their lesson recording from my computer) or recording device to their lessons.

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada.