Teaching Music Using VARK Learning Preferences

Each person's learning style is unique. Music teachers can teach more effectively with a basic understanding of VARK learning preferences and teaching strategies.

Every student learns differently. Teachers can tailor music lessons to tap into individual learning styles. Photo by woodleywonderworks.

Although there are several learning style models, this article will focus on the VARK Model. VARK defines four learning preferences: Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinesthetic.

The Visual Learner

Visual learners learn by seeing. In her August 8, 2008 "Moulding with Modalities" presentation at a piano pedagogy workshop in Calgary, Alberta, clinician Victoria Chow explained that visual learners are good sight readers, favor Impressionistic and Contemporary Classical music, and enjoy music theory and analysis. They are easily distracted by movement and have a weak ear. They prefer written instructions over oral.

The VARK Learning Styles website states that visual learners like to learn through:

  • PowerPoint
  • Internet
  • video
  • colorful posters, graphics, diagrams, pictures, flow charts, handouts
  • symbols and white space

The Aural Learner

Aural learners learn by listening. Chow said aural learners have a strong musical ear and enjoy listening to music and discussing its style and tone. They like to sing and listen to recordings. Auditory learners think melodically and prefer music with a strong melodic line, such as music by Chopin and Schubert. They are easily distracted by noises.

The VARK Learning Styles website and Amanda-Makenzie Braedyn Svecz's article "Learning Styles - Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic" explain that auditory learners learn by:

  • listening to and participating in discussions and tutorials
  • listening to interesting examples, stories, jokes
  • listening to recordings
  • verbal repetition
  • giving presentations or speeches
  • creating jingles or mnemonics

The Read/Write Learner

According to the VARK website, Read/Write learners learn by:

  • reading
  • written activities
  • closed book tests
  • essays
  • making lists
  • taking notes

I have searched in vain to find pedagogical ideas on how to teach this group music. The ideas that I have listed are a combination of general Read/Write learner traits and study ideas, as well as my own observations and experiences, having worked with several students who are "pure" Read/Write learners.

They prefer to put instructions into their own words or follow step-by-step instructions over oral or visual demonstrations. Those that enjoy reading enjoy sight reading new repertoire while some who prefer writing do exhibit an interest in composition. They tend to prefer to keep their musical score as neat and uncluttered as possible.

The Kinesthetic Learner

Chow described the Kinesthetic learner as one who likes to try things out and cannot sit still. They prefer repertoire with clear chords and enjoy music with chordal harmony such as pieces by Brahms and Schumann.

In Ann Marie Dinkel, RLATG's June 25, 2011 article "Training the Kinesthetic Learner" for ALN Magazine, she recommends hands on activities and discovery projects. "Think “show me.” Demonstrate, diagram, point out, manipulate; encourage the learners to touch, trace, point out, rearrange, build, model, or map a process," she elaborated. She also recommends using flashcards and wet labs, the latter gives students a chance to touch and handle equipment and instruments.

Learning Preference Assessment

It is beneficial to conduct a learning preference assessment prior to incorporating VARK teaching strategies into music lessons. Youth and adult students can complete a printed or online questionnaire available on the VARK Learning Styles website as well as several other sites.

A student may exhibit more than one learning preference. Teachers can employ teaching strategies that engage all the modalities a student is strong in. There are other learning style models, which may provide a more accurate assessment. A brief description of these can be found in Alice Luxton's article "Successful Study Habits for All Learning Styles."

VARK-Related Music Teaching Strategies

Once an assessment has been completed, a music teacher can employ any of the following teaching strategies based on VARK learning preferences:

Visual Learner Music Teaching Strategies

  • Keep motion distractions to a minimum.
  • Give students a clear view of the teacher to watch his/her body language during explanations.
  • Use highlighter or highlighter tape on the score to mark patterns, structure and important points.
  • New techniques should be demonstrated to show what the desired effect "looks" like.
  • Make video recordings of lessons or provide video examples for students to review at home.
  • Use charts and pies when teaching concepts such as note values.
  • Encourage students to make a drawing to depict their piece to aid in memorization and expression.

Aural Learner Music Teaching Strategies

  • Students should make audio recordings of their lessons and practices to review at home.
  • Keep written instructions by the teacher to a minimum.
  • Incorporate verbal analogies.
  • Read out instructions and theory questions.
  • Minimized noise distractions during lessons.
  • Introduce new genres or musical forms by playing audio recordings and engaging the student in a discussion about the various elements of music.
  • Use solfège, humming or encourage the student to make lyrics for their piece.
  • New techniques should be demonstrated to show what the desired effect "sounds" like.

Read/Write Learner Music Teaching Strategies

  • Give students one minute to write down an assigned task in his/her own words.
  • Assign written projects such as a composer report or writing a story to describe his/her piece.
  • Have the student transcribe a piece by hand.
  • Write out learning goals and objectives in steps or as a checklist for younger students.
  • Incorporate melodic and rhythmic dictation exercises in the lesson.
  • New techniques should be demonstrated but students need to read a handout outlining the steps prior to the demonstration or write out the steps for execution in their own words.

Kinesthetic Learner Music Teaching Strategies

  • Move around the studio frequently during the lesson, e.g., from the instrument to a desk to the floor.
  • Encourage students to move around in time to the music during ear training exercises or when listening to a piece.
  • Block broken chords when first assigning a piece.
  • Encourage students to try their piece in different registers of their instrument, on different instruments or if playing a digital piano - different instrument settings.
  • Difficult sections can be taught by by rote.
  • When demonstrating a new technique, the teacher can explain what the desired technique "feels" like.
  • Ask the student to place his/her hand on top of the teacher's during a demonstration of a technique.
  • Demonstrate a finger technique by "playing" on the student's forearm and then ask the student to to try the motion using the teacher's forearm as the piano.
  • Use three-dimensional teaching aids such as pie pieces when teaching note values.

Additional strategies can be found in Susan Carney's article "Identifying Students' Learning Styles."

As each person learns differently, music teachers can benefit from using a learning styles assessment tool. Using the VARK Method, a student's primary learning style can be identified as visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic or multi-modal. By choosing repertoire that engages a student's learning preferences and by employing teaching strategies that complement those preferences, music teachers can capitalize on a students' strengths and build upon their weakness, while music students will find it easier and more enjoyable to study music.

References:

Chase, Gregory. "Keeping the Momentum and Excitement at the Intermediate Level", APTA News, Volume IX no. 3, Spring 2002.

Chow, Victoria. "Moulding with Modalities", Piano Pedagogy Workshop Presentation, Calgary Arts Summer School Association, 2008.

Dinkel, Ann Marie (RLATG). "Training the Kinesthetic Learner", ALN Magazine, 2011.

Originally published on Suite101.com on May 5, 2010. Updated April 18, 2013. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.