Learning Styles in Music Lessons

Mary Helen Rossi
April 25, 2022
Female music teacher playing acoustic guitar with her young teenage girl student also playing acoustic guitar during holiday recitals

Learning Styles – They’re Not What You Think

Here at TMSA, our observation windows allow you to observe your child while they're in lessons. That has many benefits, one of which is that you can see what type of learner your child is. A child's learning style in music lessons is a great tip-off to how they learn in other situations.

When people talk about learning styles these days, they often use identifiers like Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Reading or Writing. Those are good categories, but as any experienced teacher worth their salt will tell you, they’re just the beginning.

They are NOT “Check the Box”

What’s confusing to folks is that having a check-the-box understanding of learning styles will get you almost nowhere as a teacher. Even if you have enough intellectual “facts” to write a book about them, your knowledge wouldn’t help you teach.

Why? Because intellectual knowledge on its own is sapless – you need to understand learning styles viscerally, just as you do most things. (More on that in another post).

Are Learning Styles in Music Lessons Mystical Voodoo?

So, are learning styles in music lessons mystical nonsense? Not at all. In fact, just the opposite is true.

I recently spoke with a young mom who was worried about her 6-year-old daughter’s behavior in her piano lesson. “She’s usually such a wonderful child, but she was all over the place – and it seemed she wasn’t listening at all,” she said. “I was just hoping the teacher wouldn’t mind how rude she was being!”

I perked up about this because our teachers here at The Music Studio Atlanta are experienced in working with all children, including those who don’t “behave perfectly” during lessons. “The thing was,” this mom continued, “when the teacher asked my daughter to play what she had just shown her, Steffi did – and beautifully! I’m just so confused.”

Steffi was intaking – learning – what the teacher was showing her. At 6 years old, she just had a different way of going about it. You could certainly say that was her learning style, for now – partly kinesthetic, partly auditory, and probably partly visual.

It was a unique combination of different styles of learning – Steffi’s combination, Steffi’s learning style. Would her style evolve in the future? Yes, if it was accommodated now and supported as it evolved naturally.

Why TMSA Accommodates Individual Learning Styles

To repeat, Steffi learned what she was being asked to learn. And she learned it beautifully! Now, consider what might have happened if her movement had been mistaken for rudeness or inattention. The teacher might have gotten frustrated and told her to sit down and keep still – probably in a tone of voice that showed his displeasure.

What would Steffi have learned? That she should do something that was not natural to her. She would learn there was something wrong with her, and that she should learn differently.

Is Rude Really Rude if the Intention Isn’t to Be Rude?

Let’s pause here for a second because I’m sure some of you are shaking your head and maybe even muttering “but she was being rude!” Here’s another way of looking at it. Six-year-old Steffi didn’t intend rudeness. If the teacher is sensitive to her, he’ll understand that – and begin to find ways to accommodate Steffi’s learning style.

Fortunately, Steffi is learning music here at TMSA, where our teachers have a deep understanding of different ways of learning. Steffi’s teacher didn’t get frustrated – and he did begin to find new ways of accommodating her style.

Another Example: Two Learners in Piano Lessons

In Venturing Together: Empowering Students to Learn, educator and composer Bill Rossi makes a case for how important it is that children learn in ways that are natural to them:

I had an illuminating experience early in my teaching career when presenting two very different students with a new piece of piano music.

One of my students was what we traditionally identify as a quick learner. As I gave him the parts to a song, he systematically put them together in good order and quickly accomplished the learning of the piece. In this respect, he was easy to teach, and I would guess that he probably did well in traditional learning situations.

In comparison to him, the other student was not as quick to put the pieces together and would pause and sometimes seem to be out in space. He couldn’t make the connections as quickly and seemed to approach the piece with trial and error, initially content to explore it and not particularly concerned about playing it back perfectly.

This continued for a few lessons until I began to wonder if he was ever going to get it, but he then completely surprised me and taught me a most important lesson which has become an underpinning of my approach. Not only did he come to his lesson and play the entire piece of music with a very surprising depth, but he also played the piece more fully and creatively than the other student had.

There was richness in the way his hands produced the sound, he was all there and hearing everything he was playing, and he could play variations that included louds, softs, and inflections that were not in what one might call the “better” student’s playing.

I came to realize that the second student’s spaciness was not spaciness at all. He was listening at a deep level, allowing himself to give in to what he was hearing and then processing this information in his own way."

So, What are Your Child's Learning Styles in Music Lessons?

Perhaps we’ve given you some new ways of considering the way your child learns. If your child is currently studying here at The Music Studio Atlanta, please feel free to talk to your teacher about it. If you’re not yet with us? Contact us for more information!

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Mary Helen Rossi
April 25, 2022