As a music educator, the most valuable piece of information I gain from every student is figuring out how they learn. With that knowledge, I can determine whether to use a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic or tactile approach to the lesson. I look at each student individually so that we can capitalize on their strengths to build their knowledge in music and determine what learning process they are most receptive to.
What does it mean to be a visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile learner? This is a question I have been asked by many parents and students.
There are two types of Visual Learners: Linguistic and Spatial. While both types connect with visual cues in their environment, they are very different from each other.
Visual-linguistic learners like to learn through writing and reading, and connect with and memorize the written language far more easily than verbal directions. Students who learn in this way respond well to doing musical theory and like to write down what they are learning. They often enjoy handouts and worksheets, which will help them to make connections between what they write and how it corresponds with their instrument.
Visual-spatial learners tend to struggle with the written language, but respond more to visual materials such as pictures, demonstrations, videos and flashcards.
I once had a 4-year-old student who was completely fascinated by my music flashcards. He had the entire deck of 50 cards memorized within only a few weeks. He would go through them and ask what each symbol meant, and he would create a story to fit my explanation. For example, he learned that a Sharp sign made the notes go higher, so he decided that Sharps were girls because they had high voices. Then he learned a Flat sign made the note lower, so they were boys. Then I taught him that the Natural sign made the Sharps and Flats go away, so he made the Natural sign the mean bully who scared the accidentals away. He created a whole musical world with these flashcards that allowed him to memorize their purpose and meaning in music. Within the first year, he was able to read music notation and understood all the basic musical symbols.
Auditory learners are people who learn more easily through hearing the material or instruction. They may have difficulty with reading and writing tasks, and prefer to rely on their ears to create music. These students may learn to play songs “by ear”, by listening to the music and figuring out how to play it on their instrument without reading sheet music.
A great example of an Auditory Learner was a student I taught 4 years ago. He was a teenage boy who had near perfect pitch. Once he heard a piece of music, it didn’t take him long to figure it out by ear. The downside of this was even though he was able to re-create advanced pieces of music; he was unable to read music notation. He struggled because after learning to read notes and understanding the theory behind the music in front of him, his auditory mind would take over after the second time attempting to play a song and he would unintentionally switch to playing by ear, no longer relying on the written music to guide his playing.
In order to help build his visual learning skills, I had to take away his ability to hear the music. I plugged in headphones so I could hear the music, while he could not. This forced his mind to switch to visual learning, and the results were incredible! His ability to read music notation soared and he was able to play according to his sheet music within a few months. This is a great example of how understanding how a student learns can help an educator create a unique and personalized lesson plan to help the student develop skills in all areas of music.
Kinesthetic/Tactile learners learn through movement and touch, and require there to be some form of external stimulation to learn. Students who learn in this way will have trouble sitting for long periods and will often fidget and lose concentration when they feel like they have to move. They enjoy listening to music while doing written work, and will do best if the lesson is broken up into different activities that allow them to use their bodies. I often do this through clapping games, rhythm exercises and movement games like holding your hands up and wiggling the different finger numbers when learning piano, or learning rhythm through playing different patterns on a drum practice pad.
One of my favourite activities to do with kinesthetic learners is lay a giant poster board piano on my floor and allow them to explore the piano using their feet and hands. This allows them to move and connect with their instrument through movement and touch and they can still learn how to find the different notes of the musical alphabet by placing large letters on each of the notes.
By understanding how your student makes connections and interprets information, you can create a healthy learning environment they can thrive in no matter how they learn, what level they are at or how quickly they progress. Every student is different; therefore we as teachers must adjust and give a unique and personalized lesson experience for everyone who walks into our classroom.