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How Music Lessons Can Support Different Learning Styles

Stephanie Morey-Barry

January 18, 2016

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As many educators and parents in progressive education circles know, everyone learns differently! Rather than taking a 'one size fits all' approach, skilled music instructors understand that each student has a specific learning 'intelligence,' or modality.  

We all have different learning strengths 

The renowned Harvard educational theorist, Howard Gardner, identified seven distinct modalities, or intelligences: 

  • Musical: People good with pitch and musicality (yes, we took the liberty to list music first!)
  • Visual/Spatial: People who learn through visual demonstrations, people with strong spatial judgment skills.
  • Bodily/Kinesthetic: People who excel in active tasks and have strong reflexes, often athletic skills.
  • Linguistic: People good with words, articulation, and language.
  • Interpersonal: People who excel in social situations and reading others, people who learn through discussion/group work.
  • Intrapersonal: People who learn through reflection.
  • Mathematical/Logical: People good with numbers; people who think in a logical and organized manner.

Wondering about your strengths? Take this 5-minute quiz.  

How music making works with other learning styles

If music isn't one of your predominant intelligences, does this mean that you can't benefit from music study? Not at all! In fact, you could argue that it's just the opposite.  Although Gardner identified musical intelligence as a core modality, music making can support and enhance additional learning styles in the following ways: 

1. Bodily/Kinesthetic: instrumentalists, voice, dance/movement.                                                                                                                                                                                              

Instrumentalists are required to have excellent fine motor skills. To produce  the correct fingerings is a huge kinesthetic task that will challenge the kinesthetic learner. Further, learning the embouchure (mouth technique) to play an instrument also requires a strong mind-body connection.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        '                                                                                                      

In a similar way, voice also requires an understanding of the body. Proper breathing and enunciation are essential for singing, and the kinesthetic learner will excel in this environment.

When talking about music, we can’t deny how huge dance and movement are to our world. From school dances to town festivals, dancing is everywhere! My favorite story about kinesthetic learners and music relates related to this very topic. It is about Jillian Lynne, the choreographer of the Broadway musical, Cats. When Jillian was a child she was screened for her fidgety behavior and her inability to focus.

Jillian was almost diagnosed as mentally disabled! During her screening, the diagnostic doctor turned on the radio and asked the mother to talk to him in private outside of the room, leaving Jillian alone with the radio on. Looking through the door, they saw Jillian dancing in perfect time and fluidity. The doctor replied, "Your daughter's not sick, she's a dancer."

Just as with Jillian, music is an amazing way to focus and redirect excessive energy in a way that is concrete. Imagine how much information kinesthetic people would retain if they were allowed to dance or move their way through curriculum! Imagine if kinesthetic learners found a place where their skills were appreciated. That place is a music school!

2. Linguistic: music terminology and lyrics.

Music is rich in new vocabulary that the linguist can discover and learn to communicate effectively. Further, singing music can often introduce foreign language in a way that is tangible and has an emotional connection. Look at any teenage girl's Facebook status and you'll see the connection music has to the way we linguistically communicate! What better way to foster that already present connection than through private instruction or songwriting?

3. Interpersonal: ensembles and bands! 

What better way to grow as a community than through ensemble work! Ensembles create an environment of teamwork and trust where everyone relies on each other to perform their part. You have to trust that the others will practice and come in for their entrances.

There is ample research that community building through music benefits both the community and individual. An example of this is Tocar y Luchar. Tocar y Luchar (Play and Fight) is a documentary about the Venezuelan youth orchestra and how it has changed the course of entire communities in South America. On both large and small scales, music brings people together!

4. Intrapersonal: solo work.

Solo work requires reflection, interpretation, and a lot of alone time to practice. Intrapersonal learners can truly grow through the rewarding experience of presenting their own rendition of a piece of music. Their ability to find solace and growth in alone time only aids in their growth as musician through practice time. Many of history’s greatest composers were intrapersonal learners!

5. Visual/Spatial: notation and intervals.

The very best musicians must recognize intervals between notes on sheet music quickly and efficiently in order to sight read well and interpret the music they play. Visual learners will excel at reading notation and even writing their own music!

6. Mathematical/Logical:
music is mathematical!

Music is always written in a logical, systematic way that can provide the mathematical/logical mind with unending rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic challenges.

Music is one of the few mediums that can engage all types of learners.

For this reason, it is essential to incorporate music into your child’s life. Music is not about performance only, it is about the process. It is about engaging as many of our learning proclivities as possible. And, this is why we always say: music makes you smarter!

Has music making impacted how you learn? Share your experience with us below.