The concept of differing styles of learning started to gain popularity during the 1970s, and since then it has significantly influenced the way in which learning and education are perceived. Similar to there being different methods for teaching, so too are there different ways in which individuals understand new information.
One of the wonderful things about the power of musical education is that it spans all learning styles.
The seven styles of learning and how they relate to music
Visual learners take in knowledge best using graphics or bulletin boards. Whether in class or learning an instrument privately, music students will read the melody and rhythm in the music they play, the lyrics of a song, and anything else written in the form of a story or instructions. What differs when it comes to learning in music lessons is that, when students are reading music, they must visually process and read two or more bits of information at the same time. In music, there are notes to read and count, dynamics and tempo instructions, and often lyrics too.
This learning style, of course, lends itself very naturally to teaching music. Music students are constantly listening to their own instruments and voices as well as those around them, both live and as playbacks. They must ensure that they are harmonising at the correct pitch and in tune with their fellow musicians at all times. Aural learners love to be taught other subjects using songs too, like math or 50 states rap, and they report being able to retain information far easier when taught in this way.
Some students just want to talk and talk, and then talk some more! Verbal learners always want a speaking part in any project, will often be the loudest singers and love to echo sing. Giving verbal learners plenty of opportunities to express their opinions and ask and answer questions helps them to learn best, including during musical education.
Kinesthetic learners can have a hard time staying still and prefer to be in fairly constant motion. For them, learning is all about sense and touch, and they learn best when they can actively do something rather than simply see or hear information. When it comes to music lessons, they particularly love to play instruments and get involved in movement activities.
Whenever numbers, reasoning, and logic are involved, these learners tend to excel. In music lessons, logical learners love to understand note values and counting rhythms. They enjoy learning about the theory of music including key and time signatures, measures, bar lines and everything else related to music theory. Logical learners are deep thinkers and want to know why something is the way it is before they attempt to do it.
These learners favour working with others and learning in groups. Social learners know how to communicate and collaborate effectively with others. They are typically very thoughtful and understanding and are generally good listeners. In musical education, social learners tend to enjoy leading such activities as musical games or dances. They also particularly enjoy being part of a band, orchestra, choir, or other ensembles, as they thrive most when working as part of a team.
Solitary learners prefer to work and study alone. As particularly self-aware and independent personalities, they are very in tune with their feelings and thoughts, preferring to stay away from crowds, and they learn best when they can quietly focus. Musically speaking, solitary learners prefer to work solo or take private lessons and participate in solo recitals and competitions. In music classes, these learners most enjoy the quiet activities that involve self-guided learning.
Differentiated instruction refers to a philosophy of teaching that provides students with a variety of ways to learn the same material, and is an essential approach to cater to all seven individual styles of learning. Due to the multifaceted nature of music and musical education, the highest level of differentiated instruction arguably occurs in the musical classroom.
Applying differentiation to the music classroom
Differentiated instruction isn’t always centred around grouping students according to their musical abilities or the instrument they play. Other ways to aid in differentiating include grouping students based on their interests and/or strengths. If some of the students tend to approach learning rhythms in the same way, then group them together. Other pairings can call for identifying other skill sets altogether. For example, if one student produces beautiful tones but is particularly introverted, consider pairing them up with a student who may not be as musically adept, but possesses excellent leadership skills.
Music is one of the few educational areas that can profoundly engage all types of learners. When learning about music, both the performance and the process are crucial components. Excelling at them both demands the engagement of as many of our learning proclivities as is possible. That is why it is essential to approach musical education with a dynamic variety of instruction that awakens the senses and differing learning styles of every student involved.