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An Outline of Learning Style Dominance Characteristics
By Jean Madsen
We all learn in a variety of ways. No doubt we can press ourselves to learn in ways in which we don’t excel, and this is good exercise for our brains, too. Yet, it makes sense to consider that all people have a dominant style of learning that improves our ability to memorize and remember. Beyond playing from memory, all instrumentalists have to memorize how to finger notes, how to blow certain notes, how to recognize phrasing, etc., all of which can be better acquired using our dominant learning style.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) categorizes learners in three categories listed in the outline below. But before immersing ourselves in these categorizations, we can try an easy experiment to try figure out your students’ dominant learning styles. This involves watching their eye movements when they are performing something from memory, such as scales.
• If one is looking up when playing notes by memory, then they are visually dominant in their learning behavior.
• If one looks side-to-side when playing, or down to the right, they are primarily an auditory learner.
• If one looks down and to the left, they are most likely dominant in a kinesthetic style behavior (learns best by feeling or experiencing).
This information is useful to streamline the student’s acquisition of skills and knowledge by tailoring the presentation to their learning preferences (on top of all the rest of your ideas). If a person is primarily a kinesthetic learner (one who learns best by feeling and touching) NLP research has shown that this type of learner tends to look down and to the left. Knowing this information, a student could better learn fingerings by pushing down the proper fingering while thinking of the correct pitch.
Common Behavioral Characteristics of Learning Styles:
(From the research of NLP by Dr. Pandora Bryce)
• Experiences the world through sight: codes experience as pictures, mental “movies,” or images
• Fastest “tempo” of speaking, thinking, and/or doing (Imagine pictures flashing in the person’s mind)
• Higher pitch of voice, expressive word-painting
• Breathing high in the chest
• Eye movements tend to be generally upwards, as if looking up at pictures or movies
• Use of visual images in speech: “I see what you mean” or “Look, what we need is…”
• Gestures while speaking, “drawing” in the air
• Like to get to the point and quickly get on to the next thing
• Experience world through sound: extremely sensitive to tone of voice, timbre
• Moderate tempo of speaking, thinking, doing
• Engage in internal discussions (‘talk to themselves’); This can appear to be ‘not paying attention’
• More resonance in voice than visuals, breathing is mid-chest level
• Can tend to dominate in conversation
• Eye movements tend to be side-to-side or down to the left
• Sound-oriented imagery in speech: “Clear as a bell” or “Hear me out on this”
• Gestures: “telephone position” [hand on side of face or leaning], pointing to own ear
• Like to internally discuss things before moving on (watch for eyes down left. This is internal dialogue)
• Experiences world through feelings (emotion) and sensations (physical sensory input)
• Slowest tempo of speaking, thinking, doing
• Lowest, most resonant voice quality; breathing is lowest and deepest
• Slow tempo is sometimes an irritant to those with a faster tempo
• Eye movements down and to the right
• Use of tactile imagery in speech: “That really grabs me” or “It has been rough”
• Gestures: related to tactile experience: grasping, squeezing, and/or physically holding on to their thoughts
• Have trouble getting ‘unstuck’ from negative feelings
• Empathic and make decisions based on “gut feelings”
Of course, the more experienced players have figured out how to learn in all styles, exercising all parts of their brain. An example of a well-rounded experience for learning a new piece of music follows:
• Have your students review the solo and accompaniment scores visually in study mode (without playing) as well as playing from the written music
• Use different colored markers to visually highlight phrases
• Have them draw images of what the phrases might look like when played
• Verbalize images or sing passages to help the auditory learner
• Have students listen to CDs of a variety of artists and learn the piece without the music, enhancing their aural learning skills
• Record the student’s playing and play it back to them
• Have students write out a piece for the tactile (kinesthetic) experience, also benefiting the visual response
• Play the note rhythm with sticks to get the “feeling” of the beat
With these things in mind, teachers can develop creative ways to deliver information and customize instruction according to the student’s learning needs. For more information on Learning Style Dominance, try a Google search on the Internet for “Neuro-Linguistic Programming.”
Alder, Dr. Alder. NLP for Managers. London: Piatkus, 1996.
Andreas, Steve & Faulkner, Charles. NLP: The New Technology of Achievement. New York: Quill, 1994.
Brooks, Michael. Instant Rapport, New York: Warner Books, 1989.
O’Connor, Joseph & McDermott, Ian. Principles of NLP. San Francisco, Ca.: Thorsons, 1996.
O’Connor, Joseph & Seymour, John. Training with NLP. London: Thorsons, 1994.
Jean Madsen lives in Littleton, Colorado. She teaches flute at her home and at Rockley’s Music Center in Lakewood, Colorado. Dr. Pandora Bryce lives in Toronto, Canada where she performs with the Toronto Symphony, teaches flute at the University of Toronto and Suzuki Flute on her own, and trains Suzuki Teachers all over the world.