Welcome to another Flute Friday/Monday.
This week I will be taking a break from the Practice Blueprints series to discuss learning styles and how flute teachers and students may approach learning to play the flute from a better understanding of our unique perceptual brain processes. We are all very different and experience life through different filters. You may work well in a group to develop grand ideas and insightful plans but freeze under pressure when the time comes to put your group’s finding into words. In terms of music, you may be a terrific soloist but find yourself lost in an orchestral setting. You may also be able to understand what you hear but be confused by the notes you see on the page. The key to understanding how we relate to music is by looking at how we process information. How do you understand what you are playing? How do you learn new pieces? Under what circumstances does the lightbulb in your head light up? Below are the 7 different learning styles as they are generally understood by educators. Where do you fall under these distinctions? Where do your students fall? I hope this list helps you devise new ways to explain concepts to different types of learners and better understand old concepts yourself.
Visual Learners. Visual learners learn new ideas using pictures, diagrams, and colors. These learners also use words associated with pictures to make connections between different concepts. In terms of flute playing, a good exercise to practice with your visual learners is connecting tone colors to sounds. These students essentially need to see it before they believe it. A green sound, for example, could be related to a relaxed vibrato and mp-mf dynamic levels, while a red could indicate climatic moments to be played with generous amounts of vibrato and sound. Encourage your students to color in their scores with colored pencils indicating their color scheme in visual form. Get creative with other visual diagrams on your music. Bracket the form of the piece and any time the music repeats or transitions, include a visual reminder in the score to tie the music to the surrounding material. Place symbols above notes to indicate unique subdivisions of the notes. Remember, if a visual learner can see it, they will play it!
Auditory/Musical Learners. These learners have been gifted with an ability to understand music in its most natural form. Auditory learners process information using sounds, rhymes, and music. These are the students that easily memorize mnemonic devices, create songs or poems to help them remember critical lessons, and require some type of background music to facilitate the learning process. Truly musical learners will respond well to a demonstration teaching model. Play a phrase for your student and ask them to replicate what they hear. This will be an interesting challenge for the auditory learner to use natural skills to learn something new. You may also ask them to sing their part. Singing the melody will create a deeper mental and emotion connection for the auditory learner rather than simply playing the notes on the page.
Verbal Learners. Bloggers like myself often fall under this umbrella. Verbal learners use the written and spoken word to study and share ideas far and wide. We love our scripts and often practice speeches in front of our mirrors, writing out every word, thought, idea, and any moments of creative inspiration. The simplest word can provide a very powerful intuitive connection to a sound or idea. Last week I spoke about how the phrase “pulling taffy” helped me understand how to add vibrato to the opening of Bach’s Sonata No. 4 in C Major. While this phrase makes perfect sense to me on an interpretive level, I know that for a visual learner it may not hold the same meaning. If you or your students are visual learners, reserve some time to listen to your music with a recording and add your own creative interpretive words to the score. If the music makes you think of waves swirling around the entrance to Voldemort’s cave, write “Voldemort’s Cave,” or “waves” above the score to trigger the connection to this interpretation. Journaling is also a very good practice for the verbal learner. Ask your students to keep a practice journal with daily entries addressing strengths and weaknesses in their practice sessions and music goals for the immediately and distant future. A journal will help the verbal learners process what they’ve learned and develop new strategies for tackling future problems.
Physical/Kinesthetic Learners. Physical learners are those who best understand what the mind-body connection is and how it relates to music. Those who learn through sensations, or through physical feelings associated with objects, are considered physical learners. These are our athletes, our physicians, our construction workers, and many other professionals that work primarily with their hands. Music provides a number of stimuli for physical learners to connect with the sensation of creating music. Posture and movement are very important for these learners. Marching to the beat comes naturally for physical musicians. Ask any students falling under this category to march to the beat to correct any rhythmic inconsistencies. Physical learners will also connect well to the Alexander Technique and other postural exercises. Select these students for in-class postural demonstrations to inspire other learners to explore the ways they can better use their physiology to improve performance ability.
Solitary/Intrapersonal Learners. Some may refer to these individuals as “loners,” however the solitary learner possesses a unique natural ability to become their own lifelong teachers. These learners prefer to learn about themselves by themselves and do their best work behind closed doors. Work is often aligned with personal beliefs and made significant through powerful emotional connections. Guess where you may find musicians falling under the solitary learner umbrella? That’s right! Logging countless hours in the practice room. The practice room is a sanctuary for these musicians. They must learn to learn from themselves and apply lessons to their own understanding of the world. It is important that solitary learners have very specific homework assignments that push them to challenge themselves. As long as the task is something that speaks to their souls (music, for example) they will always surpass expectations. I find myself, most of the time, falling under this category and one of my strengths is my ability to memorize music. Memorizing takes an incredible amount of time in the practice room but it is a well-defined challenge that drives a solitary learner toward a personally significant goal. The music becomes not just a simple text placed in front of them but a part of their mind and a reflection of their emotions.
Social/Interpersonal Learners. I always envy these types of musicians because they make performing in an orchestra (which is often a solitary learner’s worst nightmare) look like a simple walk in the park. Social learners process the world through their interactions with others. These individuals seek out groups and form their understanding of a subject by exploring it with others. The best chamber musicians are social learners. These students learn best by playing in ensembles big and small. Ask your social learner students to join or, better yet, organize a flute choir. Play duets with these students, asking them to explore new concepts within the context of a shared part. Give them new approaches to sound and articulation that can be practiced in their weekly orchestral rehearsals. Social learners love to learn about effective approaches to correct intonation issues between different instruments. To these musicians, music is something to be shared with others using a unique form of non-verbal communication.
Logical/Mathematical Learners. Calling all theorists! The logical learner is one who understands new ideas through logic, reasoning, facts, rules, and systems. Obviously, mathematicians fall under this category, but other examples of logical learners may include computer engineers, scientists, and accountants. Musicians who are logical learners often develop special powers as analytical super geniuses. They understand better than anyone how the micro-pieces of a score fit together to form a logical plan. For these learners, the crescendo to the climax is not what makes a phrase significant but rather the underlying cadential pattern to a non-standard chord is what makes us illicit an emotional reaction. If you suspect your student is a logical learner, ask them to analyze their music before they begin practicing from the score. This includes completing a harmonic and melodic analysis of both the piano and flute parts for any major works. This will help them make sense out of the music they play by, quite literally, decoding the score. Logical learners may also understand scales and arpeggios better than your average student. Assign these students exercises from that scary Vade Mecum book that the other students avoid. They will enjoy it and will use their natural sense of logic to strengthen their natural performance abilities.
What kind of learner are you? Do you find yourself fitting into more than one category? How can you approach new lessons using your own natural learning abilities? What types of students are in your flute studio? How can you better relate to them in terms of their unique learning styles? Please comment below!