If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a discussion about student learning styles.

You may have heard of the three learning styles, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, and the difference they make in the way we learn.

You might have even discovered which one of the styles you lean towards, and how it affects the way you teach.

But how do you know which learning style your student has?

How can you identify the way their mind works so you can capitalize on that process during lesson time?

It might even seem overwhelming to try to figure out which student has which learning style, on top of everything else you have to do and consider as a music teacher.

Where do you even start?

Don’t worry! It’s easier than you think!

The good news is that you can identify your students’ learning styles pretty easily and quickly.

Want to know how? Look for these four things.

Look for Their Strengths

The first step in identifying your student’s learning style is to find out what they’re good at.

Every student will have some areas where they are naturally strong and need little reinforcement.

Spotting the Visual Learner

Do you have a student who:

  • picks up on note-reading fairly quickly?
  • progresses well with sight-reading?
  • easily identifies patterns and repetitions in the music?
  • Has no trouble pointing out where the accidentals are on the page?

Then you probably have a visual learner on your hands.

Spotting the Auditory Learner

Does your student:

  • Play without looking at their hands very often?
  • Catch on to using the metronome quickly?
  • Keep a fairly consistent tempo without too much difficulty?
  • Realize when they’ve played a wrong note in a familiar song, and fix it without your prompting?

Then you’re probably working with an auditory learner.

Spotting the Kinesthetic Learner

Have you noticed that your student:

  • Is a fast learner when it comes to new hand positions and finger patterns?
  • Can easily play with the appropriate dynamics?
  • Enjoys a variety of tempos, and is particularly fond of playing fast?
  • Memorizes their pieces easily, often without being told?

Then your student is most likely a kinesthetic learner.

Look for Their Weaknesses

The second step in identify your student’s learning style is to find their weaker areas.

Sometimes we learn as much about our students from what they struggle with as we do from what they excel at.

Spotting the Visual Learner

Does your student:

  • Fixate on the sheet music without noticing if they hit wrong notes?
  • Tend to rush rhythms and cut long notes a bit short?
  • Get thrown off if a musical pattern is altered or changed?
  • Struggle with improvisation, adding notes, or playing anything differently than it’s written?

If so, your student is probably a visual learner.

Spotting the Auditory Learner

Do you notice your student:

  • Struggles with note-reading?
  • Has a hard time implementing new hand positions or finger patterns?
  • Plays familiar pieces the way they are often heard/sung, even if the sheet music indicates something different?
  • Finds new, unfamiliar pieces to be challenging, even if the piece is at an appropriate level for him/her?

Then your student is likely an auditory learner.

Spotting the Kinesthetic Learner

Do you have a student who:

  • Tends to get behind or ahead of the metronome while playing?
  • Struggles to slow down and analyze the music measure by measure?
  • Does not easily see repeating patterns when looking at the sheet music?
  • Often jumps right into playing a new piece without determining the key signature, time signature, or other important performance instructions?

If so, your student is most likely a kinesthetic learner.

Look for Their Response to Your Explanations

The third step in identifying the learning styles of your students is to observe how they respond when you’re explaining something to them.

This is one of the most telling indications of their dominant learning style!

Spotting the Visual Learner

Does your student:

  • Love charts, graphs, and illustrations?
  • Respond well to imagery and word pictures?
  • Pay close attention to every detail you write in their assignment book?

Then they are likely to be a visual learner.

Spotting the Auditory Learner

Does your student tend to:

  • Listen carefully when you are explaining something?
  • Ask lots of questions to make sure they understand what you’re getting at?
  • Repeat what you say back to you to make sure they heard it correctly?

Then an auditory learning style seems most likely.

Spotting the Kinesthetic Learner

Does your student:

  • Seem eager for you to finish your explanation so they can try it for themselves?
  • Demonstrate what you’re telling them and then look at you to see if it was correct?
  • Answer your questions with the appropriate actions rather than the correct words (for example, do they play loudly when you ask them what forte means, instead of telling you it means ‘loud’)?

Then you guessed it, you’ve found a kinesthetic learner.

Look for Their Process of Learning Something New

The fourth and final step in identifying your students’ dominant learning styles is to determine their process of learning new things.

Do they rely primarily on seeing the new thing, hearing the new thing, or trying the new thing? That will tell you a lot!

Spotting the Visual Learner

Does you student usually:

  • Watch you closely when you’re demonstrating a new skill?
  • Learn a new skill more quickly if you use a word picture or visual aid?
  • Look at their hands often when playing?

Then all signs point to a visual learning style.

Spotting the Auditory Learner

Does your student:

  • Listen carefully when you’re demonstrating a new skill?
  • Learn a new skill more quickly if you give a detailed explanation?
  • Tend not to look at their hands when playing?

Then it is very likely you have an auditory learner on your hands.

Spotting the Kinesthetic Learner

Does your student tend to:

  • Immediately try to copy you after you’ve demonstrated a new skill?
  • Learn a new skill more quickly if you have them play it the wrong way and then the right way, so they can feel the difference?
  • Look back and forth between their hands and the sheet music, especially when something feels off?

Then you’re probably working with a kinesthetic learner.

Have you been able to identify your students’ learning styles? What is the biggest tip-off you have seen? Leave a comment below!

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