Teaching Piano for Different Learning Styles, Part 4

Welcome to part 4 in our 4-part series on using Myers-Briggs Type Indicators to understand differences in personality and learning styles. 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

As a piano teacher, you probably know that different people learn differently. How do you think about these differences? Are you able to recognize and accommodate different learning styles? 

There are many systems designed to help educators think about these questions. For this series of articles, we've decided to introduce you to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI). 

This system places each of us on four different spectrums: extraverted vs. introverted; sensing vs. intuitive; thinking vs. feeling; and judging vs. perceiving. It's important to remember that these are preferences - we may prefer to do things one way, but it doesn't mean we can't do things another way if we decide to. 

In part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series, we talked about approaches you might try based on the first 3 personality spectra. Today, we come at last to judging vs. perceiving, and how they can help us understand different learning styles.

Judging vs. Perceiving

In Myers-Briggs, judging vs. perceiving describes our preferred approach to organizing our time and completing tasks. Judgers like things fixed and settled, while perceivers like to keep things open.

For example, if you had to write an article, would you set about it immediately, or would you wait and let your ideas percolate? If it's the first one, you probably have a preference for judging, and if it's the second, your bias is likely towards perceiving. 

However, this distinction isn't about whether or not you procrastinate out of laziness. It's more about your comfort level with openness and closure. If you prefer perceiving, you're most comfortable with an open-ended approach, wanting to keep options open as long as possible. You enjoy having lots of ideas and possibilities in play at the same time, and don't love making final decisions.

By contrast, the more judging you are, the more you dislike leaving things open-ended. Once something comes up, you'd rather get it settled as soon as possible. You like plans and checklists. You finish your tasks quickly so you don't have to worry about them, and  you do not do your best work under pressure.

Both of these styles have their strengths and weaknesses. Those with a judging bias are prone to rushing their work, and don't always take all the possibilities into consideration, while those with a perceiving bias don't always leave themselves enough time to complete tasks. As always, while we may have a preference for doing things one way or the other, we can (and should) do our best to use both styles as needed.

Teaching Judging vs. Perceiving Students

Your own preferences in this area help dictate how much you crave structure or spontaneity in your lessons. It's the same for your students, and if your personalities are different you may need to negotiate in order to keep the lesson running smoothly.

Let's take practicing. Obviously, all students need to practice regularly in order to see results. Figuring out how to get students to practice is often an overriding concern for teachers and parents alike. The judging/perceiving spectrum may offer a useful insight into this problem.

Many of us work with students and - where applicable - parents to develop a practice routine. Judging students will most easily adapt to this kind of system, because they'll like knowing what to practice, and when, and for how long. If you or the parents you deal with have a more laissez-faire approach to practicing, but find your student coming to lessons unprepared, creating a detailed practice routine may be the way to go.

On the other hand, perceiving students may actually find a rigid practice routine demotivating, and prefer and more spontaneous approach. If they are so enthusiastic about the piano that they're able to practice regularly without prompting, great! If not...they still need to practice, but try to find a system that works with rather than against their natural tendencies.

For example, it may be better not to demand that the day's practice be accomplished all in one sitting. Suggest that they might move back and forth between homework and piano as desired until both meet a given definition of "finished" for the day. Perceivers like doing more than one thing at once, and the freedom to move spontaneously between tasks might actually increase their engagement with each one.

You might also want to experiment with the volume of pieces you assign. Judgers prefer doing one thing at a time, so if you're assigning a lot of pieces every week they may start to feel overwhelmed. You might try offering some procedural guidance - for example, "Work on this song until you feel comfortable playing both hands together at this tempo. If you get that far before our next lesson, you can start on this piece..." Giving specific goals here might help counter their natural desire to just get it done, which sometimes leads to conveniently lax definitions of "done."

A perceiving student may be happiest with a larger selection of in-progress pieces at any given time. While each piece might progress more slowly, overall progress might benefit from this approach because it lets them change their focus periodically.

As with all the other Myers-Briggs components, judging and perceiving describe preferences, not an either-or situation. Anyone can learn to stick to a plan, and anyone can learn to be flexible. However, a) it usually helps if we work with rather than against our personality types, and b) it's important to try to see past our own biases and understand why a different approach might work best for a different person.

We hope you've enjoyed this series of articles! For more information about Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, check out these resources:

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