Teaching and Learning Through the Senses, by Sue Hunt, Music in Practice
When we teach through all of the senses, we teach the whole brain.

We ALL learn through our senses.  Learning to play an instrument is a very complicated activity.  When you teach the whole brain, you increase the chances of success so it makes good sense to engage all the senses from the start.

Visual Learners: Around 60 – 70% of us learn through what we see.

A visual learner will need to see it to know it.  He will have a strong sense of color and quite possibly be rather artistic.  However, he may have difficulty with spoken directions and have some trouble in following lectures.

Suggestions to help visual learning:

Use visual language, e.g. blue, transparent, shining or imagine, see, picture.

Demonstrate techniques.

Draw diagrams.

Take notes.

Use flash cards.

Put Postit notes in the music, music case or music stand.

Use stickers on the bow or instrument.

Highlight or or use translucent repositionable tape in the music.

Video the lesson.

Have a repertoire of visually appealing games.

Use body language and facial expression in teaching.

Reward with stickers.

Auditory Learners: 25 – 35% of the population learn through listening.

An auditory learner will need to hear it to know it.  He may have some difficulty with written directions and reading.

Suggestions to help auditory learning:

Use auditory language, e.g.  loud, purring, shout or think, hear, tune.

Demonstrate through music and quality of sound.

Ask questions.

Compare “right” and “wrong” sounds.

Get students to listen or play with eyes closed.

Tape the lesson.

Avoid sound distractions.

Give ample opportunity for memorizing.

Ask a student to talk you through a task.

Make up lyrics for pieces.

Reward with praise for working.

Kinaesthetic Learners: A small 5 – 15% of us learn through emotions, touch and movement.

A kinaesthetic learner needs to do it to know it.  He may have difficulty in sitting still.  He may be very will coordinated and have athletic ability.  He will be good at putting things together without written directions.

Suggestions to help kinaesthetic learning:

Use kinaesthetic language, e.g.  running, velvety, happy or touch, feel, hold.

Respectful, hands on patterning.  Not easy in a school situation.

Pay attention to the comfort of the instrumental setup.

Use physical challenges, e.g. playing with tongue out, standing on one leg, walking to the beat.

Have a repertoire of activities for releasing tension during periods of concentration.

Reward with a hug, handshake, pat on the back etc.

The Gustatory (taste) and Olfactory (smell) senses are also very important and can be used to reach way down into the memory.  You can use certain smells and tastes to reinforce and enrich good experiences.  A friend still remembers getting a half a cookie from Dr Suzuki as a reward for demonstrating perfect spiccato bowing over 18 years ago.  How different would this have been if Dr Suzuki had just said, “Well done?”

Suggestions to help gustatory and olfactory learning:

Use gustatory and olfactory language, e.g.  chocolaty, sour, minty fresh or taste, savour, smell.

Reward with a tiny tasty treat.

Think about what music tastes or smells like.

Let a student sniff something nice like mint or lavender at moments of success.

Most of prefer to cut to the chase and teach through a student’s preferred modality.  This will certainly bring quick results, but bear in mind that teaching all the senses will wake up dormant parts of the brain and develop the whole person.  Shouldn’t we be helping our young musicians grow bigger and better brains?

We also address learning through the senses in Our Grand Practice Adventure and 40 Great Games To Teach Straight Bowing.


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