I’ve had the pleasure of teaching music doing this at public schools, colleges, and in my private studio for over 25 years. Throughout my career I’ve taught many students important lessons that have helped them move on to bigger and better things. I’ve also learned a thing or two from them. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is this: You cannot reach students with a “one-size fits all” approach. Everyone learns differently. With that in mind, I felt compelled to investigate how I could teach and educate students more effectively.
After interviewing over 1,000 music students, I came to the conclusion that the unique personality of each student plays a big part in their learning curve. Based on my observations and interviews, I coined nine personality types that seem to fit most students. I call them the following: the Perfectionist; the Not-So-Detailed; the Unmotivated; the Easily Discouraged; the Overscheduled; the Fragile; the Dramatic; the Excuse-Making; the Over-Exuberant and the “Build Your Own” Personality. (Very rarely would I run into a student whom I considered only a perfectionist. They might also have a flair for the dramatic. It was for this reason that I codified the “Build Your Own” Personality.)
Once I discovered these personalities, I went about developing strategies tailored to work with these particular traits. I also made sure that these concepts were universal and would work for teaching any instrument. It took research and some trial and error but eventually I was able to put my thoughts together and create my book, Practice Personalities: What’s Your Type?.
As you can imagine, each personality type has its unique strengths and weaknesses. For example, an Over-Exuberant or Highly Confident beginner can use their inner excitement to cultivate their desire to practice. However, their overconfidence can get in the way of how much time they think they need to practice. Jason McGerr, drummer for the Grammy Award-nominated band Death Cab for Cutie puts it like this: “It’s up to the teacher to read the student’s abilities and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and to get the most out of each lesson. This honors the student/teacher contract that will continue to evolve as they learn from each other.”
I’m truly hoping that my book will help students explore their personalities and how they learn best. I’m also hoping that this book will be a resource for teachers who need fresh concepts to reach their one-of-a-kind students. Sure, it does take time and effort for both student and teacher to learn how to work out effective strategies. But the rewards and satisfaction are great. There is nothing like the joy felt years later, when both the student and teacher recognize that their joint dedication has led to the student’s proficiency and growth as an individual.
By Thornton Cline
Thornton Cline has over 25 years of experience teaching both Suzuki and traditional violin and piano. He is an adjunct faculty member of Cumberland Arts Academy in Lebanon, TN. He also teaches violin, piano, and guitar at Sumner Academy in Gallatin, TN and at his private studio, Clinetel Music, in Hendersonville, TN. He is the author of Practice Personalities: What’s Your Type? (Book and DVD published by Centerstream/Hal Leonard Publishing) as well as Band of Angels (Tate Publishing). Thornton has written numerous articles for some of the leading music educational journals and has had over 150 of his songs recorded by major and independent artists including Engelbert Humperdinck, Gloria Gaynor, The Manhattans, Mark Chestnut, Kevin Wood, Tim Murphy, The Anchormen, and Tammy Trent.