Teresa Dybvig
Dedicated to the integration of heart, mind, body, music, and piano
in teaching, learning, and performance

   Taubman approach
   Proper seating
   Learning styles
   Student statements

  The Well-Balanced Pianist

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"One of Teresa Dybvig's exceptional qualities as a teacher is her ability to tailor her teaching style to the individual needs of the student."
— Tanya Bertram, Ph.D. student
University of California, Los Angeles

Learning styles

by Teresa Dybvig
Learning styles
by Dr. Sarah Church

Since 1998, I've worked with education consultant Dr. Sarah Church on incorporating the principles of the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles system into my private teaching. The results have been extraordinary. Put simply, as Sarah says, "Students perk up when you teach them the way they learn best." Learning to spot their general processing style (where they are on the global - analytical continuum), their preferred modalities (kinesthetic, tactile, auditory, visual), and their needs with respect to authority and structure, can speed up learning and clarify their practice.

Since we tend to teach the way we learn best ourselves, we often find it mysteriously difficult to reach students who learn differently. When we don't teach in the way the student learns best, lessons can be a struggle, even though we may like the student and believe in their talent and intelligence. When I consult with teachers on learning styles, the most common comment I receive is, "I never thought of teaching something that way" -- always referring to teaching in a way they themselves would not prefer to learn.

Music demands many things of us, though, so one thing we need to do is help students shore up their strengths in areas in which they don't learn as easily. Global processors need to find a way to work out details, auditory learners need to learn to look carefully, tactile learners need to learn to use their arms and hands as well as their fingers.

You can see a poster I presented a poster at the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy in Oakbrook, IL (just outside Chicago), on August 3-6, 2005. Strengthening Musical Memory Using the Dunn & Dunn Learning Styles Perceptual Modalities gives some ideas on how to make use of one set of the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles elements.

by Dr. Sarah Church

What is learning style? It is the way a person processes, internalizes, and studies new and challenging material. The cornerstone of the Dunn and Dunn Learning Styles Model is that most people can learn, and individuals each have their own unique ways of mastering new and difficult subject matter (Dunn, 2000). For many people, learning to play the piano presents a big learning challenge. For some, that challenge is a grueling ordeal if the way they are taught does not match the way they learn.

The Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Model

The Dunns' Learning-Style Model is complex and encompasses 5 strands of 21 elements that affect each individual's learning. Some of these elements are biological and others are developmental. Style changes over time. A summary of these elements is provided below (Dunn, 2000).

  1. Environmental. The environmental strand refers to these elements: lighting, sound, temperature, and seating arrangement. For example, some people need to study in a cool and quiet room, and others cannot focus unless they have music playing and it is warm (sound and temperature elements).
  2. Emotional. This strand includes the following elements: motivation, persistence, responsibility, and structure. For example, some people must complete a project before they start a new one, and others work best on multiple tasks at the same time (persistence element).
  3. Sociological. The sociological strand represents elements related to how individuals learn in association with other people: (a) alone or with peers, (b) an authoritative adult or with a collegial colleague, and (c) learning in a variety of ways or in routine patterns. For example, a number of people need to work alone when tackling a new and difficult subject, while others learn best when working with colleagues (learning alone or with peers element).
  4. Physiological. The elements in this strand are: perceptual (auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic), time-of-day energy levels, intake (eating or not while studying) and mobility (sitting still or moving around). For example, many people refer to themselves as night owls or early birds because they function best at night or in the morning (time-of-day element).
  5. Psychological. The elements in this strand correspond to the following types of psychological processing: hemispheric, impulsive or reflective, and global versus analytic. The hemispheric element refers to left and right brain processing modes; the impulsive versus reflective style describes how some people leap before thinking and others scrutinize the situation before moving an inch. Global and analytic elements are unique in comparison to other elements because these two elements are made up of distinct clusters of elements found in the other four strands. The elements that determine global and analytic processing styles are: sound, light, seating arrangement, persistence, sociological preference, and intake. Global and analytic processing styles will be discussed in detail in the next section.

Differences Among Students' Learning Styles

Do learning styles vary in predictable ways? There are four factors that significantly differ between groups and among individuals: global versus analytic processing styles, age, gender, and high- versus low-academic achievement (Dunn & Griggs, 1998). The educational implications of these four variables are important to fully comprehend and employ because they provide direction and structure for effective teaching strategies, especially for low-achieving students.
  1. Global and analytic. When learning new and challenging topics, people tend to have one of two processing styles-global or analytic. Certain learning-style elements cluster to form these two processing styles in the following ways. Global learners prefer to work in an environment with soft lighting and informal seating. People with this processing style need breaks, snacking, mobility, and sound. Analytic learners prefer to work in an environment with bright light and formal seating. They work best with few or no interruptions, in a quiet environment, and little or no snacking. The majority of young children are global processors.
  2. Age. Learning styles change with age. Some learning styles are developmental and many people's styles alter as they grow older. These style elements are: sociological, motivation, responsibility, and internal vs. external structure. Children tend to prefer to work with peers instead of alone and prefer an authoritative versus a collegial teacher. For many people auditory and visual perceptual elements strengthen with age.
  3. Gender. Boys and girls, and men and women, tend to learn differently from each other. The perceptual strengths of males are often visual, tactile, and kinesthetic. They tend to need more mobility than females, and function better in an informal environment. Frequently, males are peer-motivated and nonconforming. On the other hand, females tend to be more auditory, need quiet while studying, work best in a formal setting, and need less mobility. Often they are more conforming, authority-oriented, and parent- and self-motivated than males.
  4. High- versus low-academic achievement. High and low achieving students learn in statistically different ways from one another. In other words, the teaching strategies that are successful for one group will not produce similar outcomes in the other group.


Dunn, R. (2000). Learning styles: Theory, research, and practice. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 13, (1), 3-22.

Dunn, R., & Griggs, S. (1998). Learning styles: Link between teaching and learning. In Dunn, R. & Griggs, S. (Eds.), Learning styles and the nursing profession (pp. 11-23). New York: NLN Press.

Copyright © 2004-2010 Teresa Dybvig and Sarah Church