Learning and Teaching Styles

I have long been a proponent of the Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorŪ (MBTIŪ), a personality-typing inventory ("temperaments") by the mother-daughter team of Katharine [Cook] Briggs and Isabel Briggs-Myers. I encountered the Myers-Briggs inventory during graduate work with Gordon Lawrence at the University of Florida in 1970. Isabel Briggs-Myers was a frequent visitor to campus and worked directly with us.

The Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorŪ (1942) is closely-based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung's seminal work is Psychological Types (1921).

If you haven't taken this inventory, I highly recommend that you do. More general information on the MBTIŪ and where to go online for greatly-truncated versions of the inventory are given later.

Knowing your type helps you understand what gives you the greatest gratification, why you do what you do, and what will make you feel most threatened. If you know the personality type of others, it will help you understand their actions and help you deal with them more effectively and amicably.

I have cast the discussion that follows my general remarks with regard to private music teaching, but you will see direct connections with teaching in general and with business/interpersonal relationships. (See the end of this file for a link to another file that discusses two well-known "offspring" of Myers-Briggs, one of which specifically addresses dynamics of business work groups.)

General Information About the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory

There are four continua ("temperaments") on the Myers-Briggs inventory, each with two descriptors, one falling at one end of the continuum and one at the opposite end. You will be placed on each of the four continua.

The two ends of a continuum are the direct opposites of the each other in terms of personality type. The closer you score to one end of the continuum, the less you have of the type at the other end. (Occasionally you will come up entirely neutral, in the middle of a continuum.)

Your specific personality type will be described by four letters, one from each continuum. Examples are ENFJ and ISTP. There are 16 possible combinations of these four letters.

The four continua:

Certain occupations seem to have a predominance of certain temperament types.

For example, a preponderance of college professors are INTJs. This goes a long way to explain why job candidates who do not share the personality types of the search committee are doomed from the start. Thus, the INTJ type perpetuates itself at the college professorial level through "natural selection."

Unfortunately, nearly all of the general population, including most college students, are not the INTJ type! Because the faculty is skewed that way already, there is an entrenched mismatch between teaching and learning because students learn best when their teacher is the same personality type as they are or is teaching to the style preferred by that student's type. As you will read, IN types can be insensitive to the point of cluelessness. In this example, the professor is more or less oblivious that some students are not understanding and therefore are not learning. They just "do poorly" on his exams.

Successful salespeople tend to be ESFJs. Accountants are often ISTJs. Many police officers are ESTJs. Many scientists are the INTP type. And so on. More on this topic at the end of this file.


This is the favored way of dealing with the outer world.

Those who prefer people and actions and use trial-and-error confidently are extraverts.

Those who prefer ideas, reflection rather than action, and want to understand something totally before they do it are introverts.

Teaching Concerns for Extravert/Introvert

Introverts like quiet for concentration and work alone contentedly. They tend to be careful with details and don't mind working on a project for an extended, uninterrupted period. They have trouble remembering faces and names and may have some problems communicating. Introverts are interested in the ideas underlying things; they like to think things out before acting.

Extraverts like action, results, and getting the job done, rather than thinking or talking about it. They can be impatient with long, slow, tedious, detailed jobs and dislike complicated procedures. Extraverts like to be around people; they display interest in how other people do their jobs. They are good at greeting people and communicating, in general.

Extraverts learn best when they have an example before the theory. Introverts prefer theory first, but they can deal with an example first. Most people are extraverts. Think about articles in general circulation magazines: don't most of them start with an example? ("One Thursday afternoon last April, Mary Smith ....") If teaching a group, statistically, it's safest to go with example-first.


This is the way people gather data.

Sensing types use all the five senses and tend to be realistic, fun-loving, practical, observant, and are good with working with facts.

Intuitive people are more interested in what could be made to happen (as opposed to what's happening now) and like to look for possibilities inherent in a situation. They tend to be good with generating new ideas and problem solving.

Teaching Concerns for Sensing/Intuition

Sensing types dislike new problems unless they're related to something they've solved before (and thus there is a template to guide them); they prefer using skills they've developed rather than learning new skills. Sensing people like established routines and seldom make factual errors. They usually work all the way through a problem to a conclusion, work steadily, and with a realistic idea of when the task will be completed. They tend to be good at precise work.

Intuitive people like solving new problems but hate doing the same things over and over. They work in bursts of energy and take a rest between them. They're patient in complex situations but impatient with routine details. They may be prone to errors of fact and dislike taking their time for precision work.

Starting with something on which a student can hang his hat is great for sensing types. You can make the intuitives happy, too, if you'll choose a different example than was used before. Sensing types accept the discipline of a technical regime more easily than intuitives, though all students must see the benefit of these studies if they are to apply their concentration to them.


This is how the person evaluates the world: by logical means or by his own or others' reaction to it.

Thinking people are relatively uninterested in other people's emotions or feelings; they tend to decide impersonally. Thus they may hurt others' feelings without knowing it and make decisions without considering other people's opinions/feelings. They can seem hard-hearted. They like analysis, logic, and order. They can function without harmony and are able to reprimand people or fire them when necessary without undue personal trauma. They tend to relate well only to other thinking types. Many college professors are thinking types, as noted.

Feeling types are very aware of others' feelings. They enjoy pleasing other people and like harmony; they are disturbed if there is disharmony. They need occasional praise and dislike telling other people unpleasant things. They often let decisions be influenced unduly by other people's (or their own) feelings.

Very Important! The opposite of a person's type on this third letter of the type is the person's most vulnerable area. That is, the person feels most threatened when criticized in this area. If a person is a feeling type, he will be outraged when told his mental processes are questionable ("That's illogical!") or not up to par ("How did you come up with that dumb decision?"). If the person is thinking type, he will take umbrage when told he is not sensitive ("You never listen to me!" or "You don't care about what anybody else wants or needs or thinks! You only think about yourself.").

Teaching Concerns for Thinking/Feeling

Because of the weight placed on the opposite end of the thinking/feeling continuum, teaching in the preferred style on this continuum is extremely important. It can be lethal to criticize a student's vulnerable spot. If correction is needed, if possible, it should be done by way of the student's preferred method.

Group projects between feeling and thinking types often come to loggerheads, with the feeling types disgruntled at the thinking types' failure to value their input, and the thinking types often completely unaware that they have irritated the feeling types or passed over their opinions.


This is the amount of order people like in their world.

Judging types like to plan the work and work the plan. They like things settled and details wrapped up neatly. They are uncomfortable with indecision and feel better after the decision is made: the course is now charted and thus may be run. Judging types want only the essential information so they can get on with the project ("Just give me the assignment and go away!") and don't like to interrupt their work for something someone else considers to be more urgent.

Perceptive people are good at adapting to changing situations. They're very spontaneous and aren't bothered by incomplete projects and open-ended situations. It doesn't bother them to leave one task unfinished and go on to another, and thus they often have many unfinished projects. They may have trouble making decisions and may postpone unpleasant jobs. They want to know all about a new job before they take action and are ready to listen to new views about a problem.

Teaching Concerns for Judging/Perception

Judging types tend to be group leaders by what they feel is default; they can't bear the fact that someone less organized than they might be in charge and they'd have to stand by and watch things deteriorate into what they would call anarchy. Obviously, they think they can do much better in such a situation! If the group is being led by a judging type, those like them usually are comfortable. In fact, usually the entire group appreciates that they are not "wasting time" and "spinning their wheels."

Perceiving types chafe at the rigidity of judging types, although they usually will let them lead since they seem so determined to do so. Perceiving types don't understand why intuitive types must be "so buttoned up about everything" ("Hey, life is full of uncertainty! Go with the flow!").

Again, group efforts may be stymied by certain individuals' desire for structure and closure and others' for spontaneity.

What All This Means

As a person in a romantic relationship, you will be happiest with another who is your same personality type. (I am sure you have seen some stereotypes pop up and wave a flag at you as you were reading the above!) As a learner, you will be happiest with a teacher who is same personality type as you are (or a teacher who teaches to your type). As an employee (you guessed it!), you'll be most content on the job with a supervisor who shares your personality type. Unfortunately, such match-ups seldom happen, especially with public school and college teachers and with employers, where generally there is no choice.

In the private studio, therefore, the teacher must quickly learn to make an accurate guess as to what type of learner a particular student is and to adjust the teaching style to the student. The student should not have to adjust learning style to the teacher, which is what is expected so often.

Private music study is an ideal set-up, as the lesson is one-on-one. For example, a teacher who prefers that students sight-read through a new piece before deciding where the trouble spots might be and settling on a practice method must be sensitive that the student is one who wants to know how a piece is structured (ABA form? sonata allegro? key or meter changes?) and prefers to scope out all potential pitfalls by score examination before playing a single note. The teacher must remember how this student prefers to approach a new piece and do it that way, even if it is not the teacher's preferred way to teach. Note: A teacher's preferred way to teach is, 99% of the time, the same way that teacher prefers to learn.

Need for Balance

One type needs the opposite for balance, particularly in a joint endeavor, such as a group learning situation or a business work group.

An intuitive needs a sensor to inspect, proof, keep track of detail, and have patience. A sensor needs an intuitive to see possibilities, supply ingenuity, and see the big picture.

A feeler needs a thinker to analyze, organize, weigh the evidence, stand firm against opposition, and hew to policy. A thinker needs a feeler to persuade, to arouse enthusiasm and support, to teach, to sell, and to advertise. (Obviously, many teachers and salespeople are feelers.)

A judger needs a perceptive to remind him of the need for flexibility and the possibility that perhaps a firm decision cannot be reached (or reached at this time). A perceptive needs a judger to keep projects on track and nudge decisions which otherwise might be procrastinated.

Even in an individual, one end of the continuum is not entirely lacking, even if the opposite end is very strong. That is why on the thinking/feeling continuum, which indicates a person's most vulnerable trait, someone can get his feathers thoroughly ruffled by being told he lacks the opposite component. He knows he really does not lack it [entirely]! Of course, he thinks he is perfectly balanced and can approach something from both sides with equal attention and ease!

It is also most interesting to know your spouse's personality type. Many times what one perceives as obstinacy on the part of the other is merely the other's exercising his/her natural processes and perceptions. If you are having difficulty dealing amicably with a colleague, consider the possibility that this person is also the opposite of you in one or more of the Myers-Briggs continua, most particularly on the thinking/feeling continuum, where a person perceives himself most vulnerable. Go to a Web site (information below), and take the mini-test the way you think your spouse or your colleague would answer.

If you are the parent of a student, evaluate what type you think your child is and what type you think the teacher is (use the on-line test, mentioned above). This may help you understand (1) the teacher-student dynamic and why things don't work (if they don't!), (2) what the teacher needs to do to teach more to the student's type, and (3) in what ways the student should try to communicate with the teacher about how she likes to learn.

The more you and your child know about you child's preferred learning style, the more productive private piano study will be.

PS. I'm ENFJ. Bet you guessed that!

More Information on the Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorŪ

You can take the complete MBTIŪ online with an e-mail interpretation.

There are also several free ones. Free, but severely-abridged. Your four-letter type will be pretty spot-on, however, compared with the real thing.

Such a powerful tool has attracted attention, as you might guess, and has been identified as a "product" that will sell. Well. Psychologist David Keirsey has done the most commercialization of the inventory and temperament types. He even names his test instrument a "temperament sorter"! This kind of high-jacking and lack of attribution I find disturbing.

The MBTIŪ has been watered-down even further by others for use by the general populace (which, for some reason, is deemed rather thick-headed, based on the lack of depth and nuance in these third-generation interpretations).

A 71-question version by Keirsey is available on the Web. He names the four temperaments "Guardians", "Artisans", "Idealists", and "Rationals" and assigns each a color (yellow, red, green, and blue, respectively). Each of these are subdivided into four, thus yielding the 16 types, as described by Myers and Briggs. For example, Keirsey's "Guardians" are "inspector" [ISTJ] - "protector" [ISFJ] - "provider" [ESFJ] - "supervisor" [ESTJ]).

Take Keirsey's quiz by filling out the form on this page (don't use your real name or e-mail address) and click on the large yellow rectangle below the form. Off you go.

The problem with Keirsey's quiz, apart from its superficiality, is that there is little interpretive material to go with your personality type result, which is as it should be. Any personality inventory/psychological test will be more valuable if you have it interpreted by a professional, sitting down with you personally to help you deal with your reactions. It often is, "Finally I understand myself. It's safe to be who I really am."

Keirsey wants to sell you interpretations. Surprise!

You've just read the high points, however, and they're free!

Places you might be able to take the inventory and receive a professional interpretation of the results are at university psychology departments, public school district offices, employment services, job counselors, private-practice psychologists, high school guidance counselors, and so on.

Note: The Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorŪ is the foundation of a very large number of psychometric tests. A number of other people have used the type indicator as the basis for their work. Besides Keirsey, Roger Birkman (True Colors, which, in an interesting piece of irony, uses Keirsey's colors exactly as Keirsey set them up) is fairly well-known. His book discusses workgroup dynamics and why business colleagues usually do not work together effectively. If you'd like to compare the Myers-Briggs foundations of Birkman's and Keirsey's work and compare it with the actual Myers-Briggs, see this file.

Your Type in Real Life

In the example at the beginning of this file, I noted that most of the population does not share type with most university professors. Here are the breakdowns (forgive me for not citing literature here, please):

Note that college professors [INTJ] comprise only 2% of the population! Ever feel intimidated in class? You're probably not a T, so you are unsure you can measure up intellectually. (Obviously, I am generalizing here. Not all college professors are INTJs.) Did you ever have a really fabulous teacher? Chances are that person was an ENFJ. While they also comprise about 2% of the population, these "natural teachers" relate very well to others. (It's that third letter!)

What to do with these percentages?

(1) How common is your personality type? Are you likely to be in conflict with a large number of other folks? Check out that third letter.

For example, suppose you're INTP - 3%. A large portion of the population (14%) is ESFJ (the opposite of you on every continuum). Since your type is not common, what can you do to make for smoother interactions with a more common type that - by definition - does not think as you do?

Notice that most of the population has S as the second letter: those folks are facts-oriented and tend to evaluate based on observed characteristics. If you have N as your second letter (you like to consider possibilities and compare "meta" characteristics), you can see that there is an immediate disconnect between you and 75% of the rest of the population regarding the way things are evaluated!

(2) What jobs might be well-suited to your type? Search on your four-letter type and "jobs" or something like that. No doubt, you'll find some career areas that "seem right" or "seem a good fit" to you. Explore those areas. You'll also get some recommendations such as "you would not be a good international spy". These are often good for laughs.

(3) As I noted above, if you're not getting along with someone, take the Keirsey abbreviated test as you think the other person would answer. I'll bet the personality type will surprise you, especially that third letter! Compare the relative population sizes between your type and the other person's. How "unusual" is the other person, numerically speaking?


The temperament sorter is not a party game.

Nor is it an "icebreaker game" for a business meeting or conference.

This is deeply personal information, will contain powerful revelations, and, therefore, should not be used in a casual setting or nonchalant manner.

copyright 1999-2013, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.
Piano Home Page | Business | Copyright and Music | Questions and Answers
Consumer Topics | Music Links | Biography | Home Page

Last updated February 28, 2013.