Recently I read an article in the Huffington Post* about how researchers have found a correlation between personality types and musical ability; that people with “open” personalities seem to possess more innate musical ability, even after the findings were adjusted for previous musical experience. One researcher suggested further study of other factors that could influence musical ability, like parenting, for example.
Well now. That parents influence musical ability is practically a given. But how about teachers? Frankly I do not understand the value of this kind of research. Why? Here’s a quote from the article:
“The researchers noted that their findings may help teachers use information about their students’ personalities to determine who might be most successful in various music programs.”*
Why would teachers want to have such information or even use it? Why should teachers decide who will succeed and who will not before we even start teaching them? Who says that personality types in young people, or in anyone for that matter, are written in stone, immutable and cannot change? And who says that the psychological tests we should administer are right and infallible? And who says that the only reason to study music is to become a performer? And who says that talent cannot be created? The Suzuki Method’s real title is Talent Education and its founding premise is that talent can be created. This means that if person does not seem to have a natural sense of rhythm, for example, he or she can develop it.
As a teacher of some years experience I can tell you that with proper training and parental cooperation, almost any student can develop musical ability. It is INNATE IN ALL OF US just like the ability to speak a language. Some people just need to have this ability coaxed out. If I had a dollar for every “closed” student of mine who now makes a great big and expressive sound, I would be well-off indeed.
The article also says that extraversion may allow singers (and I imagine other musicians) to feel more comfortable in the spotlight. Well, here are a few examples of careers that might never have happened if the tools these researchers are trying to give us had been used: Sorry , Wolfgang, you have a lot of manual dexterity and a pretty good ear but you don’t have the right personality to make it in music performance. Or: Well now, Barbra, you sing really well, but don’t try a career on the stage – your profile isn’t right for it. How about Bob Dylan……And Jascha Heifetz didn’t exactly seem to be a very “hail fellow well met” type either. I have known many different types of people who turned out to be fabulous musicians, but now is some psychological test going to tell us teachers who will succeed and who will not on the basis of personality type – a label someone else is giving us?
I also looked up Openness** and the article I read says that this trait can be changed in people, that people who took LSD became much more “open” after the experience. Really. Well who’s to say that good teaching instead of LSD can’t change that personality factor? Do these researchers not understand that what music teachers do is to help children USE their personalities to do something more important than being just a manifestation of those personalities??? Continue reading