I’m An Owl


“See the owl in the tree, Who-oo! Whoo-oo! He is staring right at me!” – Owl in the Night by Catherine Rollin (RCM – Prep A Repertiore)

I’m an Owl. No, I don’t think I’m the wisest in forest. I don’t fly or hunt in the night. I do have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. From the youngest age I can remember, I’ve loved questions.

I’ve always loved questions. My father would tell you how ‘why’ was my favourite question of all. Probably easy questions, like, “Why do birds fly?” To which he would have responded in great detail, proud of his answer. “But why?” I would say to my father repeatedly until he could explain no more and gave up. One of the things I love about my dad the most is that he always welcomes questions. Even the hard ones. Questions are what lead to growth. Questions are what lead to understanding.

Rachel Baird, Grouse Mountain, 2017

Once we become older, this questioning, especially in Western society, is largely looked down upon. It doesn’t matter whether it’s at the mechanics, the doctor’s office, work etc. As if to question someone is to call their truth or character into question. Now, of course there are all kinds of questions, you will say. Pointed questions. Questions that trap the recipient. Questions with no real answers. Questions that aren’t really questions at all. But what I’m talking about are genuine questions. Questions from the viewpoint of the young child. From the viewpoint of trying to understand something. These types of questions should be encouraged.

I recently participated in an Elementary Piano Teaching course with the Royal Conservatory of Music. During the course, I was once again reminded about learner types. There are many different philosophies of thought on this, but I do firmly believe that as unique individuals we all learn differently. According to Keith Golay’s learner classifications in his book Learning Patterns and Temperament Styles, I’m an Owl, or a Rational student. His description is uncanny; “The Rational student shows a hunger for knowledge, is highly curious, and has unending questions of “Why?”

He then goes on to say, “Considering the nature of the Owl, there would be very few, if any, in music pedagogy.” I had to re-read that a few times. Apparently, I make up 2% of the population. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Any learner type or personality test I’ve ever taken, I’m always the odd one out.

But I re-read it again and laughed, and then maybe cried. It was eye opening to me. Not in that I was considering a career change. I’ve always been up for a challenge. The eye opener was that this is the reason why I struggled so much with learning music when I was younger. It’s the reason why I decided to become a music teacher. And with that, my perspective on learning music changed. The traditional methods of learning music probably aren’t going to work for me, and that’s okay.

PEI, 2018

As individuals we each learn differently, and classifying this is hard too. Golay categorized the other three learner types as, Apes, Bears, and Dolphins. You may find that you relate with one or multiple learner types.

The Ape, or Artisan student wants to be free, learns by doing, is highly active, and likes taking risks. Sitting still for any length of time is a challenge, and marching to their own beat is always in order. My daughter is only 17 months old at the time of writing this, and I am almost positive she’s an Ape. She’s the craziest, most energetic little monkey I know. According to Golay, 38% of music students are Artisans.

The Bear, or Guardian student is organized, enjoys memorization, follow the rules, and wants to know what is expected of them. Responsible is their middle name, and helping others out sounds like a fun game. Despite not always following the rules, my husband is definitely a Bear. Guardians account for about 38% of music students.

The Dolphin, or Idealist is friendly, creative, and highly sensitive. Imagination abounds, but rejection stings like a swarm of warrior wasps. I also personally identify as a part-Dolphin. Dolphins make up approximately 12% of music students.

As an Owl, I love to ask questions and I love to answer them too. I will always encourage questions. We wouldn’t have a society without them. But we also wouldn’t have the society we have today without people that like to take risks, without people that are empathetic, and without people that follow the rules. There’s a place for everyone, especially when it comes to learning music.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about my piano and music theory lessons.

I’d love to hear what you think! Which learner type(s) do you relate to? Did you discover anything about how you like to learn?


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