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Personality types of student musicians: a guide for music educators.


The connections and associations between understanding students' method of learning and effective teaching practices has long been understood in the educational world. Theorists such as Howard Gardner have created entire systems for understanding how individual students learn. Understanding students' personality types can also "help teachers motivate students by embracing students' preferences and interests, and this knowledge also may inform instructional practice and assessment strategies through an understanding of how students with certain personalities are likely to behave individually and as members of a group" (MacLellan, pg. 88).

This article begins with an examination of studies that determine common personality traits of musicians. Next, research and studies examining the personality traits of musicians will be explored from various points of view, such as choice of instrument and choice of musical ensemble. The following section explains the various questionnaires used to collect results, such as the 16 Personality Factor questionnaire and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Finally, the article will attempt to identify the common personality traits of student musicians, and suggest ways for educators to adapt lessons and assessments to help these students to achieve.

Comparing Musicians to Non-Musicians

Many researchers have done studies to compare the personality traits of musicians with those of their non-music peers. Gardner (1955) administered the Guilford-Zimmerman Personality Survey, which measures ten personality traits: General Activity (G), Restraint (R), Ascendance (A), Sociability (S), Emotional Stability (E), Objectivity (O), Friendliness (F), Thoughtfulness (T), Personal Relations (P), and Masculinity (M), to 279 high school musicians and 281 non-music students. He found that male musicians were less active, less emotionally stable and less objective than non-musicians, and that female musicians were less restrained, less objective and less friendly than non-musicians. Cooley (1961) also compared the personalities of musicians to non-musicians by administering the Bernreuter Personality Inventory to 180 undergraduate students at Michigan State University who were enrolled as music students. The Bernreuter Personality Inventory consists of 125 yes or no questions which yield six scores: neurotic tendency, self-sufficiency, introversion-extraversion, dominance-submission, sociability, and confidence. Cooley's results showed significant differences from the general college population, specifically in terms of the neuroticism, introversion, confidence, and sociability scores. However, it is not clear in Cooley's study where or how the normative data was collected, which leaves some questions about the conclusions of this study.

Several studies have compared the personality traits of musicians with those of non-musicians by using the Sixteen Personality Factor questionnaire. The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (or 16PF) is a multidimensional set of sixteen questionnaire scales. It was developed by Raymond B. Cattell, and measures the 16 primary traits, and the Big Five secondary traits. The sixteen primary traits are:

Warmth (A)

Reasoning (B)

Emotional Stability (C)

Dominance (E)

Liveliness (F)

Rule-Consciousness (G)

Social Boldness (H)

Sensitivity (I)

Vigilance (L)

Abstractedness (M)

Privateness (N)

Apprehension (O)

Openness to Change (Q1)

Self-Reliance (Q2)

Perfectionism (Q3)

Tension (Q4)

The five Big Traits are Extraversion-Introversion, Receptivity, Tough-mindedness, Self-Controlled, and Unrestrained. The 16 PF also has four parallel tests: the High School Personality Questionnaire (HSPQ), the Childrens Personality Questionnaire, the Early School Personality Questionnaire, and the Pre-School Personality Questionnaire.

The 16PF was used by Bell & Cresswell (1984) to examine, among other things, the differences in personality between instrumentalists and their non-musical peers. They found that both high school and college music students had greater Intelligence (Primary Factor B) and greater Perfectionism (Secondary Factor Q3) than their non-musical peers. The personality of musicians was also compared to non-musicians in the study done by Buttsworth & Smith (1994). They used the 16 PF to show that the musicians were less intelligent, more emotionally stable, more sensitive and more conservative than non-musicians. In the second order factors, musicians were less anxious, more tender-minded, more dependent, and less creative then the comparison group.

The most recent research studies conducted to compare the personality traits of musicians to non-musicians have used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) is a questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences, and is based on the theories proposed by Carl Gustav Jung in 1921. Jung theorized that there are four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. The personality inventory was created by Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, and was first published in 1962. The MBTI does not measure aptitude, but indicates preference in the following four dichotomies:

Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I)

Sensing (S) vs. Intuition

Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)

Judging (J) vs. Perception (P)

A short explanation of the four dichotomies can be found in Table 1.1 (Briggs & Myers, pg. 4).
The Four Dichotomies of the MBTI[R]

Extraversion-Introversion Dichotomy
(attitudes or orientation toward the directing of one's energy

Extraversion (E)                  Introversion (I)
Directing energy mainly toward    Directing energy mainly toward the
the outer world of people and     inner world of experience and ideas

Sensing and Intuition Dichotomy
(mental functions or processes for perception

Sensing (S)                       Intuition (N)

Focuses mainly on what can be     Focuses mainly on perceiving
poreoived with the five senses    patterns and interrelationships

Thinking and Feeling Dichotomy
(mental functions or processes for discernment)

Thinking (T)                      Feeling (F)

Basing conclusions on logical     Basing conclusions on personal or
analysis with a focus on          social values with a focus on
objectivity and detachment        understanding and harmony

Judging-Perceiving Dichotomy
(attitudes or orientations toward dealing with the outer world)

Judging (J)                       Perceiving (P)

Preferring the decisiveness and   Preferring the flexibility and
closure that result from          spontaneity that results from
dealing with the outer world      dealing with the outer world
using the judging processes       using one of the Perceiving
(Thinking or Feeling)             (Sensing or Intuition)

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBT1[R], Myers-Briggs are trademarks
or registered trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust
in the United States and other countries.

Gibbons (1990) performed a study to determine which persons would be more likely to succeed as music performers, by examining the personality types using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Results of Gibbons' study showed that performing musicians tend to be introverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving. Young (2001) also used the MBTI when she explored the personality traits of student musicians; specifically, non-music majors who play in college marching bands. Young (2001) found that students who play in college marching bands are more likely to be Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging. MacLellan (2011) examined the personality differences between high school music students and the published high school norms by administering the MBTI. MacLellan found that in comparison with MBTI norms for high school students, band and orchestra students were significantly more Intuitive and Feeling, and choir students were significantly more Extraverted.

As shown above, researchers who have compared the personality traits of musicians with their non-music peers have found musicians to have greater intelligence and greater perfectionism, as well as to be more emotionally stable, more sensitive and more conservative. While participants in these studies show varied results in intelligence and introversion/extraversion, there are clearly marked differences between musicians and their non-music peers (some of these seeming contradictions will be explained later in the 'Personality Traits by Ensemble' section). In addition to these personality differences, music students have also been found to be more creative in terms of visual and verbal measures of creativity than their non-music peers, as well as being self-confident, flexible, willing to assume leadership roles, persevering, autonomous and interested in change (Alter, 1989). These results are consistent with studies done on other creative persons. Cross, Cattell. & Butcher (1967) administered the 16PF to 63 artists talented in drawing and painting, 28 craft students (skilled in crafts such as pottery and dress making) and 63 non-artistic persons. They found the artists to be more withdrawn, more assertive, lower emotional stability, and lower on 'superego' strength than the non-artists. Csikszentmihalyi & Getzels (1973) found similar results; young artists tend to be significantly more socially reserved, more serious and introspective, low on 'superego' strength, self-absorbed, imaginative, creative, and are inclined to experiment with problem solutions. Belnap (1973), when administering the MBTI to drama, dance and music students, found that these creative persons tend to be Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. It would seem, therefore, that people with these personality traits are drawn towards participation in artistic and musical activities, as an outlet for their creative tendencies.

Personality Traits by Instrument

There have been many studies done on the personality differences between musicians based on their chosen instrument; however, most of this research is outdated. Davies (1978) was the first to investigate personality stereotypes of musicians. In the final chapter of his book The Psychology of Music, he describes a series of group discussions in which members of a Glasgow-based symphony orchestra were encouraged to talk about the various sections of the orchestra. These meetings were unstructured, and throughout the conversations, certain trends emerged. One of these trends was the polarization of the brass and the string instruments. The brass players, while describing themselves as honest and straightforward, were seen by the strings as loud-mouthed, coarse, and heavy drinkers. Similarly, while the strings described themselves as hard-working and conscientious, the brass players described them as oversensitive and touchy. Davies concludes the chapter by speculating some reasons for these discrepancies. For example, he discusses the fact that brass and woodwind players, in the context of an orchestra, are essentially solo players, with no place to hide if an error occurs. Davies wonders if the image of brass players as being heavy drinkers has some basis in fact, as such behaviour could be one way to reduce the inherent stress of their jobs. While the conversations in this chapter were not part of a formal study, they contain some interesting information about musicians view their own and others' personalities.

Builione & Lipton (1983) and Lipton (1987) did studies to formalize the observations made Davies' book to determine if there were differences in personality between players of the four different sections of the orchestra. Builione & Lipton (1983) created a questionnaire based on the findings in Davies' book; it contained six personality items where the musicians rated themselves on a 7-point scale along dimensions of introversion-extroversion, enjoyment of alcohol, sense of humor, self-confidence, athletic ability, and sensitivity. They administered this questionnaire to 100 high school music students; Lipton (1987) also used this questionnaire, and administered it to 227 professional musicians. The subjects were also asked about their general stereotypes of musicians. Results of these two studies showed similar responses in the musicians' rating of their sense of humor, confidence, and athletic ability. The musicians' stereotypes of each section were uniform, regardless of whether the stereotypes were of their own section or of another. For example, woodwind players described themselves as feminine, intelligent and timid, and these words were also used by members of the other orchestral groups to describe them. One of the main differences between the different instrument sections was their rating on the introversion-extroversion dimension. In both studies, the brass sections rated themselves as the most extroverted. Just as in Davies' study, the results of the study showed that the string and brass players were consistently on opposite ends of the continua for most dimensions; for example, strings were lowest and brass players were highest for the self-rating of athletic ability.

While these three studies provide interesting information about how musicians view the personalities of other instrumentalists, the results of Davies (1978), Builione & Lipton (1983) and Lipton's (1987) studies can be considered very subjective for two reasons. First, the participants were describing the personalities of persons other than themselves; and second, the data was not collected using a recognized personality inventory, but was based on informal conversations and self-created questionnaires. As such, it is difficult to determine based on these three studies whether there are personality differences between players of various instruments. Other researchers have sought to rectify this problem.

Kemp (1981a, 1981b, 1982) conducted a series of studies on the personality traits of musicians. In one of his studies, he administered the 16PF to 630 full-time music students in Britain to determine if there were any personality differences between players of different instruments. He found that string players tended to be more aloof than the other instrumentalists; aloofness was particularly apparent in cellists, whereas the viola players tended to be more emotionally stable. The woodwind players displayed more shyness and self-sufficiency traits, and the flautists in particular showed high levels of imagination. Brass players showed lower intelligence and lower sensitivity than other instrumental groups, as well as traits of group-dependence. Both string players and woodwind players tended to be introverted, whereas keyboard players and singers displayed traits of extroversion, which could be consistent with their frequent solo performing situation. Singers also displayed higher levels of sensitivity than the instrumentalists.

Other researchers have studied the personalities of musicians according to their chosen instrument, and have found similar results to those of Kemp (1981b). Lanning (1990), in her study of the personality types of music majors in Oklahoma according to the MBTI, found that male instrumentalists prefer INTP (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking and Perceiving), and that female instrumentalists prefer INFJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging). Both male and female vocalists, however, prefer ESFJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Feeling and Judging). String players have been shown to be more conservative, have a higher self-concept, and be more emotionally sensitive and conscientious than other orchestral players; whereas woodwind players have a more extreme 'tough-minded' realism, are more taciturn, and show greater conscientiousness, radicalism and persistence (Bell and Cresswell (1984), Buttsworth and Smith (1994), Langendorfer (2008)). Brass players are more expedient, show more perfectionism, have greater self-conflict and more shrewdness, score high on extraversion traits but low on anxiety and creativity traits (Bell and Cresswell (1984), Buttsworth and Smith (1994), Langendorfer (2008)). Keyboard players score high on emotional stability and low on sensitivity, and singers score high on sensitivity and extroversion (Bell and Cresswell (1984), Buttsworth and Smith (1994)). While these results clearly show that musicians' personalities differ according to their chosen instrument, the majority of this research is outdated; further studies would need to be conducted in order to determine if these results are true of today's musicians.

Personality Traits by Ensemble

While the personality traits of musicians has been studied from many different angles, including the musicians' choice of instrument, musical profession, the musicians' age, and comparing musicians to non-musicians, most of this research is outdated. The most recent research on musicians' personality types was done by MacLellan in 2011; he examined their personality traits from a unique perspective--by ensemble membership. MacLellan (2011) sought the differences in personality types among band, orchestra and choir members by administering the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Form M to 349 high school music students from two different American Midwestern high schools. Results showed that choir students were more likely to be Extraverts than were orchestra students, and orchestra students were more likely to be Introverts than were choir members. There were no significant differences between band and orchestra members or between band and choir members. Overall, band, choir and orchestra students are Intuitive, Feeling and Perceiving. Choir students were shown to be more likely to be Extroverts than band and orchestra students; this, however, was the only significant difference between the various ensembles.

Personality Types and Effective Teaching

Understanding the personality traits of student musicians can help music educators teach more effectively. The most recent research into the personality traits of musicians, done by MacLellan in 2011, identified the majority of high school music students as being Intuitive, Feeling and Perceiving. In order for teachers to better understand these personality preferences, these traits will be explained, and suggestions given on how best to help students with these personality types to learn.


People who prefer Intuition (N) "pay attention to pattern and possibilities that exist in information they receive. They tend to look beneath the surface for deeper meanings and are imaginative and verbally creative" (MacLellan, pg. 95). When entering situations, Intuitive people tend to scan, glance, radiate at things and people, and are at times only aware of that which is related to their current preoccupations (Bates & Keirsey, pg. 18). Myers, in her book Introduction to Type: A Description of the Theory and Applications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, describes the two ways that people perceive or acquire information; one of these ways is through intuition, "which shows you the meanings, relationships, and possibilities that go beyond the information from your senses. Intuition looks at the big picture and tries to grasp the essential patterns. If you like intuition, you grow expert at seeing new possibilities and new ways of doing things. Intuitive types value imagination and inspirations" (pg. 5). People who prefer Intuition can often "experience a vague sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. They seem somewhat bothered by reality, constantly looking toward possibilities of changing or improving the actual" (Bates & Keirsey, pg. 18-19). To most effectively teach students who prefer Intuition, "teachers should encourage the abstract thinking that comes naturally for Intuitive (N) students and plan lessons and activities that allow students to be creative and imaginative" (MacLellan, pg. 96).


People who prefer Feeling (F) "tend to value warmth in relationships and reason based on what is important to them and others. They are empathetic and compassionate" (MacLellan, pg. 95). In People Types and Tiger Stripes: A Practical Guide to Learning Styles, Lawrence explains the Feeling dichotomy and gives several suggestions to teachers:

Feeling types need approval and personal support more than they need to achieve, to prevail, or to be "right." In some F students it is much stronger. Teachers who emphasize independent, individualized activities for students should be especially careful that they have not cut off F students from one of their mail sources of motivation; the sense that their work is valued and appreciated. They want warm, not cool or impersonal acknowledgement of their work.

Feeling types strongly need friendship. They value harmony and will give in on disagreements because they want to preserve satisfying personal relationships. If the teacher will give them the opportunity to call attention to disharmony in the classroom, F students can be very helpful in leading the class toward an improved classroom climate. Most important of all to many F students is the opportunity to work with a friend. Friends who work together generally will stay on task if they know they will be separated when they abuse the opportunity. Peer affiliation is probably the most powerful force inside middle schools and high schools. They wise teacher harnesses it and doesn't try to fight it (pg. 51, 54).


People who prefer Perceiving (P) "like to live in a flexible, spontaneous world" (Myers, pg. 6) and "seem casual, keep planning to a minimum, and work in bursts of energy" (MacLellan, pg. 95). They are apt to "experience resistance to making a decision, wishing that more data could be accumulated as the basis for the decision. As a result, when a [Perceiving] person makes a decision, [they] may have a feeling of uneasiness and restlessness" (Bates & Keirsey, pg. 22). Lawrence (1979) explains further:

Perceptive types need autonomy and a real choice. The need is especially strong in--N--P types. They work much better at tasks they have chosen. They will accept structure and a system of accountability if they have choices within the structure, and especially if they have had a hand in deciding and protecting the structure.

Perceptive types need opportunities to be spontaneous and freewheeling, to follow their curiosity. The teacher alert to this need will find tasks for P's that let them explore and find new facts or possibilities for the class to use (pg. 55).

Introversion vs. Extraversion:

MacLellan's (2011) study showed that band and orchestra students tend to be Introverted, whereas choir members tend to be Extraverted. People who prefer Introversion (I) prefer to work independently or in very small groups. Introverts draw their energy from "pursuing solitary activities, working quietly alone, reading, meditating, [and] participating in activities with involve few or no other people" (Bates & Keirsey, pg. 15). In Introduction to Type, Myers says that "people who prefer introversion focus more on their own inner world. When you are introverting, you are energized by what goes on in your inner world, and this is where you tend to direct your own energy. Introverts tend to be more interested and comfortable when their work requires a good deal of their activity to take place quietly inside their own heads. They like to understand the world before experiencing it, and so often think about what they are doing before acting" (pg. 5).

People who prefer Extraversion, on the other hand, are outgoing and enjoy working in groups. They are energized by people; "talking to people, playing with people, and working with people is what charges their batteries. Extraverts experience loneliness when they are not in contact with people" (Bates & Keirsey, pg. 14). Myers says that "people who prefer extraversion tend to focus on the outer world of people and the external environment. When you are extraverting, you are energized by what goes on in the outer world, and this is where you tend to direct your own energy. Extraverts usually prefer to communicate more by talking than by writing. They need to experience the world in order to understand it and thus tend to like action" (pg. 5).

Choir directors should "consider the Extraverted nature of singers when planning lessons and activities. Perhaps an emphasis on group work, allowing students to be actively involved in rehearsals, and giving them the freedom to discuss concepts and techniques will foster their natural preference for Extraversion" (MacLellan, pg. 96). Students' preference for either Extraversion or Introversion should also "be a consideration when assessing students. Introverted students might prefer individual, private assessment strategies, while Extraverts might not mind being assessed in front of their peers" (MacLellan, pg. 97).


The personality traits of musicians have been studied in a variety of different ways. Researchers have compared the personality traits of musicians with their non-music peers, and have found clearly marked differences. Musicians have greater intelligence and greater perfectionism, and are more emotionally stable, more sensitive and more conservative. While musicians have also been shown to have different personalities depending on which instrument they play, such research is outdated, and further studies need to be conducted in order to determine if these differences still exist. Finally, the personality traits of musicians have been studied by ensemble; band, choir and orchestra students have been found to be Intuitive, Feeling and Perceiving, and choir students were shown to be more likely to be Extroverts than band and orchestra students.

Music Educators should be familiar with research on the personality types of musicians, as this knowledge will help them to more effectively teach their student musicians. As the majority of band, choir, and orchestra students are Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceptive, teachers should plan lessons and activities that allow students to be creative and imaginative, allow them to help others, and offer a wide variety of choices. Band and orchestra students are more likely to be Introverted, so their teachers should plan activities that allow them to interact with few or no other people. Choir directors, on the other hand, need to consider the Extraverted nature of singers, and emphasize group work. With a full and comprehensive knowledge of their students' personality traits, music educators can better adapt their lessons and assessments to help these students achieve.


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Heather Kelly has taught instrumental and general music and classroom subjects to elementary, middle school and high school classes in the Chignecto-Central Reginal School Board in Nova Scotia since 2009. She is a graduate of both Dalhousie University and Acadia University, and has a Masters of Education in Curriculum Studies focussing on Secondary Music Education, She plays the flute and piano, and also explores her love of the arts through highland dance.
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Title Annotation:principal themes
Author:Kelly, Heather
Publication:Canadian Music Educator
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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