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The ENNEAGRAM As A Tool In The Music Studio.

Several years ago, I published an article on the Enneagram in Piano Pedagogy Forum. (1) This article was based on a presentation I gave at the California Association of Professional Music Teachers state conference. It provides an overview of the Enneagram and how it influenced my teaching. After rereading it, I realized that I no longer utilize the Enneagram quite so strictly. Rather, the Enneagram now provides me with helpful ideas about certain observable personality traits in students and the relationship between these characteristics and the differences in the learning styles of my students, and myself. This article is based in part on the aforementioned article, as well as new ideas on the topic.

Some music teachers try to determine the preferred learning modality or personality type of their students using systems such as The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, (2) The Kiersey Temperament Sorter, (3) Keith Golay's Learning Patterns and Temperament Styles, (4) VARK: A Guide to Learning Styles (5) and others. They then tailor their teaching to meet the perceived learning preferences or favored learning style of a certain personality type. The idea of customizing one's teaching approach to match the preferred learning style of each student is known as the "meshing hypothesis." (6) However, no studies to date have shown evidence that using the meshing hypothesis in teaching yields greater effectiveness in student learning. (7) With this in mind, it is prudent to remember that all learning theories are just that: merely theories. The Enneagram is no different.

The root of the word Enneagram means "nine" in Greek. The Enneagram is, therefore, a personality typing system that constitutes nine fundamentally distinctive types. At the core of each Enneagram type is one basic motivation that is thought to influence our behavior, thinking, feelings and learning. Each type exhibits certain common characteristics. No one type is considered superior to another; rather, all types are deemed "equally valid." (8)

I was thoroughly enamored with Enneagram when it was introduced to me by a former adult student years ago. I read and researched everything I could find on the topic at the time, and soon I began trying to determine the Enneagram type of everyone around me. This was dangerous as it placed people in a proverbial box of sorts. Rather than labelling and thereby limiting individuals, I discovered that the Enneagram is better utilized as a tool for understanding how and why students of varying types might think, behave and learn differently. It has also helped me recognize the personality and learning differences between my students and myself.

The Nine Enneagram Types And Music Teaching And Learning (9)

I have assimilated my knowledge of the Enneagram from innumerable sources over time and from my experience using it in my teaching. It is therefore difficult to cite a source for every individual trait provided in the abbreviated overview of the nine types below. In this section, I will discuss every Enneagram type and explain how each relates to music teaching and learning. For more thorough information about each Enneagram type, please explore the sources cited.

TYPE 1 The "Perfectionist" or "Reformer" IB Core Motivation: To be good, correct, perfect and just.

Recognizable Traits: "Ones" tend to be organized, meticulous, neat, studious and hardworking. These students are recognizable as inherently disciplined and serious about their studies. Teachers may see them making detailed notes during lessons or marking their scores. Ones are at their best when they are working hard to polish and perfect their pieces. They can also perform with exquisite refinement.

Challenges: Ones tend to perceive the world as black and white, right and wrong. They can be highly self-critical and overly rigid in their beliefs and interpretations, striving for the "correct" way of doing things. They often fixate on errors and what they and others need to correct. Ones sometimes struggle to play with spontaneity and physical freedom as they endeavor to control everything at their instrument. Ones do best when they learn to forgive themselves and others for making mistakes and accept that life is not always just and fair.

Teaching Tips: Ones value a tidy environment in which their teacher appears competent, organized and consistently fair. Giving a One permission to experiment and consider multiple possibilities, as well as helping them find physical freedom at their instrument, may be liberating yet challenging. Ones benefit from a teacher who can help them see the big picture over minutiae.

TYPE 2 The "Helper" or "Giver"

Core Motivation: To be loved and appreciated for their acts of generosity.

Recognizable Traits: "Twos" are kind and empathetic and focus on the needs of others over themselves. They enjoy giving gifts or committing acts of service. At their finest, they are gratifying to teach, as they genuinely appreciate the work of their teachers. They can revere a beloved teacher with whom they feel a connection and seek to emulate a special mentor. They generally enjoy activities that involve collaborating with others and shy away from the limelight.

Challenges: Twos are prone to trying to people please. As such, they can be flattering, insincere and even manipulative. The can be overly nice and compliant and may modify their behavior depending on the preferences of a specific teacher. At their worst, Twos are needy and desperate for the teacher's approval. Their playing may also lack a certain conviction if they are only trying to please their teacher.

Teaching Tips: Twos do best with a teacher who is concerned about the student's musical success and personal happiness. They prefer a teacher who is encouraging and nurturing over one who is highly critical and exacting. Twos often enjoy group or collaborative music activities because they value a genuine connection with others over accolades or taking center stage.

TYPE 3 The "Performer" or "Achiever"

Core Motivation: To feel important and desirable by being perceived as successful.

Recognizable Traits: "Threes" are goal-orientated and tend to focus considerable energy on completing tasks and achieving goals. They are motivated by results and accolades and typically dedicated and efficient workers. They are naturally charming, and some modify their appearance to make a favorable impression. They often exude self-confidence and may enjoy telling others about their activities and successes. Threes are typically high achievers and competitive. This makes them reliable performers because they enjoy showing off. These are often fun students to teach because they are self-motivated and take action immediately.

Challenges: Threes sometimes sacrifice attention to detail in favor of completing tasks as quickly as possible. They can be boastful, and prioritize work over everything else, including relationships. They are motivated by results and may lose interest when not the best. They can be arrogant and vain, and railroad others perceived to be in the way of their success.

Teaching Tips: Threes thrive in an environment that prizes healthy competition and with a teacher who makes the expectations clear about how to achieve success. They appreciate praise and affirmation and become frustrated with a teacher who is highly nitpicky. They enjoy opportunities to perform and like showing off their strengths.

TYPE 4 The "Romantic" or "Individualist"

Core Motivation: To be appreciated for being unique and therefore special.

Recognizable Traits: "Fours" are recognizable as artsy, non-conforming and individual. They are remarkably creative and will pour themselves into their art when invested. They find meaning and fulfillment in being unique and enjoy opportunities in which they can demonstrate their creativity and self-expression at their instrument. They might want to play unusual repertoire, compose or improvise, and they endeavor to search for deeper meaning in the music they are playing.

Challenges: Fours can be moody, overly emotional, self-absorbed, hypersensitive to criticism and prone to depression. They will often complete work on their own timeline and only if they are fully invested in it. Fours can be obstinate at accepting a differing opinion and difficult to motivate.

Teaching Tips: Fours thrive in an environment in which their teacher is supportive and fosters their creativity and individuality without harsh judgement. Like Twos, they seek an emotional connection with their teacher, but they also desire to connect deeply with their art. Fours also enjoy interdisciplinary learning opportunities.

TYPE 5 The "Investigator" or "Observer"

Core Motivation: To be competent and self-reliant using their knowledge and expertise.

Recognizable Traits: Fives can appear reserved, introverted, eccentric, socially awkward and say little. However, their minds are always active. Fives tend to be highly intellectual but withdraw in a group as they prefer to observe others rather than participate in group activities. They also enjoy rational analysis and researching topics that are of special interest to them. As such, they may prefer to focus on a niche interest over acquiring a broader skillset. They also have an amazing capacity to focus and when invested in specific tasks, can develop exceptional mastery.

Challenges: Fives can be anti-social and aloof. Teaching a Five is challenging when they do not say much. They can seem emotionally detached, and teachers may find it ineffective to use imagery and fantasy in lessons with these students who favor logic and reason. They prefer to learn independently, shying away from group activities, and do not like being put on the spot. Some Fives struggle to be expressive, or spontaneous in performance.

Teaching Tips: Fives think logically and, therefore, prefer rational thought and concrete examples over imagery and opinion. Fives do best with a teacher who does not pressure them to act immediately or micromanage them. They appreciate time to think before acting and enjoy working independently. Since they often learn effectively through observation, they enjoy teacher demonstrations.

TYPE 6 The "Questioner" or "Loyal Skeptic"

Core Motivation: To feel safe, secure, supported and a sense of belonging in the world.

Recognizable Traits: Sixes can be anxious and skeptical, and they love to ask questions. To mask their insecurity, they are sometimes gregarious and self-deprecating. They might test authority but are exceedingly loyal to those they trust. They are also the most dutiful type and can therefore be reliable, hard-working and a team player. Sixes can be frustrating to teach because they are ambivalent to authority. At times, this manifests as procrastination, inaction, defiance and indecision. In addition, their level of commitment to music study can be influenced by their trust in their teacher. Sixes are typically excellent trouble-shooters and problem solvers as they always consider the worst-case scenario. For this reason, they often practice effectively, but tend to over practice when feeling insecure.

Challenges: At their worst, Sixes are defensive, reactive and paralyzed by anxiety. They can struggle to let go in performance for fear of making a mistake and avoid challenges because they are terrified of failing. Alternately, they can be counter phobic and take on immense challenges or become reckless. Because they are innately anxious and untrusting of their abilities, many struggle with performance anxiety. Some Sixes will endeavor to give their best to gain the approval of a beloved teacher. These students may feel guilty if they do not do well because they believe they have let down their teacher.

Teaching Tips: Sixes do best when they learn to trust their teacher and develop confidence in their own knowledge and abilities. Sixes appreciate an encouraging teacher who shows faith in them by being commanding, supportive and affirming. Sixes dislike surprises; they like to know what is expected of them in advance. As such, they favor a predictable and structured lesson environment and tend to be well-prepared for lessons. They also enjoy learning by having their questions answered.

TYPE 7 The "Adventurer" or "Enthusiast"

Core Motivation: To feel fulfilled through new and exciting experiences.

Recognizable Traits: Sevens are typically enthusiastic, cheerful, adventurous and recognizable as the life of the party. Learning seems to come easily to some Sevens, and many brilliant and prodigious musicians are probably of this type. "Seven" students are recognizable by their love of learning and the ease with which they seem to learn. They sometimes lack organization and may be easily distracted, but they often are a delight to teach because they learn quickly and are excellent multitaskers. Unlike Sixes, they prefer variety to routine.

Challenges: Sevens can be unfocused, distracted, agitated and unwilling to commit to relationships or activities. Like Threes, Sevens might gloss over some of the details, preferring to engage with something new versus working for absolute mastery and refinement. They might also need encouragement to commit to a project or to follow through on a task when bored.

Teaching Tips: Seven students typically enjoy a stimulating and engaging learning environment and seem to disfavor the more traditional hierarchical system of the teacher as an authority figure. (10) They often enjoy playing a wide variety of repertoire or working on interdisciplinary projects. They appreciate a teacher who is flexible, adaptable, joyful and enthusiastic.

TYPE 8 The "Asserter" or "Protector"

Core Motivation: To assert themselves and protect their loved ones.

Recognizable Traits: Eights tend to have big personalities and strong opinions. They exude an air of authority and are resourceful. Type Eight students are easy to recognize--they frequently argue and debate their teachers, even stating their opinions as facts. (11) These can be some of the most challenging students to teach. Like Threes, Type Eight students learn best by doing. When loyal, interested and engaged, they can be effective ringleaders and help direct activities within the studio. Like the Type Five, they prefer to work independently and are most engaged when they feel challenged.

Challenges: At their worst Eights are overly assertive bullies, arrogant, confrontational, defiant and vindictive. When left unchallenged, they might "look for trouble." (12) They can be immensely difficult students to teach because they seem to have an opinion about everything and are rarely shy about sharing their thoughts or putting others on the spot.

Teaching Tips: Eights tend to work best when taking direction from a confident, even authoritarian teacher. Eights need an assertive teacher who makes a convincing argument and is unafraid to push back. Since they are direct in their interactions with others, Eights prefer working with a teacher who does not sugar-coat criticism. They dislike being coddled, as they need space to work on their own.

TYPE 8 The "Peace Seeker" or "Mediator"

Core Motivation: To be at peace with themselves and the world.

Recognizable Traits: Nines tend to be open-minded and able to empathize with differing points of view. At their best, Nines are encouraging, easygoing and cooperative.

Challenges: Nines frequently have trouble with procrastination and can sometimes seem spacey or inattentive. High energy environments and taxing activities exhaust them; therefore, they might resist certain repertoire that lies outside of their comfort zone, for example. Some Nines are frustrating to teach because they seem lazy, unmotivated and struggle to prioritize their work. They can also be overly accommodating to avoid conflict, apathetic when disinterested or stubborn.

Teaching Tips: Nines are enjoyable to teach as they are unthreatening, warm and unpretentious. Like the Six, they favor a structured and predictable lesson environment because they enjoy consistency and routine. They prefer a low-stress lesson environment in which they feel comfortable. In general, they seem to enjoy collaborating with others and delight in group activities. They often work best with a teacher who is nurturing and accommodating and learn most effectively through immersion or "osmosis" and "do less well in a high-pressure, competitive, fast-moving, [and] highly evaluative format." (13)


This is a very condensed explanation of the Enneagram. This system of personality classification warrants far more explanation and discussion than is possible in an article of this length. While I am no longer sure whether I believe that we all only embody one Enneagram type, in my experience it is uncanny how often individuals align convincingly with the tenets of only one type. That said, there are also traits of every type in all of us. Perhaps our main type is our default setting; we are all individuals after all, and innumerable variations of personality and learning preferences are likely between persons of the same type, while our situations and circumstances vary. I have found it useful to adapt my teaching approach in subtle ways to better reach every student using the Enneagram. With knowledge, experience and practice, other teachers might also find the Enneagram to be a useful teaching tool in the music studio as well.


(1.) Stephen Pierce, (2015) "Enneagram Expression and Learning Styles: An Introduction," in Piano Pedagogy Forum, 16 (2): 22-35.

(2.) The Myers & Briggs Foundation, Nov. 19, 2018).

(3.) David Kiersey & Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types. Del Mar, CA Prometheus Nemesis, 1984. (accessed Nov. 19, 2018).

(4.) Keith Golay, "Staying in Tune with Learning Styles: Matching Your Teaching to Learning," in Practical Piano Pedagogy, Miami, FL: Warner Brothers, pp. 149-166.

(5.) Vark: A Guide to Learning Styles, (accessed Nov. 19, 2018).

(6.) Howard Pashler et al, (2008) "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence," in Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9 (3): 105-119.

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) Janet Levine, The Enneagram Intelligences: Understanding Personality for Effective Teaching and Learning. Bergan & Garvey, Westport, CT, 1999, p. 1.

(9.) For more detailed information about each type see: Rob Fitzel, "The Nine Types of Students" (accessed Nov. 19, 2018); J. Levine, The Enneagram Intelligences; Don Richard Riso & Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

(10.) Michael J. Goldberg, The 9 Ways of Working: How to Use The Enneagram to Discover Your Natural Strengths and Work More Effectively. New York: Marlowe, 1999, pp. 220-221.

(11.) Rob Fitzel, "The Nine Types of Students."

(12.) Ibid.

(13.) Goldberg, The 9 Ways of Working, p. 287.

Stephen Pierce teaches piano and pedagogy at the University of Southern California. He has presented at national conferences, and published in journals such as Clavier Companion. We currently serves as editor of CAPMT Connect.
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Author:Pierce, Stephen
Publication:American Music Teacher
Date:Feb 1, 2019
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