Article written by Becca Dideum, music therapy intern
A study done in 2011, authors Anita Steele, MMEd, MT-BC, and Sylvester Young, PhD, sought out to determine personality types and demographic characteristics of professional music educators and therapists. They also wanted to determine if the personalities of professionals were consistent with undergrads in those fields and personal characteristics as suggested by the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME) and the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).
There is previous research that supports personality being related to specific careers. However, there’s little research about music majors and their professional careers. In 1982, research was conducted that compared music educators with performers: it concluded that music educators were more extroverted, realistic, and tough-minded. The NAfME describes the professional music educator as one who has “the ability to work with people, the ambitions to continually study and improve, and the desire to help others learn.” AMTA states that music therapists should have a “genuine interest in people and a desire to help others empower themselves. Empathy, patience, creativity, imagination, openness to new ideas, and understanding of oneself are also important.”
110 music educators and 143 music therapists participated in the study. Participants were directed to a website that asked questions about their demographic information: this developed a profile of practicing music educators and therapists. Participants were also required to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: one of the most widely used personality instruments in the world. The MBTI yielded two types of data; the personality type of each participant and the dichotomous type for each group. The MBTI offers four dichotomies of personalities with sixteen possible types: attitude toward life (Extrovert or Introvert), functions of perception (iNtuition or Sensing), functions of judgment (Thinking or Feeling), and orientation to the outer world (Judging or Perception).
The results concluded that the majority of subjects (52%) favored the Extroverts (50% of educators, 54% of therapists). Extroverts tend to have an open attitude towards life. An overwhelming number of therapists and educators favored the iNtuition preference: 77% of therapists and 67% of educators. People with preferences for intuition process information by way of unconscious associations. The battle for Thinking or Feeling resides in evaluating information with a logical process versus placing value generated by inner emotions and personal experiences. 80% of therapists and 63% of educators favored Feeling. The last dichotomy involved judging or perceiving: 75% of educators and 64% of therapists favored Judging. These MBTI results tell us that the most favored personality type for music therapists is INFJ, followed by ENFJ. For music educators the results are the opposite with extroverts in front.
The demographic question asked by the researchers was divided up into three categories: professional standing, college experience, and high school experience. The data revealed that 48% of the participants had been practicing in their field for 1-10 years; 52% had been practicing for over 11 years. The master’s degree was the highest degree reported for 57% of participants: only 8% held doctorates. In addition to degrees reported, major instruments were also taken into account. The majority of music educators played a brass instrument, followed by voice. Music therapists favored voice with pianists coming in second. In terms of high school experience, 72% studied music privately. Music therapists participated in church and community organizations more often than educators by a 10% margin; in addition, therapists volunteered in the community more than educators.
The results of the study suggest that the personalities of music educators and therapists are similar in many ways. It’s curious to note the differences in MBTI profiles in undergraduate music majors and professionals: the ENFP was preferred by the undergrads while the professionals preferred the ENFJ. The undergraduates’ profiles reflected individuals who make quick decisions, seek affirmation, and are spontaneous. Meanwhile, the professionals are seen as empathetic, responsible, and team leaders. These trait differences suggest the maturity that comes with age and responsibility.
I agree with both AMTA’s and NAfME’s expectations of professionals: that empathy, patience, and the desire to help others are extremely important attributes to both fields. While the MBTI supported the hypothesis that personality types of educators and therapists were related, that’s not to say that an individual with a different MBTI combination than the “preferred” cannot have a music career. The beauty of the music field is that every instrument is different, therefore every musician is different and will thus present a different outlook to their field of study, whether it be education, therapy, performance, history, or theory. I am proud to be an INFP and aspiring music therapist.
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