Why Johann Sebastian Bach Is ISTJ  

Dylan Shapiro is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. While at the time of this writing, Bach is not yet added to the site, Shapiro here states his case for why Bach is ISTJ. Hence this article does not reflect the views of the site admins, but Shapiro’s own insights and assessments, which are not necessarily the same as those of the site.


“Bach is a Colossus of Rhodes, beneath whom all musicians pass and will continue to pass. Mozart is the most beautiful, Rossini the most brilliant, but Bach is the most comprehensive: he has said all there is to say. If all the music written since Bach’s time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.” – Charles Gounod

“Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder.” – Robert Schumann

By Dylan Shapiro

Johann_Sebastian_BachAs the introductory quotes suggest, Johann Sebastian Bach’s reputation as a groundbreaker is well-deserved; his musical style was seminal, advancing the world of composition into a more modern paradigm from which all future music has grown. On the subject of his Jungian type, there appears to be no default assessment. However, it is likely that he was some sort of introverted type; as Manfred F. Bukofzer writes, “Bach [belonged] to the introvert type … [he] assimilated the various influences with his own personal style and thus arrived at a fusion of national styles in which the single elements are inseparable.” This is not merely behavioral introversion (i.e. reserve and quietness) but Jungian introversion, in which a subjective filter exists as a buffer between the individual and the real world. That Bach was a Jungian introvert is fairly clear, but his specific Jungian type is more difficult to discern.

From afar, one might assume that Bach’s groundbreaking oeuvre suggests that his Intuition function was high in his consciousness. But to assume so would be an error, as both N and S types have the capacity to make seminal, genius contributions. In fact, upon close inspection of Bach’s character, creative processes, and lifestyle, I will argue that his Intuition function was not high in his consciousness at all; that it was in fact inferior.

On the Bias Against ISJs and Artistic Creativity

Before defending this assessment, however, it is important to clarify a misconception about Ne, ISJs, and creativity that is prevalent in the field of Jungian typology. Many contend that, since ISJs have inferior Ne, they are inherently unimaginative individuals closed off to novelty and new ideas. This is an error. There is nothing inherent to the processes of dominant Si and inferior Ne that necessitates lack of creativity. Any type can be creative; the functions, a priori, serve only to differentiate the manner in which each type is creative.

Inferior Ne manifests in ISJs merely as a need to cautiously sift through, examine, archive and compare new ideas to the individual’s own sense impressions, like a librarian examining new books then placing them in their proper place on the library shelves. This gives most ISJs a practical, meticulous, thorough demeanor, traits which have mischaracterized them as necessarily prosaic. But this stereotype does their inner worlds a disservice. In Psychological Types, Carl Jung explains:

“If there were present a capacity and readiness for expression in any way commensurate with the strength of sensation, the irrationality of this type would be extremely evident. This is the case, for instance, when the individual is a creative artist. But, since this is the exception, it usually happens that the characteristic introverted difficulty of expression also conceals his irrationality. On the contrary, he may actually stand out by the very calmness and passivity of his demeanor, or by his rational self-control.”

Thus, to characterize all ISJs as prosaic is to wrongly equate the ISJ inner world with its outward demeanor, and thereby misconstrue the true nature of Si as a Perceiving function. According to Jung, nothing precludes an ISJ from being a creative artist. The fact that most ISJs do not pursue artistic career paths cannot be used as an argument against Bach (or other artists) being ISJs. It is only a statistic, and thus cannot be applied to specific individuals or to the definitions of the functions themselves.

All that said, the fact that an ISJ can be creative does not in itself constitute any sort of argument in favor of Bach being ISJ. All that is clear about his type without further analysis is that he was an introvert; any specific type assessment requires more justification.

Bach’s Feeling Function: Fi or Fe?

To hone in on Bach’s Jungian type, let us first discern the orientation of his Feeling function. All else being equal, people who prefer Extraverted Feeling (Fe) have a cognitive bias toward viewing people as cut from the same cloth, while people who prefer Introverted Feeling (Fi) have a cognitive bias toward viewing people as completely unique. While this does not necessarily translate to a person’s worldview, as there certainly are Fi types who believe people are essentially the same deep down and Fe types who do not, it does translate to the nature of a person’s interactions with others. For the Fe type a person’s underlying, innate nature is incidental, while for the Fi type it is essential. Thus the Fe type is more willing to sacrifice some of his (or others’) personal authenticity in order to maintain interpersonal harmony, while the reverse is true for Fi types.

Upon examining Bach’s personal demeanor and lifestyle, it becomes clear that he held his own personal ego and values above and distinct from group-wide sentiment and harmony. In Bach: Music In the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner notes that while Bach was generally “peaceful, quiet, and even-tempered,” he was also “irascible and prickly whenever he felt his own authority as a musician … was being challenged,” or “when … anyone slighted art, which was sacred to him.” In other words, whenever the interpersonal situation clashed with the values his own ego held dear, he would unfailingly stand with his personal ideals even if it gave him a reputation of “constitutional truculence” as Gardiner calls it.

In addition, despite his peaceful day-to-day disposition, there is no evidence that Bach ever sought to build bridges between his own disposition and that of others’, but there is ample evidence that he was unfailingly sincere. Indeed, he once said, “If I decide to be an idiot, then I’ll be an idiot on my own accord”: A testament to his commitment to personal integrity, perhaps, even in situations where it would be inappropriate.

However, such attitudes are not beyond Fe types with Narcissistic traits. Upon examining Bach’s character, however, one finds little evidence of Narcissistic traits at all; in fact, he was quite modest in proportion to his immense talent. On his talent at playing an instrument, Bach remarked, “There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time, and the instrument plays itself.” And on the topic of his own success and creativity, Bach said, “I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious would succeed equally well.” This modesty is completely antithetical to the “Expressively Haughty” and “Admirable Self-Image” facets of the Narcissistic personality style, which foster in the individual an exaggerated sense of self-worth that they are continuously inclined to express.

Thus, one can assume Bach’s argumentativeness and non-conformity were genuine attitudes ingrained in his inner character rather than behavioral flourishes caused by the Narcissistic personality style. Similarly, one can assume Bach’s generally peaceful default disposition was simply a facet of his own nature and thus subject to his own emotional fluctuations; it was not a disposition borne of attempts to foster relational harmony. Thus, Bach’s Feeling function was introverted, which places him on the Te/Fi axis. Given that Bach was an introvert, we are thus left with four types: ISTJ, INTJ, INFP, or ISFP.

Why Bach Is Si, Not Ni

To further narrow down his type, let us examine Bach’s Perceiving (Intuition/Sensing) axis. If he had an Ni/Se axis, he would have been either INTJ or ISFP, and if he rested on the Ne/Si axis, he was either ISTJ or INFP. All else being equal, people who rest on the Ni/Se axis tend to express narrower, more singular viewpoints or insights which tend to yield the most intense manifestation of the idea or object in the here and now. By contrast, those who rest on the Ne/Si axis tend to express broader, more multifarious viewpoints or insights, eschewing intensity for nuance.

As Bach’s reputation attests, his musical oeuvre was regarded by posterity as comprehensive and all-encompassing, like “an encyclopedia of historical styles and idioms” filtered through his own personal style. But though this tremendous breadth and comprehensiveness could suggest the multifaceted nature of the Ne/Si axis over the singular nature of the Ni/Se axis, nothing precludes an Ni/Se type from creating something comprehensive. In fact, because Bach was a genius, we can assume that he would be a seminal, comprehensive figure in the field of music regardless of his type.

To discern which aspects of Bach’s music relate to his Jungian type and which aspects simply relate to his genius or compositional methods, I have contrasted him with another musical genius who demonstrably rests on the Ni/Se axis: Johannes Brahms, whom I have assessed to be INTJ. Though the two composers are from different musical eras and thus will of course have differences between them not related to their types, the comparison remains apt. Brahms cited Bach as one of his most profound influences, saying, “Study Bach. There you will find everything.” And for good reason: Both Bach and Brahms were masters of counterpoint, the rule-bound style that provides much of Bach’s music’s intricacy and nuance. Thus, the two composers can be compared.

Despite the rigid, venerable nature of both of their musical styles, Bach’s underlying creative processes could not be more different than Brahms’s. On the topic of Bach’s creative processes, John Eliot Gardiner writes:

“Bach’s [method] was the classic method. First you study your models – transcribe them, add layers of preface or commentary to them, and then assimilate them so fully into your creative processes that, at a stroke, you have a vocabulary with a multiplicity of techniques and styles at your fingertips, all in the cause of being as comprehensive and all-encompassing as you possibly can.”

Such a method is reminiscent of the cautious, librarian-like dominant Si/inferior Ne approach delineated earlier. For Bach’s creative processes to work at their highest efficiency, he felt a need to sift through and internalize all the details and methods to be used, for with that knowledge at hand, he had a complete musical “vocabulary” and thus could compose with certainty and order. A specific instance of this methodology at work was in Bach’s “Mass in B Minor,” regarded by many as the apex of Bach’s career. On Bach’s composition process while writing the Mass, Gardiner writes:

“His twin aspirations in completing [the Mass in B Minor are] to encompass within a single work an encyclopedic survey of all the styles he most cherished in the music of his own and of earlier times, and to achieve perfection in the execution of that work. … His preparations were meticulous, characteristic of the exercises he deliberately undertook every time he committed himself to formulating a definite statement … First came considerations of basic structure, logistics, and style … The next stage was to refer back to his earlier compositions, both sacred and secular. It is extraordinary how unerringly Bach’s memory store seems to have guided him to the perfect choice from pre-existing movements.”

Bach’s creative processes here once again fit the expected mental processes of dominant Si with their meticulous, cautious, comprehensive approach. Fascinatingly, they also provide a clue into his own artistic ambition: He wanted to fill the Mass with an “encyclopedic survey” of all his personal influences. In other words, one of Bach’s primary goals when writing the Mass in B Minor was to use the Mass to externalize and express his own sense impressions that pertained to the music he loved. This goal fits with what Jung might expect an Si-dominant creative artist’s artistic ambition to be: To “express” the individual’s “strength of sensation” (and thus his inner world). Additionally, the Mass in B Minor perfectly encapsulates Bukofzer’s description of Bach’s introverted musical style. When Bukofzer is taken together with Gardiner, therefore, Bach emerges as an example of an Si-dominant creative artist.

In addition, contrast Bach’s creative process with Brahms’s, which I will here use as an example of Introverted Intuition (Ni). When asked to describe his own creativity, Brahms explained:

“When I feel the [creative] urge I begin by … asking the three most important questions pertaining to our life here in this world – whence, wherefore, whither? I immediately feel vibrations that thrill my whole being. … In this exalted state, I see clearly what is obscure in my ordinary moods … those vibrations assume the forms of distinct mental images, [and] the ideas flow in upon me … and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies and orchestration. Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me … [but] the ideas … came in instantaneous flashes and quickly faded away again, unless I fixed them on paper. … I felt that I was, for the moment, in tune with the Infinite, and there is no thrill like it.”

Brahms’s creative approach has two crucial differences from Bach’s: Its manner and its source of inspiration. In terms of manner, Bach’s approach is careful, cautious, and scrupulous: Slow and steady, undergirded with a great deal of conscious thought and memory. Brahms’s approach lacks Bach’s detail-oriented meticulousness, and is instead more exalted and revelatory, catching a glimpse of the indissoluble, total composition “clothed in the right orchestration” and then writing it down in whirling leaps and bounds. This is exactly the contrast one might expect between an Si-dominant type and an Ni-dominant type. Though both composers employ similarly rigid compositional methods, their underlying creative processes are not at all alike.

Furthermore, where Bach stimulated himself to write new music through immersing himself in old compositions and the musical styles he loved, Brahms had an inclination toward the ideational and abstract. He stimulated his “Muse” through contemplation of philosophical ideas and ideals, and the music sprouted from that. His processes were not born of the object itself, but of the ideas and associations that the object conjured up.

If the reader will then agree that Bach was more likely to have had an Si/Ne axis, we can reduce our four possible types (ISTJ, INTJ, INFP, or ISFP) to only two: ISTJ and INFP.

Why Bach’s Te Was Superior to His Fi

If Bach were INFP, his inferior function would be Extraverted Thinking (Te) and his dominant function would be Fi. But though Bach’s personal values and integrity were important to him, and though much of his music evokes a sublime sense of feeling, in his actual personality Te seems to take precedence over Fi. Paul Nettl writes:

“Bach’s educational character may, in addition, be observed in his literary hand. His letters and applications, with their clear and distinct pen, reflect his magnificent sense for order and organization. These letters are, one might surmise, the counterpart of his fugues and ricercares, of his inventions in double counterpoint. Not the slightest clue towards uncontrolled emotionalism is seen in his hand. Everything is planned. What a contrast to Beethoven!”

This passage suggests that Bach’s Fi was subservient to his Te, since his letters eschewed unfiltered emotionality in favor of order, planning, and clarity. An Fi-dominant type, for whom personal values, feelings, and ideals are held in the highest esteem, would be likely to find this approach stifling and objectionable. By contrast Beethoven, whom I assess to be INFP,[1] radiated passion, authenticity, and romanticism in his writing, very much at the expense of order. While Beethoven’s writings thus appear to exhibit the hallmarks of dominant Fi and inferior Te, Bach’s do not.

That said, many factors can influence an individual’s writing style, and thus that alone is not an especially strong argument. But in Bach’s case, the prioritization of order, planning, logic, and clarity over personal sentiment, empathy, and emotional truth is evident elsewhere in his life. For example, Bach’s teaching style emphasized competence and habit, and proficiency over creative freedom. According to Nettl, “Bach did not encourage his students to compose freely until they had reached a very high degree of proficiency … even in the case of his own children, Bach held off the teaching of composition until he was convinced that they could be classified as ‘near-genius.’” In other words, Bach refused to allow any of his students to compose until they met his objective standards for “worthiness” of learning the art. Whether or not the students were eager and passionate about learning composition or needed creative stimulation was irrelevant to Bach’s selection of composition students; all that mattered was that they met his standards of measurable proficiency. Once again, this attitude suggests that Bach’s Te supersedes his Fi, since he prioritizes the impersonal, measurable standards of competence and proficiency over the subjective, personal standards of passion and need for creative freedom.

Given the instances that I have here reviewed, it is unlikely that Bach’s Te function was inferior. On the contrary, it seems high in his consciousness, above his Fi. While his own personal values were important to him and while his own music could be emotionally powerful, those areas seem to comprise the extent of his Fi function’s influence in his own life.

I would therefore argue that Bach’s Te supersedes Fi in consciousness, thus making Bach ISTJ.

Bach and Inferior Ne

If we accept the ISTJ typing as valid, there exist two notable anomalies: First, that Bach was a skilled improviser, who according to Eric Barnhill “put improvisation skills at the center of his teaching”; and second, that Bach was regarded as a groundbreaker. One might assume, given this, that Bach’s Ne was not inferior because improvising goes against the cautious, librarian-like nature of inferior Ne, and that Bach’s Ne was not inferior because his musical system was so seminal.

As to our first reservation, musical improvisation is not the same as colloquial improvisation. The latter relies exclusively on in-the-moment spontaneity and adaptability. Rather, musical improvisation requires a combination of knowledge, adaptability, and preparation. Though Bach was a talented musical improviser, the manner in which he improvised has been described by Barnhill as follows, “Most of [Bach’s] instructional manuals are how-to books in improvisation.” Bach excelled at improvisation due to knowledge and preparation at least as much as because of his ability to adapt. He felt the need to write manuals on the subject, clearly delineating the “rules of improvisation” in a manner that was instructive and rule-bound. Bach’s improvisations were specific and reliable without relying on any sort of free-flowing adaptability or on-the-fly caprices.

It also is an error to say that because Bach’s music was seminal and groundbreaking, he thus had non-inferior Ne. In fact, Jung regarded the creative process as entirely distinct from the functions themselves. He believed it to be a “Transcendent Process” that elevated all four functions into a higher state of efficiency and perceptiveness. It is my contention, though, that the Transcendent Process does not change the qualitative nature of the functions, but merely their strength. In other words, inferior Ne in the thrall of the Transcendent Process may be as powerful as dominant Ne, but will still exhibit the hallmark of the inferior function—that it is inextricably fused with the dominant function. If we view Bach’s oeuvre as a product of the Transcendent Process, a surprising conclusion becomes apparent: it is precisely because he had inferior Ne that his music was groundbreaking and comprehensive in the way it was.

Bach’s music was innovative and multifaceted, just as one would expect from a composer with highly conscious Ne. But while the Ne type would compose in flights of fancy that leap inventively from nuance to nuance, touching upon each only briefly, Bach composed in a rigorous, meticulous, painstaking manner in which every detail was sifted through and brought to perfect accordance with his own personal sense impressions. Indeed, for Bach innovation was not even a matter of conscious invention, but of uncovering all the hidden details. John Eliot Gardiner notes: “[Inventiveness] does not always appear to have come naturally or fluently to Bach himself. For him invention was an uncovering of possibilities that are already there, rather than something truly original.”

Like any Si type, Bach sought to “form a comprehensive mental archive of the facts that are known with certitude in order to achieve an impressive and masterful command of the intricacies of his world.” But since Bach was a composer, his “facts” were the nuances of specific musical styles and compositional techniques. And so Bach sought to discover and internalize these nuances and then convey his impressions of them perfectly in his music.

Gordon Getty once said, “I do not think that music keeps evolving. It evolved through Bach; since then, in my humble opinion, all the innovations added nothing.” Though this is an exaggeration, it points toward an interesting truth. Bach, as an ISTJ, did the Ne type’s work backward. Through its scrupulous, thorough uncovering of hidden possibilities, Bach’s dominant Si swept his inferior Ne along with it, and in his attempts to externalize his own sense impressions he was seminally inventive and broke immense new ground.


  • Arrington: Imagining Function Axes (CelebrityTypes 2015)
  • Bevir: The Psychological Aesthetics of INTJ (CelebrityTypes 2014)
  • Bukofzer: Music in the Baroque Era (W. W. Norton & Company 1947)
  • Gardiner: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Vintage 2013)
  • Gregersen & Smith: Determining Function Axes 1 (CelebrityTypes 2012)
  • Gregersen & Smith: On the Bias Against Sensation (CelebrityTypes 2013)
  • Gregersen & Smith: The Transcendent Function in Artists and Musicians (CelebrityTypes 2013)


[1] In his essay “The Psychological Aesthetics of INTJ,” Lawrence Bevir makes an excellent case for Beethoven’s music being indicative of the common INTJ aesthetic. However, one cannot extrapolate from this conclusion that Beethoven himself was INTJ, since mental contents do not equal mental processes. Upon inspection of Beethoven’s personality, there are reasons to doubt the notion that he himself was an INTJ. First, as mentioned above, he prioritized personal sentiments and values over structure, logic, and order (which implies that his Fi superseded his Te). Secondly, his compositional process was based around step-by-step, free-flowing brainstorming and idea generation, without being bound to any indissoluble vision held from the start. This implies he preferred Ne, not Ni. Contrasting Beethoven’s creative process with Brahms’s makes this difference clear.


  1. And what do the admins make from this? It would be excellent if Bach gets typed here.

    I can see a good case for Si but an underwhelming one for Te/Fi (at least for now). A poster Gabrial opined that Bach could be an FJ type, it would be cool if he could chime in here. I am sort of hoping he was INTP :p

    Also, is it a good method to type a classical composer based on his style?

  2. This is very interesting.

    Although I do have a question?

    Do people with Ne in their dominant or auxiliary function also rely on a catalog/precedent of information to bring forth into fruition new things?

    I’ll use myself as an example. You can proceed to pick me apart if you wish:

    I make music. I like to gather all sorts of inspirations and use them in an effort to mold my own unique voice. Sometimes I study the structures of certain musical pieces, understand them, and add them to my musical vocabulary (Si). However, it’s very easy for me to notice patterns of melody, chord progressions, etc… across various musical styles and I tend to get a little bored.

    Composition is an interesting process. When I listen to “new” music (like a new song or whatever), I IMMEDIATELY have to pause it (within the first few seconds of the first listening) because my brain starts to compose music and I must write it down. It’s like a tree-branching process where one idea leads to the next.

    I find it very hard to create something new from scratch, but I am stimulated when I come into something that feels novel to me. But without that external input, I don’t think I could produce anything.

  3. Thanks for your input Scoop!

    You know, sometimes I wonder if the information that intuition concerns itself with NECESSARILY has to be concrete or abstract in nature–since music is as much and abstraction as it is a concrete thing.

    There’s still a lot I don’t understand about type and functions but the more I learn, the more arbitrary and meaningless they seem. (And I mean this in a good way).

    I like the idea that one does not have be an Ni dom (too much Ni fetishism imho) to break new ground or impress the world in a significant way. By infusing this planet with your singular influence–coated with your own signature sensibilities–you too, can reach the status of the “immortals”.

  4. Interesting read. Always thought there was a Ti element to Bach as his work, unlike Beethoven’s (who I agree is INTJ), was more universal.

    As I quote the famous Douglas Adams: “Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe”

  5. I read this a few times; great work. So articulate and thoughtful.
    If I may, for my own understanding then, oversimplify the global takeaways (explicit or inferred) from this column to mean that:

    1) Si/Te = objective truth-seeking;
    2) Ni/Ti = subjective truth-seeking? (I know the Ni example in this column was actually Ni/Te, but …)

    Kinda like Megan Kelly, ESTJ, shrugging her shoulders and saying, “those are the facts” to a flustered guest on her show, as opposed to George Harrison, INFJ, quoted on this site as saying, “If you want to know anything in this life, you just have to knock on the door. (As) I was lucky to find: It’s all within.”

  6. Well, I see Scoop was interested in what I’d say here. It’s a very in-depth article and argues for the same typing for Bach that Scoop was inclined towards in the comments on the article on typing musicians that we both were commenting on.

    I still have to digest the article and try to understand it. I disagree with the typing, but maybe my reasoning (or feeling) is wrong, and I’m sure there’s something to learn from it.

    Scoop was curious what personality type I think Bach was. I said FJ, and specifically INFJ. It’s a terribly stereotypical typing: geniuses are supposed to be INTJ or INFJ. But I have thought about the cognitive functions and how they might relate to Bach’s style and some of his behavior, and that’s where my typing comes from. If that’s what Bach is, he would have been forced into behaving like an ISTJ (almost the exact opposite type, if you look at the cognitive functions) by his life history and the musical style he wrote in.

    It’s unfortunate, but I’m an INFJ myself, and someone could argue I just want Bach to be the same type as me, since I like playing his music so much. (There, I let the cat out of the bag! :-o ) I hope that’s not what’s going on, because it would be embarrassing if I was just being biased. :P So I have to keep an open mind: maybe Bach’s an ISTJ, and I have to think about if that makes sense to me. The problem is, I can’t think of any ISTJ composers (or even SJs) as models for what Bach could look like. I wish I knew what type Handel was, because that might help. Handel’s music is very different from Bach’s, and part of that must be that they had different personality types.

  7. I was under this impression too. Always thought Bruckner was an ISFJ as well.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this off and on for a month now (while playing many pieces by Bach on piano), and the reasoning for Bach being ISTJ doesn’t seem quite clear to me.

    I guess the thing I feel needs to be explained is Bach’s preference for complex counterpoint. I think it is best explained by him having Ni rather than Si, since N prefers complexity over simplicity. While he could write simple music composed of melody and accompaniment, he enjoyed writing music composed of several melodies in harmony, and excelled at it. If he were an Si-type, I would expect him to find counterpoint a headache and an impediment to composing, and to therefore avoid it as much as possible. Quite the opposite: it was the thing that fascinated him and made him interested in composing. I suspect that was why he said he wanted to be an idiot in his own way. People probably found his preference for counterpoint puzzling and some probably mocked him for it. (Unfortunately, unless there’s more context to the quote, we don’t know in what way he wanted to be his own kind of idiot.) Anyway, his preference for complexity sounds like dominant Ni to me. Bringing many voices together in harmony.

  9. Gbertilson,

    I don’t think N types are more attracted to complexity than S types. :) I’m not sure why that would be.

  10. Hannah, I think I read that in an article on this site, but I’ve forgotten where, since it was a while ago. I’ll see if I can find it.

  11. gbertilson,

    If you did read it in an article on this site it was probably one of the older, now-deleted articles. Sensation is just as interested in complexity as Intuition – in fact much more so in detailed sensory areas like music.

    I actually can’t think of any advantage N types would have in music or sports etc. (fields where Intuition should probably hinder creativity rather than help it) but I’m sure the Admins will have some ideas :)

  12. gbertilson,

    It may help to think of it this way: The counterpoint that Bach uses *is* intrinsically complex, especially when we’re getting into his three- and four-voice fugues. However, the counterpoint itself is extremely disciplined and rarely deviates from the rules that govern it. This is a point in favor of Si. Additionally, the totality of the contrapuntal lines – what we might call the larger musical idea – stays relatively self-contained and in constant motion. Bach often takes great pains to never interrupt a musical idea by stopping cold and moving on to a completely different idea. He is much more inclined to gradually and subtly transition the listener from Point A to Point B. This fixation on only 1 continuously unfolding musical idea is also a point in favor of Si.

  13. Hannah,

    I’m not sure where I read the thing about complexity, and as you say, it’s misleading. Se is probably more capable of dealing with sensory complexity.

    However, it is accurate to say that Ni likes to take complexity and turn it into simplicity. That process is analogous to the technique of counterpoint: making a harmonious whole out of several simultaneous melodies. So, if Bach’s preference for counterpoint was due to his dominant cognitive function, he must have had Ni.

    I could see him being Si if he stuck with counterpoint because it was what he learned when he was young, and if he used it rather woodenly. He did learn it when he was young; he grew up in a musical family and they were somewhat old-fashioned, so they were still using counterpoint.

    But he didn’t use it woodenly; he had a proficiency for it and was rather inventive in the way he used it. That suggests it was natural to him and that it appealed to him because it corresponded to one of his cognitive functions.

    Se types probably have an advantage in music that is performance-oriented, but not in more abstract music. I think counterpoint falls in that category, as well as bizarre things that are created for purpose other than sounding good in performance, like twelve-tone technique.

  14. numericneume,

    So, Bach’s music follows rules, and one of his pieces generally has overall unity.

    Regarding rules, I’m guessing you are referring to the rules of harmony, avoiding certain intervals and so on. That was pretty common during the Baroque period. I don’t know how it can be a way to establish a personality type. Bach was just doing what everyone else was doing. Or are you referring to something else?

    Regarding overall unity, I’m not sure how that is a mark of Si. Does that mean that a composer with Ni would compose more disjointedly than one with Si?

  15. I’m probably creating a strawman in my last question, but I would appreciate clarification on what you (numericneume) think an Ni composer would look like. Composing a piece that has overall unity sounds very Ni to me, since Ni is concerned with making a coherent whole out of many parts. Not sure what Si would look like.

  16. Gabriel,

    I’ll clarify the two points I made in the post to gbertilson.

    1) Strict adherence to any set of objective rules is Te, not Si. So, I withdraw that first comment. My mistake.

    2) You have my second comment twisted around quite a bit. I wasn’t speaking of any piece in particular, nor of unity. The point actually works more as a demonstration of inferior Ne than of Si, so I have to withdraw that bit too, slightly. The point is that someone with Ne would be much more inclined to deviate considerably from idea to idea. Much of Bach’s music, on the other hand, unfolds steadily, continuously, and at a *granular* level. This is especially true of his faster music (like outer movements of concertos, fugal portions of his organ works, etc.). Many of his themes aren’t really “melodies” like what we would see in a Handel aria – they’re more like rolling assemblages of notes that could be reduced to smaller parts at any time. It’s as if each note in the sequence has been “fully and fairly sifted,” to use the Duke of Wellington phrase. When you add all the notes up, it creates a mosaic. Now, with a Handel aria, you could chop up the melody if you wanted to, but we’re really meant as listeners to survey the line as a simple, whole object. “Here is an item. Experience it. Admire its qualities. Now here is another item.” Mozart is the same way, and I’d bet money that both have Extroverted Sensation.

    Now, to your point. Ni does create unity at the conceptual level. I’d be shocked if Sibelius isn’t INFJ. In his later symphonies (4-7) he tends to grab a couple short motifs out of a vacuum and spin entire movements out of them. There are no edges; phrases bleed into one another. It’s like floating through a big cloud of sound. A lot of his formal structures don’t relate well to traditional norms. He even merges movements in Syms. 5&7 (1st movement of 5 is an amalgamation; 7 is one big amalgamation).

    Brahms, interestingly enough, also tends to spin entire movements out of a few motifs. I was surprised by Shapiro’s assessment of him at first, especially since he was such a conservative, but it’s definitely plausible. However, we don’t see any blurring together of structures – perhaps the difference between Te-Fi and Fe-Ti.

    Now, if any of these composers turn out otherwise, I’m gonna be eating a lot of crow.


  17. Oh, I’m actually the same person as gbertilson. I somehow mistakenly changed my handle.

    It may be accurate that Te prefers to adhere to objective rules. But I am not sure how musical rules are necessarily the sort of objective rules that a Te person would follow. They are more in the realm of personal preference: what you or other people feel sounds good. And I think a person with a Te-Fi axis would be much more likely to flout societal norms relating to music when they thought they were stupid. A Fe-Ti person would be more likely to recognize what people liked or what was conventional and try to adapt to that. So Bach’s following some musical norms is consistent with Fe. (He didn’t follow all of them: it seems like he was using full tonality at a time when many of his German predecessors were not, judging from some of his keyboard transcriptions of pieces by other German composers. But I could be wrong, since I pretty much only play Bach.)

    Okay, so you are mentioning features of Bach’s music that distinguish between Ne and Si. Then your comments are not specifically relevant to distinguishing Si and Ni. And I am not sure how these features actually demonstrate Si. Fractal-like structure (to rephrase), enfolding steadily? Those could be Ni characteristics.

    As for Sibelius, the way you describe his music gradually unfolding sounds rather like part of what you say about Bach’s music. Regarding Brahms, I always thought he was an INTP, because I didn’t get the sort of mocking quality from him that I associate with INTJs, but I haven’t looked into him. I also thought Beethoven was INTJ, but Shapiro’s assessment of INFP might make more sense.

    I’m uneasy about comparisons between Bach and Romantic composers, because the Romantic era was much more about personal expression, and you have to somehow determine which part of the Romantic composer is from the era and which is from the composer’s actual personality.

  18. The rules of counterpoint were not unique to Bach. They had been established long before him, and continued to hold true long after he died. (They began initially as unwritten rules based instinctually on what sounded good, and later they were written down and codified by people like Fux.) The rules of fugal writing, or ritornello form, or binary form, were likewise not unique to Bach. The fact that they are common-practice rules, like law, and not unique to any one individual, makes them objective and thus more likely to be followed by BOTH Fe and Te users. Fe users are more likely to defer to objective musical rules because they provide a way for all people to enjoy music on a common emotional level. However, Te users are more likely to defer to objective musical rules because they provide the most efficient way of elucidating musical form. I think Bach falls under the latter category. Furthermore, even though Bach followed objective rules in writing his music, Bach’s dense, “learned” contrapuntal style was not the default of composers of his day. For example, compare Bach’s music with music of Telemann, who was regarded as the better composer by their contemporaries; or compare with Handel, whose style incorporates other European styles more globally. I don’t think they’re necessarily better, but they’re definitely more transparent and accessible. In fact, by the time Bach died, his style of writing was not remotely in fashion any longer, having been replaced by much simpler modes of writing like Galant music. Bach ignored changing trends about what styles sounded good, and his writing continued to be informed by his careful study of music of the past. I would say that this indicates a preference for Si over Se rather than anything having to do with Feeling, but by your own definition, this would indicate that Bach did not have Fe, because he most definitely flouted societal norms in that respect.

    I’m not sure fractal would be the right word, although it’s close.

    I’m gonna get abstract here:

    If I had to represent *conceptually* a piece written by Bach, it would be a constant rearranging of a collection of digits, e.g. “129673854, 396841725, 981742365, 725439186,” etc. If you choose a different arrangement of these collections of digits, both across and within sets, you simply get another piece by Bach – no harm, no foul.

    If I had to represent *conceptually* a piece written by Sibelius, it would be more like multiple versions of the same digit, i.e. 1a-1b-1c-1d-1e-1f-1g-1h-1i-1j. And furthermore, this particular arrangement of ones yields an archetypal image. An image of what? I don’t know. But everyone knows it’s there. You can disassemble the music and discover that it’s composed of a bunch of ones (how simple!). But if you try to rearrange it into a new set of ones, like: 1i-1g-1a-1f-1d-1c-1j-1b-1e-1h, then *poof* the archetypal image vanishes and you’re not sure if it’s Sibelius anymore.

    With Bach’s music, you truly get a mosaic. There are *many* little particulars (Si/Ne perspective), all adding up to a big picture. There’s no hidden meaning. It is what it is – damn good music. With Sibelius, there’s a focus on *one or a few* particulars with their respective derivations (Ni/Se perspective), all – again – adding up to a big picture. But the big picture contains within it a trajectory of whence the particulars came, and whither they are going (I’m paraphrasing Sibelius here). I’ve heard it suggested that “the beginning contains the end,” which sounds very Ni to me…somehow. I’ve never heard that said about Bach’s music. It’s not tightly self-referential, but tightly self-contained.

  19. Despite your elaboration, I still either don’t understand your argument comparing Bach’s and Sibelius’s styles, or don’t see how it points to Si-Ne. “Many little pieces adding up to a big picture” sounds like Ni-Se to me.

    Honestly, I don’t really know Sibelius much at all. I only remember his Finlandia tune. But I would like to propose, without much evidence, that the differences between the styles of Bach and Sibelius come from musical era and not personality type. And I have other reasons for thinking that Bach is an INFJ.

    The thing about social norms was just a random counter-argument to the idea that following rules indicates Te. I don’t think breaking or following rules necessarily imply any personality type. Many of the best composers have done things that no one has done before, but they cannot all share one function axis.

  20. Whether or not Bach was or was not ISTJ, I appreciate the effort and hope to see more of these. I have a sinking feeling Mozart was SFP and Beethovan was STJ.

  21. Rusked: Mozart is mort likely an SFP but I am not so sure Beethoven is an STJ (definitely not ESTJ). I used to think Beethoven could be an INTJ but INFP also sounds like an interesting possibility (my typing skills suck so I wouldn’t figure out anyway). CT admins love classical music so it’s likely they’ll type all of these eventually, at least I hope so.

    Oh and Bach sounds like an ISFJ to me now (focus on Si and Ti). He could still be INTP. Admins please!

  22. Gabriel,

    Let’s say Si and Ni are each presented with a large quantity of *stuff* (technical term). How does each function react?

    • Si will attempt to thoroughly examine each particulate within the mass and then try to define what the proper place of each particulate is within the whole, based on the natural biases of the accompanying judging functions in the psyche. Each of the multiple perspectives represented by the particulates is examined, just as with Ne. No single particulate is given undue significance.
    • Ni, on the other hand, will seek the singular essence, the line of best fit that explains the nature of the *stuff*. It will not examine each particulate, but instead, will instinctively grab *this* particulate, *this* particulate, and *this* particulate and say, “Aha! *These* items collectively represent the essence of the stuff!” And then, just like with Se, Ni will say, “The necessities have been determined. To hell with all the rest of the stuff!”

    So in this way, each function can deal effectively with complexity, but in different ways. Si will attempt to maintain the parameters of a problem and examine each in turn. Ni will attempt to restrict the parameters in favor of a select few that are deemed essential.

    Here’s more or less what I was trying to say in previous comments: Brahms and Sibelius, in their mature works, are more inclined, at the beginning of the compositional process, to limit their choice of musical material for each work to a select-few motives (short thematic elements), which then proliferate the work and provide the work with its “essences,” the glue that holds them together. There is a streamlining of perspective. One might say that minimalist music represents the same focused perspective as well. Despite sounding much different than Brahms or Sibelius, minimalism is similar in that the initial selection of premises is intentionally pared down.

    Bach may seem similarly reductionist in places, but on the whole, I can’t point to very small bits of information (like 3-4 note motives), that form the basis of entire movements. He tends to write in large streams of notes, each of which are not significant on their own. It seems like a sifted mass of particulates to me. There’s no sense that the number of perspectives have been limited from the get-go, only that he has attempted to make sure each note has its proper place in the greater mass of notes.

    Now, if we encountered quotations from Bach saying, “I see the shape of entire fugues flash before me in an instant, as if the indivisible whole were suddenly revealed to me from on high,” then I think we would be on to something regarding Ni. Quotations like that are more useful in typing someone than a bunch of speculation on what kinds of functions the music actually represents or can be associated with, because you don’t have to add that extra layer of inference. So, as fun as it may be to spin those wheels, I need to stop, otherwise I will trick myself into thinking it’s actually a valid analysis.

    That said, if you have any arguments for INFJ that aren’t derived entirely from the music, I would be very interested in hearing you lay those out.


  23. Well, I’m beginning to question my typing of Bach again. I don’t have a good enough explanation for how adversarial he was about his own musical values. It’s pretty uncharacteristic of an INFJ. Some of my impressions are or were based on his music. I will go into it a little bit.

    What first made me suspect he was a Feeling type was probably that his playing style on keyboard was said to be like singing. An appreciation for the sort of subjective characteristics that suggest singing seemed to me to be more of a Feeling characteristic. It’s not a very logical connection to make.

    I thought he probably had the function Fe because of the way that he tried to portray the emotional characteristics of each of the 24 possible keys in the Well-tempered Clavier in a sort of objective fashion, without caring whether the emotions were authentically his own as a person with Fi might do. Then again, perhaps his motivation in creating the Well-tempered Clavier could also be explained from the perspective of his being ISTJ, as a kind of cataloguing of the individual characteristics of each key. I don’t know.

    Then there is his evident ability to appreciate the musical styles of many different countries and composers and learn from them.

    His desire to take a compositional technique, counterpoint, and extend it to its limits seems like Ni. Ni likes to focus on a single idea and fully develop it.

    Similarly, Bach’s desire to take tonality and use it fully, something that was not done by many of his predecessors, seems Ni. He did not let himself be confined to a limited set of keys that would work in a more limited tuning system. He wanted to be able to roam freely from key to key when he was playing in really remote keys like G-sharp minor. And he seemed to have the ability to imagine the way in which that could be done. I think he also developed his own tuning system (temperament) that would allow him to do that. He annoyed his organ tuners by playing the A-flat major chord, which sounds awful in older temperaments. (That behavior, however, does not sound like an INFJ, I admit. It is more characteristic of a Te-Fi type.)

    I guess the thing I am most sold on is Bach having Ni. The other axis is less clear because of the things in this article that suggest Te-Fi. Perhaps he was actually an INTJ. His dissimilarity to Brahms seems to me to be partly because he operated in the Baroque era, and the compositional technique he had chosen was much more rules-based, while the compositional technique in the Romantic era allowed much more personal expression.

    If I try to imagine a Baroque ISTJ, I feel they would be even more insistent on rules and stuck on the details than Bach was, less appreciative of other musical styles and less adventurous.

    I’m puzzled by your description of the motivic structure of Bach’s works, because Bach’s pieces (for instance in the Well-tempered Clavier) are so varied. Some of them are based on very short themes or little flourishes, others more narrative-like and complicated. So I don’t understand how you are making these generalizations of their structure.

    Anyway, such a long post and quite disorganized, like my thought process. I am not sure if my “arguments” are really all that strong when I try to clarify them to write a comment. But there you go.

  24. Typing a composer by listening to their music is like typing a ballerina by looking at her make-up and costume.

  25. Gabriel,

    I completely overlooked your post a couple days ago. Sorry.

    The way I see it, INFJs can be just as adversarial as any other type, even if it is not their natural inclination, as it is with many ETJs. It really depends on the situation and the person. We also have to be mindful to distinguish between adversarial propositions (“My values do not converge with your values” = Te-Fi) and adversarial behavior (picking fights, hurling verbal abuse at someone, which could be indicative of any one of a number of personality styles – Antisocial, for example). It seems that you were referring to the former instance though, so I’ll say this as a possible counterexample to the notion that typical INFJs are conciliatory all the time: INFJs are Ni types at bottom, so if an INFJ gets it in his head that a theory of his pertaining to the values of a large group is valid, and this theory is attacked, he might grow confrontational, ignoring the immediate feeling state of his environment in favor of defending the theory, which still, in the end, pertains to an abstracted feeling state of the group in question (still Fe). So, if you find something similar to the above with Bach, you might be on to something, and shouldn’t discount Fe as a possibility.

    Regarding paragraph 3: That might actually suggest Fe, as you say, but if we’re talking about cataloging characteristics, that seems more like Si. So: ISFJ.

    Regarding paragraph 4: This broad epistemology that you’re describing more accurately reflects Ne or Se, I think, at least on the surface; but I think what is important is not necessarily that Bach was well-read in a variety of styles, but the manner in which he assimilated them cognitively. For this, I would refer you to the last paragraph of this article for a comparison of Bach’s and Handel’s epistemology, which makes Bach seem more Si or Ni, and Handel more like Se or Ne:


    …which takes us back to square 1, more or less.

    Regarding paragraphs 5 and 6: Fully fleshing out a single existing idea seems more to me like a combination of Si/Te or Si/Fe, or Se and something else. Ni tends to abstract away from what is already existing, no? For example, creating a new tuning system, as you reference in the 6th paragraph, could be indicative of Ni. Now, if Bach had created the theoretical underpinnings of counterpoint himself (which he didn’t, obviously) and then fleshed *that* idea out, that could be Ni as well.

    You make a good point about era differences. Contextual comparisons within an era are better indicators of type than across eras, which is why Handel would be a better comparison than my examples of Sibelius or Brahms. That said, I think most typologists would agree that empirical examples of cognition, like what Shapiro uses up above, are an even better indicator of type. I am also assuming for now, until I do my own research, that Shapiro could provide plenty of additional examples to support his claim, in which case there is once again a major difference between the two composers that cannot be explained by the era difference.

    Paragraph 8: Don’t you think you’re short-changing the ISTJs a bit here? A less compulsive ISTJ is still an ISTJ.

    I’ll just cede the point regarding Bach’s motivic/thematic structure. What I said doesn’t apply to all of his music anyway, as you say.

  26. Bach sacrificed Feeling for Thinking whenever he favored the mathematical structural form of music over its emotional impact.

    This wasn’t always clearly the case (for example, BWV 1004), but we remember Bach not for the melodies he created but for his mastery of mathematical systems of composing like the Fugue. His Crab Canon, which sounds exactly the same played forwards or backwards, is the most pure example of this tendency he had.

    In my personal view, when Feeling is sacrificed for Thinking this means the individual’s Thinking is introverted while his Feeling is extraverted. I think most people would agree that Bach was a Thinker but I think he wasn’t just a Thinker, he was an introverted Thinker exactly because he put Thinking as the ultimate goal and end and Feeling as only a byproduct. Dominant Te types can come close to this, but unconsciously and in varying degrees they still are willing to sacrifice Thinking for Feeling.

    So, to summarize, if we take only this aspect of Bach, which is a large part of how we remember him today compared to other composers, then I am inclined to say he’s a **TP type. However, I am no historian of music where one maybe could put my observation in context thereby in effect giving it a new meaning different from the original. In other words, I hold the principle to be true, but that it applies here, I remain open minded.

  27. I was sort of thinking Depressive, since he mentioned that he saw a lot wrong with society but refrained from action often, which would represent the helplessness-hopelessness outlook that the Depressive has. Also, he was well-famed for constantly preaching abstinence and starving oneself of one’s pleasures, which would represent the Asceticism dynamics of the Depressive.

  28. Being Istj is like trying to win a game with the worst character. It sucks for me.

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