Classical music appreciation for children

This post is about why I decided to make music appreciation part of our homeschool curriculum, and how we do it.

Why introduce classical music to young children?

1.     Pleasure

Most importantly, I want to introduce my children (aged 6 and 8 ) and myself to a world of listening pleasure.   Before we started this, my knowledge of classical music was limited to familiarity with a handful of pieces that have been used in TV ads – that is, almost non-existent.  But there must be a reason these tunes have survived for hundreds of years!

2.     General Knowledge

Classical music is part of our culture and I like knowing that by being exposed to a variety of musical styles while they are young, C and J will effortlessly become familiar with this part of our heritage.

3.     Musical Knowledge

I hope that familiarity with some of the great classical pieces will inspire C and J in their own music-making adventures.  An appreciation of classical music will also give them a foundation for learning about music theory.

Resources

Curriculum

I downloaded the Harmony Fine Arts Grade 1 EBook (which also covers art appreciation).  Barb of Harmony Fine Arts is an experienced Charlotte Mason/classical homeschooling mum, which makes her schedules easy and pleasurable to use. The Grade 1 HFA schedule is an overview of eight classical composers, each chosen to be  accessible to young children (and philistine adults like me!).    So far this school year we have studied Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.  Next will be Chopin, Schubert, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

From Grade 2 onwards the Harmony Fine Arts composers are linked to classical history cycles.  For example, medieval and renaissance composers are studied alongside the middle ages in Grade 2, late renaissance to early modern composers alongside early modern history in Grade 3.   This works well for us as we are following the classical history cycles (and we are studying ancient history this year).

CDs/MP3s

Barb of HFA recommends the Masters of Classical Music box set  which I bought quite cheaply second-hand on Amazon.  (It’s also available even more cheaply in MP3 format, although I like having CDs for ease of switching over from digital audiobooks in the car.) I use this as our main introduction to each composer.

Classical Kids CDs

We all absolutely love the Classical Kids series of CDs, which cleverly combine beautiful music with stories that powerfully capture the imagination.  Some of the stories contain biographical information about the composer (eg Vivaldi, Bach), others focus on the composer’s work. In Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, for example, a girl finds herself inside the story of The Magic Flute.  We first listened on a long, rainy car journey – it was so magical having the car filled with the glorious sounds of opera, all of us completely caught up in the excitement of the story!

YouTube

I use YouTube to find short clips to help bring the music alive for the children.  There are plenty of orchestral recordings, but my family especially like silly clips like this recording of a skateboarding dog to the soundtrack of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons/Spring.  We also loved this rock guitar version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons/Summer – C is learning to play the guitar and she loved this so much she has it as her wallpaper on her iTouch.  Anything that associates the music with feeling good works for me!

Biographies

  • “Famous Composers” Audiobook

Famous Composers contains a lively narrative of biographical information about each composer against a background of, and interspersed with, their music. A big hit in our house.

  • Lives Of The Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbours Thought)

Barb recommends Lives Of The Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbours Thought) which has one of the best titles ever but which I’m finding it rather dry and I don’t think the children find very interesting.  My personal preference for younger children is the Famous Composers audiobook (above), but I’m sure Lives Of The Musicians will be a useful reference to have on our shelves as the children get older.

  • Getting To Know …

This is a great series covering composers, artists, inventors and other “greats”.  See, for example, Beethoven (Getting To Know The World’s Greatest Composers). Many are available at our library.

Movies

So far we’ve only watched Amadeus which I’d never seen but had a PG rating so we gave it a go.  C and I enjoyed watching it, and J heard the soundtrack while playing nearby.  The movie is a great reminder of the important place live music had in an era before the invention of recording devices or TV. We also enjoyed the dramatised scenes from Mozart’s operas.

When we finally get round to upgrading back to TiVo (which we had in its original form a few years ago but then disappeared from the UK market) I’m counting on its large hard drive and search facility to help us to find more movies and TV about composers (and everything else we study!).

How we fit music appreciation into our schedule

There’s a whole month to enjoy each composer, so it’s easy to find time to play the music. In the car my children mostly listen to library audiobooks on their personal CD players, but when I notice anyone’s headphones off (like when they’ve recently finished a book), I switch off my own audiobook and pop on this month’s composer. I also put the monthly composer on in the background when we’re doing art and crafts and at some mealtimes (ie when I remember – but at least this prevents overload!).

Where next?

The children are definitely more familiar with the composers we’ve studied and they enjoy the music.  For myself, I am loving getting to know these great works to the extent that I find myself choosing to put them on even when I am alone. I love how relaxing and uplifting classical music can be.  We’ve also been enjoying recognising pieces of music used in movies or adverts – even hearing them played by street buskers!

Learning about classical music in this way is working well for us all so for now the plan is to continue  as we are.

Comments and tips for additional resources welcome!

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