Music Appreciation Made Easy

Something strange and magical happened in the middle of the guitar rock and synthesized pop era of the 1980s. Composers from 200 years before the teens of the modern era were even born were suddenly hot. Bootleg copies of their music flowed through student populations around the world like a subversive movement, and this newfound excitement for the music of our ancestors took a quirky mashup of classics to the top of the charts in multiple countries.

Hooked on Classics reached number 10 on the US charts in 1982, but I wouldn’t have my own copy for a couple more years, when a friend slid a cassette across my desk with a smile and a nod.

I’d been in band and choir for years, but had never taken a class like music appreciation, dedicated to just listening and learning about the music and its makers. This album, with its quick snippets of classical masterpieces from composers like Handel, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart, all set to the driving beat of a synthesized drum kit, truly did have me hooked. I wanted more.

Availability of music online is astounding

It would take many more years for the resources I’d craved in my teens to become available. Music is now available on demand, for free on sites like YouTube, allowing listeners to choose virtually any songs they want from every era and genre. Students today may take that for granted, but for those of us who grew up with limited access to music, it may take a moment to truly see how the availability of music opens up a course like music appreciation.

See also: Musical Eras

In a study of the classics, you can study the well-known composers of the 18th and 19th centuries, of course. Or you can discover lesser known contemporaries, such as female composer and singer Marianna Martines, who studied under Haydn and performed alongside Mozart.

But why limit a music appreciation course to just the composers with the white wig set? Could you center your course around world music, and study indigenous sounds from around the world? Sure!

Could you structure your course around military marches and compositions from the likes of Sousa and Tchaikovsky? Certainly.

How about a course dedicated to the great composers of film, such as Samuel Barber, Franz Waxman, Henry Mancini, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Nino Rota, and Hans Zimmer? Why not?

Or the music of Broadway?

Or folk music from around the world?

Or the musical influences in modern video games or classic cartoons?

There are so many ways you could structure a music appreciation class, and the music is there, waiting for you online, just a click away.

See also: Music Resource List

Don’t just listen… learn

Even if my bootleg copy of Hooked on Classics had come with a list of all the selections and their composers, it would have been difficult for me to learn much more about them all. A generation ago, before the internet made information available to the masses and technology put the contents of the world’s libraries in our pockets, short entries in encyclopedias or lengthy biographies were the only ways to learn more about composers and their work.

Now, a dive down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia can give you a wealth of information, and links to learn more about a composer’s specific works, their contemporaries, their influences and more. A quick search online can bring up catalogs of the best pieces from different eras, genres, or locales.

Of course, you could do the work of preparing assigned readings to go with the musical selections in the course you design, but when it comes to music appreciation, I think there is a better way. Music, like all art forms, touches each individual in a unique way. You won’t know what moves your student until they take time to listen to the selections.

At that point, it’s easy to let them do some research on their own. I remember, one of the first pieces I looked up online was Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The heart wrenching staple of the film industry and favorite of presidents and royalty has become an anthem of tragedy and mourning. Composed in 1936, and still popular today, it is an important piece that moved me deeply.

Don’t try to predict what music will move your student. Just give them the exposure and encourage them to listen on their own. They will explore the selections that incite feeling in their heart, and they will want to know more. Encourage this exploration, and consider asking them to share their newfound knowledge with you, by creating playlists of their own, watching YouTube videos together, and sharing artists they discover as they read and listen to more.

Enjoy this class, and every sort of art appreciation class you and your student might take together. This is the sort of natural learning that should excite and lift up your child’s heart, not just inform their mind. Don’t be scared to dive right in.

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