By Kathleen Bard, PhD, Education Administration & Music Education Specialist K-12
Beethoven once said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant but to play without passion is inexcusable.” Music evokes our emotions and engages the brain. Inspiring your ingenuity. Allowing you to express your creative imagination and stir your passions.
Teaching music to children can be fun, exciting and exhausting. It can bring out natural joy, enthusiasm, creativity, natural abilities or talents. It can provide a reprieve from the traditional subjects and studious, sometimes mundane, tasks throughout a child’s school day. Music often becomes a relief outlet from daily stress. Moreover, no one is required to possess great musical ability. Teachers are required to teach all of the students and cannot exclude some because they lack musicality. Even children who are considered tone deaf are included in all activities. Everyone is expected to do the best that they can with joy. In the words of King David,
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!Psalm 100.1 ESV
God doesn’t expect everyone to be able to sing on pitch—but He does expect us to do it with joy. The remainder of Psalm 100 gives us a true picture of what God wants from His children. He wants you to serve Him, use your voice, lift it up to Him in praise and sing it with true, impassioned joy.
Serve the Lord with gladness!Psalm 100.2-5 ESV
Come into His presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, He is God!
It is He who has made us, and we are His;
we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving.
and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!
For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
and His faithfulness to all generations
Everyone can enjoy learning about music history, different cultures, composers, instruments, styles, terminology and ways to express themselves using music. You don’t have to be able to read music, play an instrument, sing on pitch, keep a beat or copy a complicated rhythm. You don’t even have to be able to walk to a steady beat or understand the difference between rhythm and beat.
However, introducing young people to various styles of music and composers provides them with a deeper understanding of the value or merit of music. This in turn develops their appreciation for music. For example, intently listening to a musical selection for a specific purpose incorporates your active listening skills engaging your ears, brain, and eyes to focus and pay attention. Adding creative movement or percussion instruments to a reading selection, story or poem can greatly enhance an otherwise lack luster language arts lesson.
Understanding the background and importance of music is essential. Yet, sometimes it is difficult to know how to put this into practice in your day to day homeschool lessons. Here are 5 ways, complete with practical suggestions you can incorporate into your music appreciation lessons.
- Incorporating Creative Music with Literature
- How to Learn about the Symphony Orchestra
- Where to Start with Music History
- Appreciating Music through Listening
- How to Start Learning about Composers
Incorporating Creative Music with Literature
Incorporatingcreative music as you work through your language arts activities can give your students a productive activity that helps keep their mind and attention focused on the lesson you are teaching. In addition to that, these activities can help them begin to recognize patterns and cadence inherent in the literature you are studying.
Here are some suggestions:
- Have your students make their own percussion instruments. This could be rhythm sticks, clapping blocks together, making a guitar out of a cardboard box and rubber bands, making a drum out of an oatmeal container or anything else you can think of. Once these instruments are made, use them as sound effects for a reading selection.
- Challenge your students to choose music to accompany a reading selection. Then have them create movement and motions and perform it.
- Have your students integrate body percussion (clapping, stomping their feet, tapping their knees) or percussion instruments, with or without music, to accompany a reading selection.
- Encourage your students to write their own poem or story adding music, movement and/or percussion sounds to enhance the performance.
- Integrating Music into the Elementary Classroom by William Anderson and Joy Lawrence
- Using Music to Enhance Student Learning by Jay Fallin and Mollie Tower
How to Learn About the Symphony Orchestra
Prior to teaching students about composers and the place they had in the history of music, it is important to introduce basic vocabulary and discuss the instruments of the symphony orchestra. Everyone will be more musically literate and be able to communicate clearly if you are using the same vocabulary. Here is a vocabulary list that students should learn. In my classroom the words are on one magnetic wall and the definitions on another wall. Students enjoy matching up the correct word to the definition.
- Conductor: Director of the ensemble or group of performers
- Baton: The tool a conductor uses to direct the performance
- Composer: Writes the music
- Lyricist: Writes lyrics or words to music
- Score: The conductor’s play book. It’s the music showing all of the instrument parts
- Symphony Orchestra: Trained musicians, often professionals, that perform music together led by a conductor. There are 4 families or sections of instruments (string, brass, woodwinds, percussion)
- Concert Band: Same as above except that this band lacks a string section.
As noted in the definitions above a symphony orchestra and a concert band are similar except that the band lacks a string section. Two thirds of the symphony orchestra consists of the string family (violin, viola, cello, bass). They are the key to the unique, full sound and are front and center of the stage. The Woodwinds (flute, clarinet, oboe, English horn, bassoon) are behind the strings. The brass (trumpet, trombone, baritone, tuba) are in the back because they are loud and their sound carries the furthest. The percussion (instruments that you strike or bang) section is usually at the far side or behind the entire orchestra.
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s website is an excellent resource (www.DallasSymphony.org). As you browse the website you will find a variety of choices including videos of live performances, interviews with musicians, lesson plans, activities and more.
The Macomb Symphony Orchestra, a professional orchestra in Macomb County, Michigan, hosts a live Youth Education Concert annually. Their past performances are now available on YouTube. The conductor, Thomas Cook, is a Professor of Music at Macomb Community College. He combines a lecture with performance in a 50 minute concert. Professor Cook, one of my former teachers, and I created this program over 20 years ago. Students, including my own, have enjoyed attending this live performance, meeting the conductor and learning about the symphony orchestra. This is a wonderful way to introduce students to the Orchestra.
Another enjoyable way to introduce children to the orchestra is showing a video of “Peter and the Wolf”, music composed by Serge Prokofieff. Each of the main characters in this story are represented by a specific instrument or instrument family. You’ll find two of my favorite videos included in the resource list below.
- Meet the Orchestra by Anne Hayes
- Peter and the Wolf Narrated by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
- The Story Orchestra – The Nutcracker by Katy Flint (This book is one in a series of several hard cover sound books.)
- A Child’s Introduction to the Orchestra by Robert Levine (cd included)
- The Story of the Incredible Orchestra by Bruce Koscielniak
- Dallas Symphony Orchestra Website
- Macomb Symphony Orchestra Youth Education Concert
- Macomb Symphony Orchestra Past Performances on YouTube
Where to Start with Music History
There are five time periods that music students study. As you go through each time period with your students, introduce them to different composers who lived in that time and the music they composed. This will provide them with a variety of musical experiences. After a unit of study it was my hope that students would be able to identify specific time periods and composers when they heard a recording.
Renaissance Time Period
The Renaissance Period lasted from 1450 to 1600. Some composers you might recognize from this time period include William Byrd and Claudio Monteverdi.
Baroque Time Period
The Baroque Period lasted from 1600 to 1750. Some composers you might recognize from this time period include Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, and George Frederic Handel.
Classical Time Period
The Classical Period lasted from 1750 to 1820. Some composers you might recognize from this time period include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Romantic Time Period
The Romantic Period lasted from 1820 to 1910. Some composers you might recognize from this time period include Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms, and Peter Tchaikovsky.
Modern Time Period
The Modern Period lasted from 1920 to the present. Some composers you might recognize from this time period include George Gershwin and Aaron Copeland.
Appreciating Music through Listening
One activity you can do with your students is to listen to different pieces of music with intention. Now, this can sound intimidating, but when you follow these simple steps, this exercise can be a fun addition to your music appreciation curriculum. Here are three different ways you can approach this:
Music from a Single Composer
- Choose a composer (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, etc.).
- Research and read about that composer through appropriate children’s literature or a supervised on-line search. (See the next section for some ideas on how you can learn about a specific composer.)
- Listen to a variety of that composer’s music
- Select 2 pieces to compare and contrast. After you listen through these pieces, discuss and write down the similarities and differences between the two pieces.
Music from Two Composers
- Select 2 composers to learn about. (See the next section for some ideas on how you can learn about a specific composer.)
- Compare and contrast the two composers’ similarities and differences as people and as musicians.
- From each composer, choose 1 music selection to work with.
- Listen to both pieces of music and compare and contrast the similarities and differences in their music.
Music from Two Styles
- Select 2 pieces of music from 2 different styles. For example: Traditional and contemporary. You could also choose 2 pieces from 2 different cultural interpretations. Or you could choose 2 different instrumentations such as a solo piano piece and a full orchestra piece.
- Listen to both pieces of music.
- After you listen through these pieces, discuss and write down the similarities and differences between the two pieces.
- Music Appreciation for Elementary Grades by Elizabeth Tanner and July Wilcox
- My First Classical Music Book and CD by Genevieve Helsby
- Dallas Symphony Orchestra Website
How to Start Learning About Composers
When you start learning about composers, sometimes it is easier to see an example than to hear broad theory. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Beethoven.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Virtuosi Violinist and Pianist, Composer, Conductor
My students adored Beethoven. We read about the composer’s life, engaged in discussion, listened to several musical selections, compared and contrasted 2 of those selections and viewed the movie “Beethoven Lives Upstairs”, which was originally featured on Reading Rainbow. I encouraged students, especially older ones, to research Beethoven and share information that they discovered about him that was not presented in class.
We listened to two versions (traditional and contemporary) of Beethoven’s “5th Symphony” and “Ode to Joy”. We performed 2 versions (traditional and contemporary with dancers) of “Ode To Joy” (Joyful, Joyful We Adore You) for the finale at our annual Christmas Concert. After learning about the composer they were tested on the information and given a listening test. All students had great success. Most importantly they developed a true admiration for the man and his music.
- The Value of Giving, The Story of Beethoven by Ann Donegan Johnson
- Beethoven Lives Upstairs by Barbara Nichol
- Beethoven for Kids His Life and Music by Helen Bauer (This resource includes 21 activities.)
- World’s Famous Composers: Ludwig van Beethoven by Mike Venezia (This is one of an entire series of books about famous artists and musicians.)
- Famous Children, Beethoven by Ann Rachlin (This is one of an entire series of books about famous artists and musicians.)
- Moving With Beethoven Bundle, Movement Activities for Active Listening By Jennifer Hibbard Published by The Yellow Brick Road
- A Fifth of Beethoven Album: Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band
- “Joyful, Joyful” from the movie Sister Act 2
- Greatest Hits-Beethoven By Sony Classical
In conclusion, I encourage you to try one or more of these suggested ideas to revitalize your understanding of music. May all of you experience music in a variety of ways, both past and present, and bring the joy of music into your home.
Meet the Author
Kathleen began acting, singing and playing the piano at a very young age and continues to use her musical talents joyfully for God’s glory. She is highly involved with the music ministry and children’s ministry at church. Also, she serves as Vice President for the Macomb Symphony Orchestra’s Board of Directors emphasizing the importance of music appreciation.
Kathleen holds degrees in K-12 Education, Music Education, Education Administration and Curriculum. She has taught K-12 music as well as a self-contained classroom for over 30 years in the Michigan public school system. Although retired from her teaching career she continues to write curriculum and is a noted scholarly writer and editor. She also serves as a guest speaker for various professional and community organizations.