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How to Teach Music the Charlotte Mason Way
First, let’s start with what Charlotte Mason had to say about including a music education. Charlotte wanted her students to be immersed in one composer’s style at a time so that they could really begin to know his or her style. Many proponents of her method suggest taking one composer and listening to only that composer’s music for an entire semester, or a term (trimester), so they learn only about two to three composers per year. This is often referred to as “composer study.” She also recommended the same for studying artists, such as painters.
“It is a pity that we like our music as our pictures and our poetry mixed so that there are few opportunities of going through as a listener a course of the works of a single composer . . . Let young people study as far as possible under one master until they have received some of this teaching and know its style.”
Obviously, you can do what works for you and your family such as studying a composer for a month and switching to another the next month.
But What if You Dislike Classical Music?
But, what if you dislike classical music and the thought of listening to it every day, or even once a week, is not a happy thought for you? I am a music teacher, but I certainly understand the learning curve many people feel with understanding, appreciating, and loving classical music!
But never fear. I have some tips today I think will help you include composer study and even enjoy it!
Unfocused Listening vs. Focused
Did you know that doing composer study doesn’t mean you have to turn on a 45-minute Beethoven symphony and sit still and listen to it? That’s a challenge for most of us these days!
Instead, you can listen to music at any time, especially if it’s a classical instrumental piece with no vocals. (Sometimes singing in the compositions can be distracting if the kids need to concentrate on schoolwork or something of that nature.)
So, you can listen to music:
- During read-alouds and other schoolwork times
- During mealtimes
- During chores
- While driving in the car
- While drawing or painting
- During handicraft time
- While building with Legos/Magformers/Playmobil, etc.
- While doing puzzles
- During naptime
- During bathtime
- Before bed
Occasionally, you might want a focused listening time, but Tip #1 is that it can be in the background while your focus is on another activity!
Most Accessible Pieces for When You Dislike Classical Music
Second, I encourage you to find the composers and pieces that are most accessible to children or new listeners of classical music.
Three pieces I’d recommend you start with are:
- Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals
- Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf
- Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
Let me tell you a little bit about each piece.
Camille Saint-Saens is a French composer who wrote a suite of pieces called Carnival of the Animals. Each short piece is about a different animal such as an elephant, lion, fish, or birds. It’s fun to recognize how the music portrays the animal. The Tortoise piece if very slow. The Aviary sounds like birds flitting around. And, the Donkey sounds like hee-hawing. There are numerous picture book and video versions, so you can find one that you and your children particularly enjoy.
Here is one with poetry by Ogdan Nash interspersed between the pieces, making it even more fun to listen:
The Ukrainian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf wrote this piece for children. It goes a step further than the poems mentioned above in that there is actually narration that guides listeners through the music. The music helps tell the story and different instruments stand for different characters in the story. For example, the string section with violins represents Peter, the French horns are the wolf, and the bassoon is Grandfather. Again, you can find various picture book or video versions.
I would expect that you might already be familiar with Pyotr Tchaikovsky and The Nutcracker. It’s a ballet and tells the story of Clara and her adventures at Christmas-time, so it’s often being performed in December. Again, it’s a more accessible type of classical music because of the story. You might learn about the story by reading a book and then listen to the music while you watch the ballet!
Listen Live, in Person
And, that brings me to Tip #3. It’s often easier to concentrate and enjoy music if you listen to it live in person. Check local libraries, nearby community colleges or universities, public schools, summer concert in the park series, or city symphonies and operas for performance ideas. Listening outside is especially good for younger kids or newer classical music listeners.
You’ll want to especially seek out a kids concert that sometimes symphonies do because the conductors and musicians will often talk and explain things throughout the concert.
Watching a ballet live can be enchanting for children, and they’re listening to classical music without even realizing it!
Living Books About Composers and Their Pieces
If you’re a Charlotte Mason educator, you know that living books are encouraged to be used, rather than textbooks, to ignite the fire of learning in our kids. And, I am so excited that there are living books about composers and even about some of the specific pieces they wrote.
First of all, what is the definition of a living book?
My favorite is from Becky Aniol:
“A living book is a whole narrative beautifully written by an authority with contagious delight in his or her subject, which engages both the mind and the heart, capturing the imagination and inspiring interest in the subject, igniting a sense of virtue worthy of imitation, and compellingly inviting the reader, both young and old, to read on and read again.”
So, as you study the composer in your homeschool, pick up one or more of these living books from the library so your children will get to know the composer and the pieces even better!
Living Audiobooks for Composer Study When You Dislike Classical Music
Tip #5 brings you to an even better type of living book for music education, and that’s an audio book. I especially love Maestro Classics CDs and MP3s because they have a world class orchestra playing the music, along with commentary, composer biographies, and explanations about various things to listen to in the music.
Here are a few Maestro Classics options:
- Bach and the Pipe Organ
- The Nutcracker
- Peter and the Wolf
- Merry Pranks of Master Till
- My Name is Handel
- The Soldier’s Tale
- The Story of Swan Lake
- Carnival of the Animals
- The Sorcerer’s Appentice
They also have a couple that go along with classic children’s stories: Casey at the Bat, The Tortoise and the Hair, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.
Often music podcasts have commentaries with them that explain aspects of the piece and help you listen to specific things. I recommend Classics for Kids which you can find through podcast apps or on their Classics for Kids website. That website is also wonderful for playing games and doing activities related to learning about composers and music in general.
Other Genres: Jazz and Musical Theater
Jazz is a genre that is a transition from classical to more of a popular style (like rock), so often kids will enjoy it more. Here are some pieces you might enjoy and living books that go with them.
- Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite (Once Upon a Masterpiece) by Anna Harwell Celenza
- Duke Ellington (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers) by Mike Venezia
- Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince & His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney
- This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt
- George Gershwin (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers) by Mike Venezia
- Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue by Anna Harwell Celenza
- Summertime by Dubose Heyward
- Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carol Boston Weatherford
Another option is to listen to musical theater, which is a transition from opera. I have an online course for elementary students called Intro to Musicals which is a great way to start learning about musicals. And, again, as I mentioned above, adding a story to the music makes it more fun and accessible.
Have you ever thought of movie music as classical music? In a way, it is! But, because we can associate it with the story of a movie, it doesn’t seem as difficult to listen to as a Bach chorale or a Stravinsky symphony.
Here are some movie composers you’ll want to explore:
- John Williams (Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter)
- Hans Zimmer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Dune, and James Bond’s No Time to Die)
- Max Steiner (King Kong, Gone with the Wind)
- Henry Mancini (Pink Panther)
- John Barry (Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves)
Here are a couple of movie music themes to start with!
Pirates of the Caribbean
Another idea is to listen to the music with no singing on movie soundtrack recordings such as The Lego Movie, Captain America, or Frozen.
I think cartoons are one of the most fun ways to start listening to classical music. Perhaps it was even the first way you were introduced to it! It definitely was for me. I loved watching Bugs Bunny as a kid.
I love this playlist that includes some of the best cartoons with classical music and can really make it easy to include composer study when you dislike classical music.
But, I also have an online course called Learn Classical Music with Cartoons that breaks it up by composer and includes cartoons from the vintage (1931) to very modern (Line Riders).
Play Rhythm Instruments
Susan Macaulay who wrote For the Children’s Sake said,
“One offshoot of musical life will be musical creativity. Small children chant their very own songs. Others, learning to play the piano, will begin to experiment with chords. Those learning, say, the recorder, would like to improvise along with a Purcell or Bach record of chamber music. Put out percussion instruments; encourage the young to accompany records. Accept and admire the products. Let them perform for you. . . . Even the preschool child will delight in singing, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.'”
Just like you’ll want to provide the best products for handicrafts, have some instruments in your home as well. They don’t have to be expensive. Just start with a set of rhythm sticks, shakers, jingles, and a small drum.
Then, sometimes as you’re listening to classical music, play along! Children will love to improvise and experiment with what sounds best. Encourage them to start keeping a steady beat with the music.
Mrs. Macaulay also had some things to say about dancing that I’d like to include here:
“When there is music, the child responds with dancing. . . Some music encourages dancing more than others. . . Children thrive on the atmosphere of joyous good music, feeling free to dance and sing and skip.
We have found that our family and friends have enjoyed the social aspect of square dancing, English country dances, and Scottish dancing. This gives a happy spice to community life, and it’s nice to see six-year-olds mixing happily with mature adults in fun. Teenagers join in, and we are all people together, not segregated into age groups.”
All four of my daughters love to dance, and all four boys even participated to some extent in musical theater, which included dancing. My husband even built a dance studio in our basement to facilitate the girls’ learning and enjoyment of dance.
So, this is Tip #11: Dance along with classical music.
- Put on some ballet music such as Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky) and do some ballet moves
- Grab some scarves and move your arms as you dance to music such as Aquarium or Aviary from Carnival of the Animals.
My final tip for helping you and your kids to enjoy classical music is to play games. There are some fun games to help you recognize different instruments and then as you listen you can start to pick out the instruments and that makes it fun!
- Classics for Kids website with podcast shows about composers, games, and activity sheets.
- SQUILT Meet the Instruments Bingo Game
- SQUILT Meet the Composers with flash cards
Conclusion about Composer Study When You Dislike Classical Music
Give it time. Sometimes, listening multiple times is all you need to start appreciating and even enjoying classical music. But, definitely have fun with it! Dance, act out stories, learn with videos and podcasts and books!
Do you have any other ideas about how to include composer study when you dislike classical music? Please share in a comment below!
Freebie: Who are the Best Composers to Study?
I have an awesome printable that lists the best composers to study.
Download the free printable of “Who are the Best Composers to Study?” below.