Saturday, June 14, 2008

Music Appreciation

Even kids who have a real ear for music may have trouble learning to read a staff, with all its squiggles and dots and phrases in Italian. It can take a lot of work before those half steps and eighth notes all start to make sense. I know! When I was learning to play the violin, I could tell which notes went with which fingers on which strings -- but I never really understood how a scale worked until I began to play the keyboard. Once I saw all the notes laid out in front of me, in a nice repeating pattern of black keys and white keys, half steps and whole steps, suddenly everything became clear.

So when I realized the other day that the son who plays the violin was having trouble figuring out the key signature in his pieces, I sat him down at his brother’s piano to try to explain. But I figured there had to be more I could show him online – and, of course, I was right. I found web sites that help you figure out key signatures and much more. Learning to read music is useful, but learning to appreciate it is even better. Whether or not you believe in the “Mozart Effect” (the claim that listening to classical music can make a kid smarter) knowing how a symphony or a concerto is put together, and training your ear to hear themes and variations, can be as satisfying as solving an elaborate puzzle. Consider these resources your musical introduction:

Classics for Kids is a content-rich resource for kids and adults. First, you can listen online to 6-minute-long radio segments with Naomi Lewin that are all about classical music. Topics include composers like Mozart and Leonard Bernstein, musical periods like Baroque and jazz, and concepts like rondo and incidental music. Then there are the games that let kids compose simple tunes or quiz themselves on note names. Finally, parents can find articles filled with tips and advice, such as how to help kids practice effectively. There’s even a valuable page of music education links!

Big city orchestras are another place to find music info online. The San Francisco Symphony Kids’ Page is an interactive site that gives you a tour of the instruments of the orchestra. Other sections cover the symbols of the musical staff and concepts like tempo, rhythm, instrumentation and pitch. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids’ Page, which got a mention in Family Online’s column about making instruments, also has an instrument dictionary and pages where you can listen to audio clips of intervals, arpeggios and chords. Meanwhile, at the Carnegie Hall website, interactive animated features let you explore Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 "From the New World."

The Online Music Theory Helper by Ricci Adams from the Children's Music Workshop of Los Angeles isn’t flashy, but it takes you page by page through lessons on scales, chords and the like using the occasional animated note or audio clip where needed to make a point clearer. Quiz yourself on the notes of the staff or the keyboard using its “trainers,” or tune your ear to recognize intervals and chords. There are also useful articles that explain what to expect at a concert or how to deal with stagefright. The Music Room by Michael Bower of the Capistrano Elementary School, also in California, is even more low-tech, but clear and easy to navigate. It includes pages with music clips on symphonic concepts like inversion and counterpoint, periods including Medieval, Baroque, and Romantic, the

For older kids and adults, Intro to Music Theory is a free online course from Connexions, a site for sharing free educational material, by Catherine Schmidt-Jones. Actually, it doesn’t look to be much more detailed than the sites mentioned above for younger musicians. There are hyperlinks but no animations interval, major and minor keys and scales, triads and chords; its big plus is that the whole course can be downloaded as a PDF file.

OK, so the “Mozart Effect” may not be real. But listening to classical music can’t do any harm, can it? Just ask anyone who can’t hear the William Tell Overture without thinking “Hi Ho Silver! Away!” Movies, cartoons and TV shows that use famous symphonies and concertos as soundtracks and theme songs can make those musical motifs stick with you forever. Remember when Casper the Friendly Ghost helped Schubert finish his Unfinished Symphony? Or Bugs Bunny’s immortal “What’s Opera, Doc?” As a recent story on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition points out, you can find many of these masterpieces (including “The Rabbit of Seville,” and the “Fantasia” parody “A Corny Concerto”) on YouTube. Share a few with your family; you may never be able to listen to classical music the same way again.

Update: The excerpt above is from the PBS show From the Top. The website offers streaming video of really talented kids playing classical music.

MusicTeacher2009 is another YouTube video to check out. Thanks to the anonymous commenter!

Family Online Picks:

Classics for Kids

San Francisco Symphony Kids’ Page

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids’ Page

Carnegie Hall

Online Music Theory Helper

The Music Room

Intro to Music Theory

NPR Cartoon Music Story


Anonymous said...

You might want to check out the YOU TUBE Channel:
MusicTeacher2009 for classical music appreciation videos for children and adults

Hugh Sung said...

You might be interested to learn about my new series of YouTube videos teaching absolute beginners how to play Debussy's "Clair de lune" on the piano note by note, measure by measure. Using MusicReader to mark up the music in digital ink, an AirTurn to turn pages hands-free, and digital snipping tools to virtually "cut out" small portions of the music at a time, I take a "backwards" approach by using the music to teach the technique instead of the other way around.

You can see all the videos at and check out all the comments on my YouTube page at - hope you enjoy them!

Silly Bus said...

Interesting Video!!

Sophia said...

I just read the article that a friend posted, well i gotta say it definitely makes you wonder thats for sure, but if its true which would be awesome, that is just a cool.