Friday, July 9, 2010

Using Music Masters

In kindergarten, we listened to a different composer each month. I would request a few CDs from the library and let them play while the kids read or played in the living room. It was pleasant to have classical music in the background rather than a CD of silly children's songs, but it became clear after a while that the kids weren't really learning anything, even if I mentioned the name of the composer. I was also frustrated a number of times by CDs from the library that were scratched and skipped.

For first grade, I decided we'd do something different. I purchased the full set of Music Masters CDs that was recommended in by Laura Berquist Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education. (It's on her syllabus for second grade.)

When they arrived, I started to think about how we'd actually use them. I wanted to listen to them in a particular order, but the best I could devise on my own was chronological by composer's lifetimes, many of which overlapped. I turned once again to my wise musical friend and asked her advice. She explained:
The development of music builds upon its past.  The earliest stuff, Bach and Handel, uses only melody and counterpoint to create harmony (Baroque period), and the Classical composers use certain rules of composition, which the remaining musical periods go through various phases of breaking. 
Then, being the very wonderful friend she is, she provided the order for me! So here's our list. I'm not entirely sure how many times we'll listen to each CD (probably once a week for six weeks), but I'm guessing we'll only get through the first six CDs this year. (We'll probably listen to these in the car when the kids are stuck. We won't be narrating them or anything. I might name the pieces as they come on for the kids. I think it would be nice if they could name a few by the end of the six weeks.)
  1. Baroque / 18th century
    1. Vivaldi and Corelli
    2. Bach
    3. Handel
  2. Classical
    1. Hayden
    2. Mozart
  3. Beethoven (bridge from Classical to Romantic)
  4. Romanticism / 19th century
    1. Berlioz
    2. Mendelssohn
    3. Schumann and Grieg
    4. Chopin
    5. Schubert
    6. Brahms
  5. 19th century opera / 20th century
    1. Verdi
    2. Wagner
    3. Strauss
    4. Tchaikovsky
    5. Dvorak
    6. Foster and Sousa
I asked her permission to post her suggestion because I have to believe there are other moms out there who, like me, have no real knowledge of the development of music but wanted to use Music Masters in the most comprehensive way. (She even said the kids would get a sense of the development of the music even without formal discussions on it.) I haven't listened to the CDs yet myself, but Kansas Dad has listened to a few. He says the sound quality isn't tremendous, but the biographical information is interesting. I think it's probably best to consider these CDs as an introduction and follow up with biographies and higher quality CDs if we think we like the composer's work.

By the way, if you're considering purchasing the complete set of CDs, I think Adoremus Books has the best price. (In fact, most places only sell a few of the CDs.) In the past few years, they've released a coupon around the Easter season for 20% off your entire purchase.


  1. Cool, I'll have to take a look at those. I taught music for 5 years and did music history with the middle schoolers on a three year rotation. I used these books and supplemented. The theory was too abstract (I used another series when I taught music theory), but I really liked the music history section, which was about 3/4 of the book. It was thorough and informative, and lent itself to adding listening examples, projects and other information. They are probably not something your kids could grasp now, but they may give you some helpful, general info. There are teachers guides as well. Senseney Music carries them (at least they did when I was teaching 5 years ago.

  2. Thanks for the list. We also did a composer every 4-6 weeks this last year, but I can really see the value in doing it chronologically. And after 3 years of listening to Suzuki piano CDs in the car, I can definitely attest to the fact that the kids get a good sense of the music without any formal instruction, but that they have a good framework for more formal learning when it gets to be time for that.

  3. David starting asking the kids about the instruments they were hearing and how the music made them feel (or think of) when they were very small and Ethan and Isaac still love to do it. I'm interested to listen to the music in that order to get a feel for how the music evolved - very cool!

  4. I would often have my students color a picture while listening to the music, telling them to "draw what they heard", and it was always fascinating to see what even the youngest ones came up with!!

  5. Monica, thanks for the book suggestions, and the drawing idea. My kids love having clipboards in the van, so I'm sure they'd be happy to draw while they listen. I'll just have to remember to pack them along!

    Hilary, the ones we did last year were also chronological, but I think having some biographical information will be nice for the kids. I'm interested to see how much they pick up next year as last year wasn't exceptionally productive. At least, it didn't seem so to me.

    Becca, First Son has never shown any real interest in classical music, not even William Tell's Overture. Crazy kid. In fact, he didn't see to care for any of the "non-kid" music we tried last year, but at the very least he's getting used to listening to different things because I say I want to. ;-) Except Peter and the Wolf; that he loved.

  6. Thanks so much for this order. I've been using your blog to plan for next year (First grade).

  7. You're welcome, Katrina! We've been going through the composers for the second time using this same order.


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