Discovering the Orchestra—Online Activities with Kids

Discovering the Orchestra—Online Activities with Kids

Every once in a while Bella and I (and sometimes Sophie too) watch You Tube videos of music as part of an ongoing, very informal music appreciation study. This includes folk, choral and orchestral pieces. Really anything I can find that shows good closeups of the musicians singing and playing. One thing I try to do as we watch is to point out the various instruments. So Bella can identify some of the most common instruments: guitar, fiddle, piano, cello, violin… Both by look and sometimes even by sound. (You can visit my You Tube Playlists and my Favorites page to see some of what we listen to.)

This morning we were listening to Beethoven, courtesy of Pentimento. The girls were mesmerized by the first video clip as I pointed out the various instruments. But the second one totally lost their attention as there wasn’t anything to look at.

But as I watched and pointed I realized again that my knowledge of the instruments only goes so far. I’m especially weak at the woodwinds. Is that a clarinet or an oboe? So once they’d wandered off I decided to go find some pictures of the various instruments both so I could learn them myself and so that Bella could have a guide.

I found some great sites for kids at various symphonies across the country. I’m not at all musically inclined; but I’d like my girls to enjoy good music. I realized that one could put together a pretty good music appreciation course for much more advanced students than mine from what’s available on the internet. Here are some of the best pages that we explored today:

Our favorite so far is the San Francisco Symphony’s kids pages. Especially the virtual tour of the instruments of the orchestra where you can look at the individual instruments (they are grouped by kind, all the strings together, the woodwinds, the percussion…) The interface is quite nice. You first choose a family and then can browse the instruments in that family. For each instrument there is a little clip you can listen to. You can rotate the image of the instrument and look at it from all sides and then zoom in for a close-up look. There is a brief description of each instrument: what it’s made of, what it sounds like, how it is played, how many of them are usually in the orchestra.

It was so fun to see Bella’s eyes as we listened to a violin then a viola then a cello then a double bass then a harp. She could hear the difference and see the differences. She said: “I like it better when I can hear each instrument separately.” This site was a huge hit with both girls.

There were other “music lab” pages that explored things like tempo, rhythm, pitch, harmony… we’re definitely not there yet but I’ll keep it on file for when she’s older.

The DSO site also has a page where you can listen to each instrument. Though the interface isn’t quite as nice as the SFO page, it has a more complete list of instruments that you can listen to. (On the SFO page you can only listen to and examine the major instruments in each family, the others are listed but there are no sound files or interactive images.) The best thing about the DSO page is that almost all of the instruments have two or three tracks. One is a short sample of what it sounds like solo, another is the instrument playing an orchestral setting, the third is a clip of it playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Can you guess which one was the huge hit with my Sophie? Hint: one of her favorite songs is “Twinkle Twinkle.”

At the DSO site you could also listen by composer. A nice way to compare and contrast different styles. Again, a bit old for my girls though they enjoyed hearing one or two of the clips. There was also a whole set of pages on music theory: various scales, the musical staff, how hearing works, . Definitely more advanced stuff. There were some pages of instructions on how to build your own instruments and a games page that we didn’t look at.

The DSO also has a nice set of seating charts for the orchestra of various periods. Want to know the difference between a Baroque, a Romantic, a Classical, and a Modern orchestra? This is the place to go.

The New York Philharmonic has what looks like a great kids page where you explore the instrument storage rooms; but my browser keeps giving me a message about not finding the needed plug-ins to run the all the available media. (Whatever that means.) You can also meet the various soloists and conductors. Pretty cool little virtual tour.

I’d love to take the girls to the symphony sometime. I note that the Boston Symphony Orchestra has family concerts at 11 am. Adults tickets are only $20. Kids are free. There’s one in April… would I be crazy to think of taking the girls with the new baby in tow and maybe just leaving Ben with a babysitter? 

Anyone have any other good online resources that you like to use for music appreciation?

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  • You guys are too cute for words.  I love all the pictures.  Darwin and I don’t have all that many photographs together because he’s usually the one behind the camera.

  • Thanks, Mrs D. It was fun going through the photos to find some to post.

    And here I was thinking we hardly have any photos of us together. The ones in this post are the sum total of photos of both of us from the honeymoon. Most of what we have are pictures of me by myself because likewise Dom was behind the camera most of the time.

  • By the way, any Anne of Green Gables fans, the fourth picture down, the one on the bridge in the woods…. that’s the Lover’s Lane, the one in the books. We took a stroll there after we toured Green Gables.