A friend asked me what we do for a music curriculum and I answered in my typical, long-winded style. I thought I’d share it here, with lots more links, because if one person is curious, there’s probably at least one more person out there who would appreciate it. And after going through the work of typing all this out, I might as well get a blog post out of it, right?
Now that I think about it, maybe I should have called this “unschool style” because it’s pretty unschoolish.
Anyway, here are the things we do in our family to cultivate an appreciation of music. I include some of this in my formal write up of our education plan for the state, but all of it is stuff we’d probably do if we weren’t homeschooling. School, life, it’s all learning and enjoying.
The Obvious: Play Music. Often. A Good Variety.
First, which is obvious, but I like stating the obvious with homeschooling curriculum questions, just play a wide variety of good music all the time and enjoy it. Play classical, play jazz, play folk music of all sorts. That takes care of a whole lot of it because you are cultivating your children’s tastes just by what you choose to play. I like to think my children’s tastes are expansive, catholic even. It’s not that I play music all the time. In fact, I love silence. (Not that I get it very often with five kids.) But we listen to music at home and in the car from a cd or off the iPod instead of on the radio. Well, when Dom drives we sometimes listen to the radio. I play music while I’m cooking or at lunch or just because.
iTunes is my friend. I set up playlists of composers, of seasonal liturgical music (I’ve got my Lent music queued up now), of songs the kids like dance to, of Irish or Cajun, or kid-friendly Pogues songs. I have a really eclectic music library and sometimes I just let it shuffle. I love it when Louis Armstrong is followed by chant and then something Cajun and then something by U2. Kids like what they are used to. Let them get used to a variety of good stuff not just a handful of favorites.
I almost never play “kid’s” music.
This means they don’t have their tastes formed to the sappy saccharine dreck. If I don’t like listening to it, we don’t listen to it. Ever. (Well, unless it’s a song Dom likes. Then my hands are tied.)
There’s a curriculum that’s popular among Catholic homeschoolers, Making Music, Praying Twice that I know many people rave about, but seemed kind of pricy to me when I looked at it. And looking at it, I realized that it pretty much just does what I do except that it includes some of the annoying cutesy kid stuff along with the chant and classical and world music. So I kind of stopped looking for a formal curriculum. I figure I can do pretty well on my own and no need to spend the money. I’m not trying to bash people who buy the curriculum, I’m sure it’s great. Just not something I feel I need to get for my family. I know many people don’t have such eclectic tastes and don’t have the time to put their own programs together and want something more structured.
One exception to my no kids music is listening to songs in French for children. Because it’s French, I don’t mind so much.
You Tube is my friend.
I like to find videos that show people actually playing musical instruments so the kids can connect the sounds they hear with the instruments that make the sounds. I don’t do this on any kind of schedule. Just every once in a while when something comes my way that I think they will like, I’ll play it and I’m not afraid to surf You Tube to find related content. Naturally I have my You Tube preferences set to ultra safe mode so we don’t stumble across things unseemly. I do not let them surf You Tube by themselves, though I might set up a playlist and let them watch that. You Tube playlists are awesome. We’ve watched classical music like Yo Yo Ma, Bach’s Magnificat, monks chanting, choirs singing, Irish folk groups, historical recreators doing Old English poems to handmade lyres, the entire Nutcracker ballet, all kinds of stuff this way. I try to watch actively, pointing out the various instruments, asking if they can hear them playing. If I don’t know the name of something, I’ll look it up.
See also: Music Appreciation with You Tube
Bach with the Girls
Sophia and Isabella listen to Bach’s Magnificat
What We’re Listening to Today: Jennie Jenkins
Sick Day: You Tube to the Rescue
This link roundup contains two links to You Tube finds, “Hear The Oldest Surviving Song” and “The Twa Corbies.”
Listening to Chant
Discovering the Orchestra Online
A while back I found a couple of symphonies that had great children’s pages with interactive guides to the instruments. Here’s the blog post where I wrote about it: Discovering the Orchestra with Kids. Actually, it’s been long enough the little kids don’t remember those lessons so we could use a little refresher too. But Bella knows most of the instruments in the orchestra thanks to those pages. There are also some good iPad apps along those lines, if you have an iPad. But it’s not necessary because there’s so much good free stuff online.
Getting to Know the World’s Great Composers
Occasionally I decide to pick a composer and go a little deeper. We check out some picture book biographies–we especially like the Mike Venezia series (Johann Sebastian Bach (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers) by Mike Venezia 
) but we’ve found others too like Hallelujah Handel— then I find some recordings of their music and read and listen and read and listen and read and listen –since kids naturally like repetition, it’s not hard to get them to listen to stuff over and over. And we talk about what we’re hearing. I’ll try to find the links to some of the books we’ve used. We’ve done Bach, Beethoven, and Handel.
Ah here’s something about our Beethoven adventure: Beethoven Lives Upstairs
If we had opportunity I’d take them to see live performances because really nothing can beat that, but I haven’t quite figured out the logistics to that. If I were to do that, I’d find out in advance what would be playing and listen to a recording over and over to familiarize them with the selections. So right now the only live music they heard is at church at buskers at the farmer’s market. But videos are a pretty good second best.
Don’t Forget the Hymns
I like to sing hymns as I work and play hymns and I try to learn a new hymn every so often and the repetition as i learn it means they learn it too. I sing Sophie a hymn or two every night at bedtime and try to pick hymns that match the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter. Though many nights it’s just Amazing Grace, Immaculate Mary, or Holy God We Praise Thy Name. Our parish doesn’t play many good hymns, so if I want them to know them, I have to sing them myself.
What I don’t do but would like to is the actual playing an instrument part. I don’t play and so it’s lower on my priority list, even though I’d love it if they were to pick something up. It usually costs a bit, though, and that’s tricky. I’m hoping something comes along that will work for us.
Some more links:
1. Book Review: Musical Instruments eBook, a great eBook from the MFA’s Musical Instruments collection. Includes pictures, audio clips, and video clips.
2. Listening to sea shanties with my kiddos. Bella likes. Bella’s Picks
3. Book Review: Go in and out the Window, our favorite song book. I don’t read music and I wasn’t familiar with many o the songs in this book, but here again I found You Tube extremely valuable. When I came to a song I didn’t know, I’d see if I couldn’t find a video. Then we’d watch it over and over until I learned the tune and could sing it myself.
So, fellow homeschoolers, how do you do music appreciation?