Music Appreciation, Homeschool Style

Sophie watches Nutcracker

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 [1998]
) 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?

10 Responses to Music Appreciation, Homeschool Style

  1. Maureen March 8, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    We went to a Making Music group in Braintree last year and it really wasn’t for us. Also, I would love to know what you are playing for Lent. I am coming up short …

  2. Katherine March 8, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    I basically make up my own music curriculum, but I don’t know if that is “unschooling” or not. Last year we went through the Introduction to the Classics CDs of Composers. Cecilia loved them and wanted more on composers. This year we are using Venezia’s books as well as CDs like Beethoven Lives Upstairs. We’ve covered Bach, Beethoven(Cecilia’s favorite), Vivaldi, Haydn, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Mozart (her second favorite). I’m still planning to cover Handel, Gershwin and Bernstein. Around the house I play all sorts of music from religious to country to rock to folk, etc., but that is as much for my sanity as their benefit. I would like some silence myself, but since I rarely get it, listening to music can help the atmosphere. I have one book on the Orchestra I am planning on looking at with them later in the year, but I’m eager to look at the websites you recommend, which sound like they would go together well. Last year the two oldest took some piano lessons from daddy but last fall that fell by the wayside when he had to commute 2 hours 5 days a week. I’m hoping they will get back to it soon. The commute just drains him.

    • Melanie Bettinelli March 8, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

      Oh yeah I totally forgot we have done Vivaldi, two different picture books about him. And listened to The Four Seasons and some other selections.

      Maybe we should do Tchaikovsky next, since they really liked watching The Nutcracker recently.

  3. scotch meg March 10, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    There’s a children’s book about Tchaikovsky in America…

    As far as live performances go, I would wait until summer and investigate community bands (often quite good) and the like, giving free performances outside. Bug spray plus picnic dinner equals happy kids. Most of the local performances are quite low key. They often start at 7 and end by 8:30, which does disrupt bedtime but not so that it’s a disaster. Kids and families are welcome.

    Once my kids were a little older, we started going to the Esplanade for the Wednesday evening summer concerts. Also free, with room to run around a little (for those lively little male creatures). We brought friends, flashlights, and cards for older kids.

    Also, there are family concerts at Symphony Hall.

    You can put together a homeschool group to participate in the school concerts, which I think cost $10 per person, but you can’t bring anyone younger than kindergarten. The programs are excellent and the price is reasonable.

    You can bring kids to performances at NEC (often free) or at other programs that have orchestras for high school children. In my area, that means the Rivers School Conservatory, but I’m sure there’s somewhere else on the South Shore.

    Good luck and enjoy the music!

  4. Jenny March 10, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    “I almost never play “kid’s” music.”

    Me neither. I don’t understand adults who play that garbage for their kids and then complain about it. I wonder who exactly controls the machine. If I don’t like it, we aren’t listening to it, my husband’s preferences excepted of course. Lighthouse puts out a Mass CD for children that makes me want to claw someone’s eyes out. I can’t imagine why anyone would listen to it.

    We do have a couple of “kid” CDs that we listen to sometimes. They aren’t great art, thus not appropriate for a music apprec. class but decent poppy music: Jack Johnson’s album for Curious George and Barenaked Ladies “Snack Time.” One of the songs from the Jack Johnson album, “We’re Going to be Friends,” made me cry ugly tears when my oldest first started Kindergarten. 🙂

  5. Stephanie March 11, 2014 at 1:01 am #

    Another thing that can be fun is to have a glockenspiel and/or recorder lying around. Then when someone likes a tune they can plunk it out by ear- trial and error style. Eg the beginning of the Surprise Symphony by Haydn. Very easy and very fun. If the children are into interested they can grab pot lids etc to clash together at the ‘surprise’.

  6. Jennifer Gregory Miller March 22, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    I have not had as much computer time to comment, but I have been thinking about this post. Your summary of music is very much what we do.

    We rarely play “kid’s music” either. That series was a big turn-off to me. If children are taught properly to sing, then I’ll play it, like http://utmcs.org/ Madeleine Choir — gorgeous. Or simpler, http://suscipesanctepater.blogspot.com/2013/07/little-texan-kids-on-chant.html One of my purposes for playing this music is to learn the correct way to sing, not to pick up bad habits from their “peers”. Singing is different from talking. There is another series “Gregorian Chant for Kids” that is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

    But I wasn’t bothered only by the singing…I really don’t like watered down programs. They might be fun, but it’s not my approach. I prefer things like the Leonard Bernstein series for children.

    We are blessed to have a piano and have lessons for my oldest, and next year both will have it. I minored in music and play the piano and organ, so it’s a big part of our life. I “strew” piano music. My son eats it up. He also loves to take out the hymnals and play music according to the liturgical feasts or seasons.

    • Melanie Bettinelli March 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m going to check out those links.

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