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Composer Study -- Charlotte Mason Style

Updated on July 14, 2015

Appreciating and Understanding Classical Music

A rich and full homeschool education is sure to include some study of classical music and the famous composers who write its music. The Charlotte Mason style of studying composers is an easy and inexpensive way to expose your children to the masters of music so that they grow up both appreciating classical music and knowing a bit about it.

Here you can read the basic how-tos for a CM composer study, find possible composers to study, and browse at the best audio, text, and online resources.

intro photo credit hikingartist.com

How to Do Composer Study - Charlotte Mason Style


Lovely Guitar Player
No, not Charlotte Mason.

Composer study is so easy the Charlotte Mason (CM) way! You simply choose a composer (more on how to do that later) and frequently listen to that composer's music for an entire term. You don't have to study the musical history behind the composer's style although you can if you desire. You don't have to study the composer's life either although you may choose to add in a bit of relevant information on you child's level.

Instead, you simply listen to a lot of that composer's music. The objective is to listen to so much of the particular artist's music that you internalize his style and can recognize the music played elsewhere.


Handel

This is not a cram session to memorize pieces and names. This is a slow and steady stream of exposure to a certain type of music. A little bit often is a common refrain among CM practitioners. Listening to two music selections each day while preparing a meal is much more effective than sitting the children down on the couch and forcing them to endure an hour of classical music. Let the music become the background of your home. And its rhythms and moods will seep into your children's heads and hearts. It's learning at its easiest. You simply hit play and let the music do its work.

You do want the children to associate the music they are hearing with the composer's name. So do mention his name frequently, "Let's put on the Tchaikovsky disc!" or "I love this piece by Mozart."

You certainly can have the children sit and listen silently to a new piece of music. And then you can discuss it afterwards. If listening to music is not easy for your child, use some of the Music Listening Questions to give him something to listen for. Having an objective in his listening will help keep him focused.

Where to Start? Which Composers to Study?


Can you identify the composers in this image?
In the center is Bach.

On the left are Beethoven at top and Handel at bottom.

On the right are Mozart at top and Haydn at bottom.

The easy answer to this question is to begin with whatever classical music CD you happen to have. Pull it off the shelf and begin playing it! Play it as often as you can -- aim for daily -- for an entire 9-12 week period. Then choose another composer.

Some popular composers are

Some moms like to choose a composer that lived during the period of history that the family is currently studying. That makes it easier to make historic connections. You can do that or just choose someone you think your children would enjoy.

Ambleside Online has a composer schedule you can follow that includes lists of specific pieces by the composer. I still find it difficult to find exact pieces, and so I prefer to buy a "best of" audio CD.

For more scheduling suggestions, try this year long art and music schedule or this one featuring the Middle Ages.

Composer Study Poll

What is your experience with composer study?

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The Best of CDs

As I said before, I love the convenience of a Best of CD. You know you're getting a good sampling of the composer's work, and it's in an easy to use format. Many people like to listen to music online, but it just doesn't work for us. We prefer to have a CD to put into the DVD player in the living room or homeschool area and fill up the house with music. So it's worth the extra expense to make the composer study doable.

Very Best of Bach
Very Best of Bach

I have this album! The best thing for me is that you can buy these Best of Series from instant download! Super easy for when you want to start a new composer study tomorrow.

A Best of CD is a good starting point for those of us who don't know a lot about music ourselves and don't know which pieces to select.

 

Questions for Listening to Music

If you need some guided listening, try these questions before you listen to give your children something specific to pay attention to.

Questions for Listening to Music

Or these questions can be used as discussion starters after you've listened to a piece of music.

Optional Extras to Add to Composer Study

These are all optional activities to enhance your composer study. Pick and choose and remember that these are not the focus. The focus is listening to the music.

Source

Opal Wheeler Biographies

I love the Opal Wheeler composer biographies. They are well written, living books with very sweet black line illustrations. The stories of famous musicians' childhood really come to life in these narrative accounts. Nothing boring about these tales. There are also companion CDs that have the music mentioned in the books plus files of the illustrations that you can use as coloring pages. You can read my full review of these living books at The Curriculum Choice.

You don't have to add biographical studies of the composers, but these books are really delightful and easy for children to understand.

Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia
Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia

OR Check CBD for a better price for Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia.

 

More Moms Talk About Composer Study

Read these same ideas in other words at these homeschool moms' blogs.

Resources for Your Composer Study

The Beautiful Feet History of Classical Music curriculum is a wonderful set of books to use as a base for your composer study. You can read my complete review at The Curriculum Choice.

I got a used set for about half the cost. The audio CDs and picture books are really quality resources that will help build your family library.

If you are wanting to get some music resources, I recommend you visit BF Books and look at their materials. I don't use the unit study guide, just the books, audio discs, timeline, and playing cards, pulling the relevant resources for whatever composer we are studying.

Another CM curriculum retailer, Living Books Curriculum, has some excellent composer books. Visit their Composer Study page for some recommendations.

If you want your composer study laid out in a more detailed way, A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers by Bright Ideas Press is a great option. This one year curriculum (32 weekly lessons) is designed for grades 4-8. It takes you through 26 different composers through biographies, timelines, maps, note-taking pages, quizzes, and coloring pages. Everything you need, except the music, is included in this eBook curriculum. You can read a review of A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers at The Curriculum Choice.I participated in a beta trial of this curriculum when it was being developed. I was very impressed with the scope of the material.

Another comprehensive resource is the Composer Activity Pak from Homeschool in the Woods. This lapbook project covers forty-two different composers.

Here are some items from Amazon that I own, have used, and recommend.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Beethoven Lives Upstairs

Audio CD Series

I have all of these Classical Kids series audio CDs. They are wonderful alternatives to TV! Listen as you do other things and create an atmosphere of learning in your home. The stories are fictional but based on fact.

 
The Story of Haydn in Words and Music
The Story of Haydn in Words and Music

Audio CD Series

These story CDs mix narrative with music. The style of these is more straightforward and not as silly or exciting as the Classic Kids series. So these are more appropriate for intermediate and higher students. There is a lot of biographical information in these CDs. We generally use these towards the end of our composer study as a final overview of the composer's life and work.

 
The Heroic Symphony
The Heroic Symphony

Picture Books

All of the picture books by Anna Harwell Celenza are wonderful! No dry history here. These are living books with illustrations the enhance understanding of the storyline.

 
Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers
Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers

Book -- Collection of Short Biographies

Each chapter is a biography of a famous musician. The author's faith in God is highlighted. There are facts in this book you may not read in other accounts, so it's a great way to balance out more secular resources. This book is written at a high school level, so you'll need to read it out loud and possibly do some explaining for younger children. A very worthy book for your home library.

 

Composer Study Guestbook

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    • ctavias0ffering1 profile image

      ctavias0ffering1 7 years ago

      An excellent lens. Classical music and the composers are well worth studying and listening to in depth, when you start to realise the layers of audio texture etc that the composer has put together you really begin to appreciate not only classical but all music in a deeper sense. 5* and a sprinkling of Angel Dust

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 7 years ago

      Well laid out, visually appealing and interesting!

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 7 years ago

      Excellent resource lens! Welcome to The Homeschooling Group - you're a featured lens!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 7 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :) (again)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hey Jimmie,

      Thanks for this! I just linked to you in my blog for favorite composer study links :)

      I really like the listening guide questions...

      Amy

      Tarapoto, Peru

      http://fisheracademy.blogspot.com

    • walclan profile image

      walclan 7 years ago

      I love this lens, very nice visually as well as interesting. 5 stars!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      This is a wonderful squidoo. Thanks so much for putting it together!

    • Tagsforkids profile image

      Tagsforkids 6 years ago

      Interesting. Although a musician and music major in college, I've never heard of this method. I did however have the pleasure to work for one of the largest classical music publishers after college. I'm all for kids being exposed to classical at an early age!

    • bbsoulful2 profile image

      bbsoulful2 5 years ago

      I NEED this article! Thank you! I have not woven music in as well as I'd like to, and your lens is very helpful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you for putting this resource together !!

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      It's good to study basic music theory and music history so you understand about why the music composed and why it is the way it is.

    • profile image

      enrich-self-study 4 years ago

      This is such a cool music-study approach. I think I'll use it for myself even if there are no other takers in the house :)

    • JeffGilbert profile image

      JeffGilbert 4 years ago

      Nice approach to teaching classical music. Great lens... :)

    • thewarriorpoet profile image

      thewarriorpoet 3 years ago

      I wish I had been taught this in school.

    • profile image

      JayMaurice 3 years ago

      If budget isn't an issue, Private Music Lessons can take all the pressure off of deciding on what to teach. The ideas here though are really easy to follow and well thought out.

    • profile image

      20 months ago

      Just thought you should know, in the composer cards, there is an "old maid" card instead of Duke Ellington.

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