This week’s topic is music. Not music lessons, because obviously I’m not qualified to do that, but general knowledge of musical instruments/composers/history and music appreciation. This is one thing I try to make sure we spend time, because it’s something that I didn’t have a lot of exposure to as a child.
This year, we’re using two books that I really like: Those Amazing Musical Instruments! and the Dover Musical Instruments coloring book. Those Amazing Musical Instruments! is a really cool book that goes in-depth for every instrument found in the orchestra (and some that aren’t!). The instruments are arranged by section, starting with strings, and, of course, the first one featured is the violin. There’s information such as how many of each instrument is found in an orchestra, other places you might hear the instruments, (such as a chamber group), the history of the instrument, and its pitch range. There is also an included CD, with several samples featuring each instrument, as well as what their ranges sound like. The photos in this book are excellent, and provide great close-ups of instruments that children might otherwise not get to see.
The Musical Instruments coloring book is a nice accompaniment, (if you’ll pardon the pun), to Those Amazing Musical Instruments! I like that the children have the opportunity to color the instrument they are learning about, and it’s nice to give them something to do with their hands while they’re listening to the music samples. Each picture also has a caption, which reinforces what they’ve learned about the instrument, whether something about its use, construction, or history.
In the past, I’ve used two other books that I also really like. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin gives children a very basic introduction to the instruments found in an orchestra, and also reinforces counting skills. This is an especially good book to read with small children. The illustrations are excellent, and even just using words, children are able to get an idea of what the different instruments sound like.
The Story of the Orchestra is somewhat similar to Those Amazing Musical Instruments!, in that they both come with a CD, and they both cover the different orchestral instruments. The Story of the Orchestra, however, also goes into detail about specific composers, so many of the samples on the CD are grouped not by instrument, but by time period and composer. Because they are grouped by time period, it also gives a good general overview of music history, as well.
Of course, you can’t learn about music without listening to it, and I have some favorites in that area, as well. My very favorite CDs are the Classical Kids Collection, volumes one and two, (plus A Classical Kids Christmas, when seasonally appropriate). These CDs are, for the most part, arranged by composer, and in addition to giving samples of some of their more well-known works, they also tell a story about the composer and the world in which he lived. I enjoy listening to these as much as the children do, and I can’t believe how much they’ve learned from them!
There’s also Bernstein Favorites: Children’s Classics, which has both “Peter and the Wolf” and “The Carnival of the Animals,” as well as “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” This is another CD which has taught the children a lot. “Peter and the Wolf” is one of the few things I really remember listening to as a child, and it is very useful in identifying musical instruments by what they sound like. I dare anyone to listen to “Peter and the Wolf” without humming it for the rest of the day!
In addition to these, I’d also recommend simply playing CDs of symphonies by some of the greats. For example, we listen to a lot of Tchaikovsky here. We have a CD of the Nutcracker and Symphony No. 4 that is very popular. We also enjoy the 1812 overture (complete version, please), and Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6. Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” is also popular, as is anything by Bach, Mozart, or Vivaldi. I also like to include some more “modern” composers in our listening, (although not necessarily officially in our lessons), such as Sousa, Gershwin and John Williams.
Other resources I’ve heard good things about, but haven’t had the chance to use yet include: Beethoven’s Wig; The World’s Very Best Opera for Kids…in English!; Tubby the Tuba; The Farewell Symphony; and The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. The most important thing, though, is making good music available for children to listen to, from a very young age, and talking to them about what they hear and think about when they’re listening to it!