Friday, August 13, 2010

Music in Classical Education

Music is one of those subjects that is, rather unfortunately, overlooked by most people.  It formed a large part of life in previous centuries, and was given a very honourable place by the ancients- and more.  In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself placed a great deal of import on the learning of music, forcing his children to practise for hours each day.

So how can we incorporate music into our modern homeschools?
We should have very little difficulty, after all, we are blessed with the most amazing capabilities to reproduce and listen to music any time we feel like it.  In fact, as I type this, my computer is also playing a selection of music. 
So find below an adequate outline of study, designed along the lines of a classical education!
(I shouldn't hesitate to say that yes, music was part of the quadrivium of studies, BUT I suspect that in that case it was very much the compositional and performance arts that were practised, the foundational blocks having been laid long before).

Music Theory:
All music study should begin with the basics of music theory.  a quick trip to the local music stores will supply you with a multitude of books you can follow along with if you absolutely must :)
Children should be familiar with written music and the application of it to an instrument.  There is no reason it has to be a complicated instrument like a guitar, violin or piano (although any child who expressed the desire to learn should not be held back from this either)- a simple recorder is more than sufficient.  In fact, the recorder can be a very pleasing instrument to learn, since it is quickly mastered. has a wonderful selection of music theory lessons.  In fact, I thought it very well done and highly recommend it.  If you are not American, then there is a good possibility that your own nomenclature may differ- I know I learned all the English note names when I learned to read music, and my mind does not readily translate to the American terms.  That being said, I really think there is no real issue with learning the names of a different country unless you are planning to follow through with some kind of examination process (such as the grade music system in England).  I have been told by other sources, that getting the music 'grades' in England is not absolutely necessary if you follow the performance circuit instead, but that involves having a super teacher who knows how!  (My sister is currently doing this so I can probably get more information should you need it- just email me ;))
8notes also has a selection of composer biographies and some sheet music.
As a memory aid, you can use the flashcards at Linkware Graphics to learn the note names and some other common musical notations.

Music theory of course, would not be complete without learning a little about each of the eras of music.  There is a nice, and somewhat simple, timeline you can view here at Dr. Estrella's Abridged Dictionary of Composers.  It is by no means a comprehensive one, but it has a great outline of the dates in question.

It seems to me that memorizing the eras might in fact be a good idea.  not to mention some of the terms used in studying music.  To that end I made up some flashcards to help with that :)  You fold them on the centre line and either glue together or laminate (or both).  All the information was found online.
You can drill these as a standard part of your memory work cycle.

Work your way chronologically through the musical eras reading up on the big name composers as you come to them.   There are a number of wonderful children's  books about the biggest names out there, or you could use the aforementioned 8notes site.

Ideally, you would trawl through the centuries, listening to the composers as you come to them, using the composer's work to illustrate the music definitions you are learning.
Here is a site with a nice overview of music history.  If I eventually find a great book to help your travel through the centuries (think as a spine) I'll keep you posted.

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