Zeezok Publishing LLC sells an amazing music appreciation program called: Music Appreciation Book 1: for the Elementary Grades. This program is written primarily for elementary-aged students, but we found that the quality is so good that it is quite beneficial even up to high school age students.
The program includes 7 biographies of musicians: Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Schubert, and Hayden. (We started our study with Paganini.) The biographies are older books, written in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher. I remember reading some of these books when I was a child! They are wonderfully written, interesting stories, based entirely on the lives of these great classical musicians. Even my 15 year old proclaimed that, “These books are addicting!” The books are heavily illustrated with black and white drawings and each includes several easy pieces of music that children who play the piano could actually play as they learn about each musician!
The student activity book is a hefty, 354 page guide that turns the wonderful children’s classics into a curriculum. It includes 4 weeks of activities for each musician, including reading comprehension activities, maps, additional information about each composer, character studies, lessons that teach about the instruments, reading music, elements of music, and musical eras, and even a few period recipes and complementary science experiments. A cd with lapbook printables provides even more hands-on activities for these topics.
Finally, a disc set of cd’s features music for all of the composers (including the pieces that are printed in the biographies) and additional music that corresponds to various music appreciation activities in the student activity guide. We really enjoyed listening to this quality music during the day.
How We Used Music Appreciation: Book 1 for the Elementary Grades:
Emily is in high school, so she’s well outside the target age group (K-6) for this program. I knew that she would still gain a lot from it, though. She did most of the work independently, taking 2 weeks to cover each musician instead of the expected 4 weeks. I allowed her to skip a few activities that were particularly easy, but she completed and benefited from most of the assignments. I thought about having her do additional research on the musicians, but decided that after she had read a biography plus additional information in the workbook for each musician, that I didn’t need to require more.
We began with Paganini, the only musician in the set with whom I wasn’t familiar. In this study, Emily learned about the diligence required to become excellent at anything, even if you begin with great talent. She learned about Italy, and even made spaghetti soup for dinner one night—one of the dishes mentioned in the biography. She learned some Italian words, listened to a variety of music of her choice and made a chart labeling the style of music, sound quality, and song’s message. She learned some musical terminology, read about Napoleon, and compared music from different cultures.
Next, we skipped back to the beginning of the course (because Emily wanted to proceed in order instead of studying the musicians in random order) and began our study of Bach. She enjoyed learning about Bach’s large family and his faith, the geography of Germany, and older keyboard instruments, such as the clavichord, harpsichord, spinet, and virginal. She was introduced to the Baroque period, learned about different types of songs, such as fugue, minuet, gavotte, cantata, and bourree, reviewed musical note names, and learned that a recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 was sent into space aboard the Voyager in 1977.
When Emily studied Handel, she learned about melody and harmony, dynamics, rhythm, and tempo and did exercises to learn the musical terms and symbols to describe these. Much of this was a review of what she has learned in her piano studies. She learned what timbre is and described the timbre of various instruments. She learned a little about the city of Venice and listened to pairs of songs and contrasted the musical styles ( march vs. lullaby, classical vs. folk, etc.) She completed a timeline of historical events that occurred during Handel’s lifetime and learned more about his composition of his Messiah. She says that Handel has been her favorite musician so far. (And I am very much enjoying listening to his music!)
I was disappointed that there were only two recordings on the cd’s for Paganini. We really enjoyed his music and would have liked to hear more. There were many more pieces for the other musicians, though—as many as 35 for some musicians! We have enjoyed listening to the recordings and immersing ourselves in each artist as we study him. Each of the pieces printed in the composer biographies is included on the cd. The cd’s also include other pieces for listening and music appreciation in addition to the focus musicians. We compared styles of music, listened to music from different cultures, and Emily even drew pictures and designs to visually represent some pieces.
Emily has a little bit of piano playing experience, but plays at a very basic level. I am picking out some of the easiest songs from each book for her to learn as she studies the composer. That is probably the most difficult part of the study for her, but she is sticking with the challenge to master these new pieces. I think that learning about the composer, listening to his works and then learning to play one or two makes a rich program. I’m so glad I didn’t have to hunt for easy piano music to supplement the curriculum!
Music Appreciation: Book 1 for the Elementary Grades is a very impressive and comprehensive programs. I’ve seen other music appreciation programs that don’t begin to cover this scope of information and that don’t include recordings. The biographies are wonderful all by themselves, but the full curriculum really adds to them. The depth of the program is enough that I feel good about giving high school credit for it. We plan to use this program toward a music appreciation 1/2 credit course for Emily. At the same time, it is easy to use and simple and colorful enough to engage even children of younger elementary ages.