Classical Music for Children – An Introduction

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Classical music is a genre that is sometimes deemed inaccesible. It has an outdated reputation for being ‘stuffy’ and ‘boring’ and ‘old-fashioned’. This couldn’t be further from the truth! It is a genre that is rich with beautiful music, expressing every imaginable emotion, and telling so many brilliant stories throughout history. Playing classical music to young children has been proven to help with their cognitive development, to develop their imaginations, and also to produce a calming effect. 

Many classical composers have written music specifically for children. These pieces tell exciting tales, describe wondrous creatures, and furthermore conjure up images of fairytale lands. Here are a few of the best introductions to classical music for young children, with ideas for how to enjoy them most:

Peter and the Wolf – Prokofiev

This suite tell the story of Peter (represented by string instruments) , his Grandfather (bassoon), a bird (flute), a duck (oboe), a cat (clarinet), a wolf (french horn), and finally some hunters (woodwind, trumpet and drums). There is a narrator throughout the piece, telling the tale of how Peter catches the bad wolf! It is a brilliant piece for teaching children about the sounds of different instruments, and for learning about the idea of themes through music – recurring musical ideas that develop as the piece progresses.

  • Firstly, as you listen to the music, ask your child to move around as each animal would. Dance around the room, pretending to be each character in turn, and see if they can change roles as the music moves on. You could even make masks or puppets to make this more convincing!
  • Talk about how each instrument makes them feel, and why they think Prokofiev made the choices he did for each character
  • Finally, follow this ‘listening map’ as you listen to the piece – see if you and your child can follow the story!

Classical Music Listening Map for 'Peter and the Wolf' I

Classical Music Listening Map for Peter and the Wolf II

Carnival of the Animals – Saint-Saens


This is a suite written for 2 pianos, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute, piccolo, clarinet, glass harmonica, and xylophone. There are 14 movements, with each one representing a different animal or animals:

I – Introduction and Royal March of the Lion

II – Hens and Roosters

III – Wild Asses: Swift Animals

IV – Tortoises

V – The Elephant

VI – Kangaroos

VII – Aquarium

VIII – Characters with Long Ears

IX – The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods

X – Aviary

XI – Pianists

XII – Fossils

XIII – The Swan

XIV – The Finale

This is brilliantly descriptive music! It will make you all giggle as you imagine each animal rollicking away to the music, and is a great example of how music can be used to represent tangible things.

  • Don’t reveal the name of each movement as you listen – can your child guess which animal is being depicted? Are there other animals that it could be?
  • Draw each of the animals as you listen to the music. Ask your child to use the colours they can hear in the music.
  • Use instruments or noisy objects around the house to represent different animals. Be as creative as you can – play along to Carnival of the Animals, and compose some additional movements.

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra – Britten

This piece provides another in depth look at the instruments of the orchestra! The entire orchestra plays the theme, followed by each family of instruments in turn. Individual instruments when play variations, working from highest to lowest within each family. It features a narrator in its original form, as it was originally commissioned for a documentary, although it is often recorded without. It is brilliant for identifying different instruments, and learning about the different pitches and ranges of each one. Children will quickly recognise the repetitive theme and variations, and will consequently be interested to hear the different ways it can be played.

  • Listen to the piece and pause it each time the theme, or a variation on the theme, is played by a different instrument(s). Ask your child to describe the different sounds they can hear. What makes each instrument unique?
  • Ask your child to draw what they think each instrument looks like. Get them to think about how high/low, loud/quiet, smooth/detached the notes are, and draw an instrument that would have these qualities. Compare them to real pictures you have found online.
  • Ask your child to sing the theme, varying their voice in as many different ways as possible!

Children will love these, and many other pieces of classical music. The more they hear, the more they will enjoy, and the more they will want to explore it. Keep it fun, and keep it relevant to their lives and interests!

Originally posted 2016-12-22 21:56:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

4 Replies to “Classical Music for Children – An Introduction”

    1. Thank you! Listening to classical music in the car is a lovely way for kids to get familiar with it – it’s so effortless x

  1. I remember listening to Peter and the Wolf at school and being amazed by the stories it could inspire. But I mainly grew up with The 1812 Overture blasted out every Sunday morning!

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