Music Appreciation

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    Next year I’ll be teaching a semester long Music Appreciation Class for high school students. I would love to see what some of you do if you teach a similar class (curriculum resources, topics, plans, activities, etc…).


    I will also be teaching such a class. I’m adapting from a college course that I taught. I use the “Classical Music for Dummies” as a textbook. Although not technically a textbook, “Dummies” has worked better than any other book I have tried. Some of the narrative is outdated – for example, it makes many references to “current” Pop culture (from the late 1990s when the book was published) but beyond that, I think it’s a great book. It does not have all the bells and whistles (such as online components) of some of the newer books, but IMO, those books do not always work well for younger folks or for people who do not have a strong interest in the subject matter.


    Sorry for the delay in responding to your request. I’ve just retired and had not been checking/responing to the forums this past summer.

    Some ideas from a semester HS Music Appreciation classes I taught last year. I was notified that I would be teaching the class several weeks before school started. This was a new class, nothing like this had been taught in the 32 years I had been teaching in the district. I had no budget for these classes, but had the materials from the music department, my personal library, and the use of a computer/internet/sound system in class, and use of a computer lab one day a week during class.

    My approach was that this was probably the last chance these students, and I, would have to interact with each other about music. Most were not in performing groups and of course had varying tastes, and expectations about what I was going to present to them. I tried to make it as open to discussion, opinion (in an appropriate manner), and as varied as possible.

    Listening – I started each class with a listening example. I started the project by playing music from my own library, describing each artist their style, roots, influences, other works, who they influenced, etc. As time went on I had the class take over this duty with 1-2 students presenting a listening example each day. They also had to present to the class the same background info. They were required “keep it clean”, and their grade would suffer if the music was not appropriate. (Only had 1-2 students out of 3 classes, and 4-5 rounds of listening examples play something out of bounds.) Most used YouTube to play the music, and found “clean” versions of the songs, and since we were not watching the videos, visuals did not matter. ( I did not have a white board in the music room.) To vary the listening as the semester went on, I had them try to play something that the their classmates had never heard; and the last two weeks of the semester I had them play the worst song they had ever heard.

    Current events – bring articles into class about music, artists, publishing, copyrights, music business, etc. Discuss controversies in music, current events, legal issues, etc

    Units – we did Opera, Musicals, Jazz, and Rock/Pop music. Could also do any other style of music depending on your area, your interests, students interests, resources, and your comfort level.

    I know Opera and other styles can be a tough sell, but I approached them trying to explain why it is so different to our culture (do you sing everything you say?; how many of you speak Italian?), how a story is told through music, on stage, using scenery, costumes, etc. Be creative, be a little off the wall, (Warner Brothers – “What’s Opera Doc?”), if it works OK, if not try something different tomorrow, and keep the things that work for the next semester. Use the listening examples to set up what you want to talk about that day.

    Also did a short unit on hearing – This is one of my personal “crusades”, and I talked to students about hearing, hearing protection, and hearing loss. I had a father who had hearing loss from military service and years of running heavy machinery. Plus a couple of years before I had a very scary short term hearing loss in one ear during summer break. My hearing came back, but to rather suddenly lose 60-70 percent of hearing was very scary. There are many resources on the internet.

    Intruments – Since I was a band director for many years I pulled out instruments and did a review of Brass, Woodwinds, Percussion, played the instruments for them, and invited them to try them also. We do not have a string program, so we talked about the strings, but I did have some students bring in guitars to show the class and play them for their classes.

    Projects: (usually done via PowerPoint, using pictures, YouTube examples, etc) Students individually, or small groups, presented these to the class.
    “Six degrees of separation” – pick an artist and follow their influences back five generations. Find information on each artist, listening example, pictures, and present to class. They could also turn this around and pick a song and find 5 other artists who have covered that song in different styles/genres. ( EX: “Careless Whisper” – original George Michael vs Seether version)

    “Careers in Music” – as the name implies; one of the least successful projects. Would try to rework this one if teaching this year, incorporate “guest lecturers” if possible.

    Some things I would have like to have tried:

    “Guest lecturers” – if you have a community with more resources, bring people in to talk to the class. I had a band parent who is a radio station manager and on-air personality. We had talked about having him in to talk to the class about radio, copy-rights, etc. but I just didn’t get it set up. Ask people if they will come in, the worst they can say is no. Check with administration on district requirements for bringing people into the classroom.

    Computers in music/Technology – if you have the software, computers, familiarity, etc. do a electronic music unit. Have students do their own music mixes? Talk about how music is created, mixed, fixed today, digital vs analog; history of recordings

    Good luck

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