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Listening Journal

We recommend tracking what you listen to and your observations about music as you move through the course. Sometimes you might want to ask yourself a question, or simply log the name of a piece or performer you’d like to investigate further. The way you organize a journal can be very personal.

Here are a few prompts that can be used or modified for each lesson.

For your first journal entry, you will introduce a family member or friend to one of the composers covered in this lesson:

  1. Select a piece of music from the time period covered by this lesson (6th through 16th centuries).
  2. Explain how it fit into the rest of the composer’s work.
  3. Explain why that piece of music is important.

The goal is for you to share your new understanding about something you are learning to enjoy!

For your second journal entry, you will introduce a family member or friend to one of the musical forms discussed in this lesson that is new to you, i.e. opera, sonata, chorale, etc.

  1. Provide a clear definition of the musical form you are going to discuss;
  2. Select a piece of music in that form and from the time period covered by this lesson (16th through the early 18th centuries).
  3. Explain how it is a representative example of the musical form you chose.
  4. Explain why that piece of music is important.

Hopefully, you both will learn something and want to listen to more!

This lesson requires a good bit more listening than earlier lessons, so the journal assignment is designed to support your viewing of the performances of Handel’s Messiah. Here are some ways to keep the journal as you listen:

  • Simply make observations as you watch the performance, i.e., “When the entire choir enters at the 7 minute mark, it gives the piece a huge amount of energy”;
  • Periodically make note of instruments you can identify by name;
  • Note the passages where the lyrics (or captions) demonstrate an excellent combination of verbal meaning and musical artistry, i.e., “When the bass sings this part alone, it matches the loneliness of the character in the text”.

Try to explain to a family member or friend the reasons a piece is composed for the organ versus another keyboard instrument. You’ve now viewed several performances on various instruments, and are on your way to getting more familiar with their sounds.

Bach’s work will be particularly helpful for comparison since he was an instrumental composer before a vocal composer.

  • Take an organ piece not discussed at length in the reading (perhaps from the audio playlists), and explain how it demonstrates the strengths, functions, and unique sounds of the organ that would not be capable on another keyboard instrument.
  • It may help to think of things the other way round, and take harpsichord music and consider why it would sound different on an organ, or why it wouldn’t take advantage of the larger instrument with a pedal board and other features.

For your fifth journal entry, you will introduce a family member or friend to the new musical forms discussed in this lesson: sonata form and the classical symphony.

  • Listen to the first movement of one of Haydn’s symphonies and identify the elements of sonata form that you hear, i.e. exposition, development, recapitulation. Don’t forget to note the times of each!
  • Pick one of Haydn’s 17 piano concertos, 4 violin concertos, 6 cello concertos, 5 horn concertos, 1 trumpet concerto, 2 flute concertos, or 1 oboe concerto. In the first movement, identify the exposition, development, and recapitulation.

The music in this lesson should remind you of the developments of form under Haydn, as well as sound recognizably “classical.” What a difference from the Medieval and Renaissance periods!

  • Listen to one of Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets. What similarities to Haydn’s work can you detect?
  • Pick one of his 17 piano sonatas and listen to a version on the fortepiano for which it was composed, as well as on a modern piano. Describe the differences you hear.

The readings in this lesson mention multiple times that ideas, personal expression, and themes characterized Beethoven’s work, especially after his early period of imitating Mozart.

  • Take a piece not discussed at length in the reading (perhaps from the audio playlists), and explain how the opening section or movement displays the characteristics of a theme. At this stage in your learning, try to distinguish the tune (an important part of the piece you can hum) from a theme (a musical building block that gets used at different times, speeds, dynamics, and among different instruments).
  • One of the ways to more easily hear the personal expression present in a lot of Beethoven’s works is to listen to a piano sonata and, immediately after, a harpsichord sonata by Handel or Bach. This is not to say that there is no expressiveness in the work of those earlier composers; but there is a recognizably different quality in how the compositions are written to take advantage of the elements of music—like frequent dynamic changes in Beethoven’s work.


For your eighth journal entry, you will revisit an earlier journal prompt. After several weeks of studying music history, you can apply more understanding to the assignment.

You will introduce a family member or friend to one of the musical forms discussed in this lesson, i.e. concerto, quartet/quintet, symphony, etc.

  1. Provide a clear definition of the musical form you are going to discuss;
  2. Select a piece of music in that form and from one of the composers covered by this lesson.
  3. Explain how it is a representative example of the musical form you chose.
  4. Explain why that piece of music is important.

Hopefully, you both will learn something and want to listen to more!

Research Papers

The following prompts are organized by lesson and provide a way to include short writing exercises (1/2-1 page).

  • Research one of the ecclesiastical (church) locations where a performance of a work from this lesson would take place. How is it different from most churches today? How did church vocal music take advantage of the features of this building?
  • There is a lot of Latin in the music from this lesson. (And there will be more…) Write a short description of why this is the case during the time period of this lesson.
  • Several times in this lesson there is mention of one composer being influenced by another from a different country. While this would be a trivial occurrence in our day, cross-country travel would be far less common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Pick any two composers from the lesson and research how one was influenced by the other. Did he hear a piece performed? Did he visit the other composer? Did someone relay a tune he had heard? Be a bit of a detective…
  • Draw from your knowledge of history and connect a composer or piece of music to the development of Protestantism in Europe.
  • Discover more ways in which Handel’s faith inspired his compositions. Make special note of inspiring quotations like those already in this lesson’s reading.
  • Words like ‘Allemande,’ ‘Courante’, ‘Sarabande’, ‘Menuets,’ and ‘Gavotte’ are some of the words used by Handel (and other composers) to indicate movements or sections of a sonata. You’ve read that they are words related to European dance forms. Research and define as many of these as you can. Have your findings handy when next you listen to a sonata, and look for the music to exemplify the qualities of each particular dance.
  • The video “What is a Cantata” in this lesson’s reading hints at the tremendous amount of work to which Bach devoted himself consistently for the weekly preparation of new cantatas for Sunday worship. Some of the tasks are indicated in the video, but try to discover what Bach’s weekly schedule included. You may need to find a good biography of the composer to reference.
  • Research the recovery of one piece (or a collection of, say, sonatas) of Bach’s work after its neglect in the 18h century. How close were we to losing the chance to ever hear this work?
  • Compare and contrast an early-, middle-, and late-numbered quartet from Haydn’s body of work. What similarities do you find in these compositions? How did he change his composition of the quartets over time?
  • Haydn composed for wealthy patrons in court. Research what a court composer’s life would be like in the 18th century. How might this be ideal for a composer? How might it be difficult?
  • Mozart was a musical prodigy and both performed and composed a number of works at a very young age. It seems remarkable to us, but how was this received at the time? In what ways were his childhood tours similar and different from the tours of young musicians today?
  • Support the following statement by Mozart with reference to at least 3 other composers: “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”
  • The second reading in this lesson, on Beethoven’s Middle & Later Periods, sketches out some of the monumental changes that were taking place in Europe before and during the composer’s life. Research the occupations of Vienna by Napoleon, for instance. How were these connected to the French Revolution of 1789? Make a case for why revolution, independence, liberty, and conflict would be major topical influences on the musical compositions of the time.
  • The readings for this lesson include several quotations from contemporary reviews of Beethoven’s performances and premieres. Find and document as many others as you can find, and write a brief synopsis of the “public” figure of Beethoven. How was this similar or different from the way the composer conducted himself in private?
  • Research some of the poetry that Schubert and Schumann would have read and which would have provided inspiration for some of their compositions. You’ll be working mostly with translations. What themes, images, and lyric situations recur throughout this poetry? What is Romanticism and how does it apply to this poetry?
  • Support the following claim in the reading with concrete examples: “Experts have frequently asserted that if Mendelssohn had not been a great composer, his name would have loomed large simply because he rescued Bach from neglect and obscurity.” Where, when and how did Mendelssohn accomplish this feat?

Projects

The following ideas for each lesson can be developed with your parent/teacher into a project of appropriate scope.

  • Renaissance composers
    • Writing: Discover a contemporary composer in a country not covered in this lesson. How did his music compare? Who or what influenced his compositions? Who were the equivalents to minstrels, troubadours, or minnesingers in his homeland?
    • Art: Create a portrait, bust, or collage of one of the composers studied in this lesson.
  • Renaissance instruments
    • Writing: Explain the invention and operation of any instrument discussed in this lesson. Compare its sound and that of a contemporary instrument from a country not discussed in the lesson.
    • Art: Create a “how-to” poster, infographic, or other presentation of the way to make music on an instrument.
  • Composers
    • Writing: Take one of the composers discussed in this lesson and imagine he was born in a different country. How might his music have been different? Take one of his famous pieces and describe how various parts of it might have changed, and note how the instruments for which he composed might have been different.
    • Art: Create a portrait, bust, or collage of one of the composers studied in this lesson.
  • Instruments
    • Performance: Sit down at a piano or keyboard in “piano” mode. [Perhaps ask your church office if they have one on which you can practice.] Whether you can play a tune or just an assortment of keys, try to get different types of sounds from the instrument (try the foot pedals!). Then, compare the sounds you are making and those made by a harpsichord and an organ in the selections from this lesson. How are they different? For what types of music is each instrument suited?
    • Art: Create a “how-to” poster, infographic, or other presentation of the way to make music on an organ or harpsichord.
  • Writing
    • Compile a list of scripture references for the parts of one of Handel’s works based on the Bible. You may surprised at the amount of scriptural language used throughout the piece! Figure out how to present your findings to family and friends.
  • Art
    • Simple: Write the script for a commercial that could have been used to draw audiences to a performance of one of Handel’s works—if they had radio, television, or the Internet!
    • Intermediate: Design an attractive announcement, handbill, ticket, or poster for a performance (historical or modern) of one of the pieces in this lesson.
    • Advanced: Research the original performance of Messiah at Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and create an authentic advertisement to attract an audience.
  • Listening
    • In Handel’s Instrumental Music, the closing comment made reference to the development of “color” or “layering” of instruments that would surpass Handel in the works of Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn. While that will become clearer in future lessons on those composers, you can make a start now. Pick an overture from Handel from among this lesson’s playlist and then listen to the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (which you’ve probably already heard in part—or jump ahead to Lesson 7). How do they compare? How are (some) instruments used differently by Beethoven? This is the beginning of listening with an ear for comparison and contrast.
  • Writing
    • In this lesson, you read that “it was to Felix Mendelssohn in the 19th century that the world owed the discovery of so much of Bach’s music.” Discover why this was so, and how Mendelssohn shared this discovery. (You will learn a bit more about this in the next lesson.)
    • Compile a list of scripture references for the parts of one of Bach’s works based on the Bible. You may surprised at the amount of scriptural language used throughout the piece! Figure out how to present your findings to family and friends.
  • Art
    • Simple: Write the script for a commercial that could have been used to draw audiences to a performance of one of Bach’s works—if they had radio, television, or the Internet!
    • Intermediate: Design an attractive announcement, handbill, ticket, or poster for a performance (historical or modern) of one of the pieces in this lesson.
  • Listening
    • Take a work like The Well-Tempered Clavier or The “Goldberg” Variations and assemble recordings played on various keyboard instruments. What does playing on a piano add (or subtract) from the recording on the clavichord or harpsichord? You can also find transcriptions (think of these as translations between instruments) of the works for stringed instruments, or even small ensembles. Here are a few to get you started. (Apple Music links as well.)
  • Writing
    • In this lesson, Haydn is quoted “I have had converse with emperors, kings, and great princes and have heard many flattering praises from them; but I do not wish to live on a familiar footing with such persons, and I prefer people of my own class.” How is this statement related to the folk songs of his youth?
    • Compile a timeline of as many of Haydn’s compositions as you can. Figure out how to present your favorites among these to family and friends.
  • Art
    • Simple: Draw a baryton, a stringed instrument for which Haydn composed over 200 pieces.
    • Intermediate: Much is made in the lesson of Haydn’s love for the string quartet, and the concentration required among the musicians. Draw or photograph something displays complicated interplay between four things, animals, or people.
  • Listening
    • Many of Haydn’s compositions received nicknames. Listen to a few of these works whose names interest you, and explain how the nickname is appropriate for the piece.
  • Writing
    • Mozart encountered financial troubles throughout his career. Imagine his biography without this lack. How would his career have been different? What innovations and works might he not have composed out of necessity?
  • Art
    • Simple: Design a playbill for the premiere of one of Mozart’s operas, such as The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna or Prague.
    • Intermediate: Draw a costume for one of the characters in The Magic Flute. Watch some performances for inspiration, but come up with your own design. Add in fun details like pieces of fabric glued or sewed onto the paper.
    • Advanced: Sketch the mechanics of a fortepiano and of a modern piano. Use your diagram to explain the difference in sound to a friend of family member.
  • Listening
    • “Lively” and “playful” are adjectives often used of Mozart’s work (though they are hardly the only ones). Using at least three different pieces of different forms, justify the use of these adjectives. Think of the instruments, tones, and tempos used.
  • Writing
    • Imagine Beethoven was born in a different age, say 100 years earlier. How might his music have been different? Take one of his famous pieces and describe how various parts of it might have changed, and note how the instruments for which he composed might have been different.
  • Art
    • Simple: Take a virtual tour of the museum at Beethoven’s birthplace.
    • Intermediate: Images of Beethoven with his recognizable hair are all over the place. Create your own portrait, bust, or collage of the iconic composer.
    • Advanced: Choose one of your favorite musical themes (such as the famous four-note opening to the 5th Symphony) and learn how to play it on an instrument of your choice. The emphasis is not on playing a long stretch of music, but on distilling a powerful piece of music down to one of its smallest elements, and appreciating what can be built on top of it.
  • Listening
    • Just as with his image, Beethoven’s music will be recognizable throughout culture if you keep your eyes and ears open. Find a ‘mash-up’, sampling, nature-inspired or techno-version of one of Beethoven’s works (the 5th Symphony and the Moonlight Sonata will be easy ones to find). Knowing what you know about Beethoven’s background, what does this version of the composition lose compared to its original? Is anything gained? Present your findings to a friend or family member, and try to convince them of your opinion. This will introduce you to the ongoing debate about the roles of ‘art’ and ‘money’ in music.
  • Writing
    • Copy one of the poems mentioned in this lesson and used as inspiration for the music of the German Romantics. Provide a brief biography of the poet. You can add detail to your project by adding definitions of unfamiliar words, copying the original language of the poem, and decorating the margins.
  • Art
    • Simple: Make a portfolio or scrapbook of images related to the poetry and music of the German Romantics. [One of the paintings referenced in the lesson is of the Erlkonig by Schwand.]
    • Intermediate: Using a translation of one of Schubert’s lieder, draw a character or scene from the poem used as lyrics for the music.
    • Advanced: Study the nineteenth-century architecture of one of the cities in this lesson such as Vienna or Leipzig, and draw/construct a building that could have premiered your favorite piece of music from the lesson.
  • Listening
    • Give yourself a challenge: select your favorite piece from the lesson and listen to as many versions by as many performers as you can. Which do you prefer? Why? Which seems the most faithful interpretation? Why?