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The Story of Great Music

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  1. Introduction

    What You Need to Begin
    5 Steps
  2. The Renaissance and Baroque Eras
    1. Renaissance
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  3. 2. Early Baroque
    11 Steps
    |
    1 Quiz
  4. 3. Handel
    10 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  5. 4. Bach
    13 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  6. The Classical Era
    5. Haydn
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  7. 6. Mozart
    9 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  8. 7. Beethoven
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  9. The Romantic Era
    8. Early German Romantics
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  10. 9. French Romantics
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  11. 10. Masters of the Piano
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  12. 11. Romantic Opera
    9 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  13. 12. Brahms
    8 Steps
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    1 Quiz
  14. 13. Romantic Nationalism
    10 Steps
  15. 14. Russian Romantics
    9 Steps
  16. The 20th Century
    15. French Impressionism
    6 Steps
  17. 16. Finland, England, & America
    5 Steps
Lesson Progress
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An important part of this class is setting up your listening environment. I’m referring to both the place you listen as well as the equipment you are using to listen. If you want to get the most out of this class, it’s best to be sensitive to these areas.

Place

When you are going through this class, find a location to listen where you aren’t distracted by a lot of background noises. I realize that this can sometimes be challenging in a homeschool environment, but just try not to do your lessons when someone is vacuuming in the same room. 

Some of these assignments require extended listening/watching time, sometimes over an hour. You will enjoy these (and be able to focus better) if you don’t have a lot of distractions.

Equipment

There are two ways you can listen to music: via speakers or via headphones.  Since your class is being streamed through a digital device, you’ll have to have some way to amplify it.  That’s what I want to discuss here. 

But before I begin with recommendations, here are few things I would avoid, primarily due to sound quality:

  • Don’t listen through laptop or computer speakers. They are too small and just don’t have the range.
  • Don’t listen through tablet or phone speakers. Again, far too small.
  • Don’t listen through cheap speakers attached to your computer. If they sound tinny, it’s because they don’t have enough range. 

If you listen to classical music through a poor source, you simply aren’t going to be able to hear what’s going on in the music. As a result, I recommend you listen through better quality headphones or speakers.

Headphones

I have not included earbuds here (such as airpods, earbud headphones, etc), not because you can’t use them, but because I don’t think they provide the best listening experience. I generally recommend over ear headphones because they offer some separation between your ear and the speaker, which means they can use better speakers since they have more space to work with. (BTW – I’m also not a fan of bluetooth headphones or earbuds; but that has as much to do with EMF dangers than anything—it’s not a good idea to have a small microwave transmitter right next to your brain.)

There are three things to consider when buying headphones: sound quality, comfort, and price.  Unfortunately, these are not always easy to balance since we all have different size heads and ears; higher quality headphones often cost more; and better sound quality doesn’t always mean comfort for everyone.

That said, I’m going to provide some basic recommendations and you can take it from there. I will say that if you can buy from a place that provides free returns (like Amazon), that is helpful in finding a good fit. I’ll include Amazon links/pricing here because it’s easy, but you can check eBay and other online sources for price.  

Before buying, check reviews – there are lots of new options out there. But beware deals that are “too good to be true.” They normally are. Brands like Sony, Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Shure are known for their professional audio products; they are dependable brands. 

Here is the only set of headphones I can recommend because they’re the only one I’ve ever used and liked: Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone (~$90 on Amazon) – I used these headphones for years and loved them. They are known as studio monitors because they accurately present sound. A bit pricey, but long-lasting and great.

If this is too expensive, do some Amazon searches on the brands listed above and see what’s in your range with the best reviews. Feel free to buy a few and return the ones that don’t work.

What you’re ultimately looking for is something that is reviewed as having excellent sound for the money. There are actually lots of great wired headphones out there at almost all budgets, so you can’t go too far wrong.

Speakers

I actually prefer to listen to classical music on speakers these days. Although I have listened to many hours through headphones, I like the range and feel of listening on speakers.  In all honesty, it feels closer to having a performance on one side of the room while sitting on the other.

If you are listening on a computer, I would encourage you again not to listen through your computer speakers or small speakers. Get something that sounds nice.  If you have a stereo system at your home that you can use bluetooth to link to, do that – it will always give you a better experience.  Bluetooth works great for sound quality, and since your computer is far from your body (as opposed to earbuds), EMF is less of an issue.

Speakers come in two varieties: powered and passive.  Passive speakers require an amplifier (like a stereo receiver) to power them. Most people don’t want to build a stereo system, so powered speakers are better choices these days.  By ‘powered’ it means they have an amplifier built into them (and normally bluetooth, too).

Just as with headphones, there are lots of great options out there. But read the reviews.  I will recommend what I know and have used in terms of brands, but I know there are many more.

The “Edifier” speaker line provides a wide range of powered speakers at a wide range of prices. Although I have the bigger brother of these speakers, I’ve been impressed with their quality and know that they are a top seller on Amazon for a reason. The Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers (~$99) comes with both wired connection and bluetooth.  

There are other popular brands out there, too – just read the reviews.

Vintage Stereo Systems

Finally, if you have a grandfather or uncle with an old stereo system that is sitting in his basement or attic not being used, ask for it.  You can buy a bluetooth audio receiver for very little and link to one of the inputs (not phono) via the red/white RCA cables (the colors will match the back; if not, it’s really old and ask its original owner how to set it up).  

You may need to ask for some help getting it put together, but tinkering with old stereo gear is a great way to learn how to create fantastic listening experiences that most people in the 21st century have never heard before.

Final Thoughts

In closing, none of this material is required for this class. But investing a bit in your listening environment will be of great value to you in the long run.  And you’ll get much more out of what you’re listening to – I promise.