Great Resources for Teaching Music Appreciation and other Music Survey Courses for Non-Music Majors Teaching something as broad as ‘music appreciation’ or ‘listening to music’ or ‘music in our world’ can be a daunting task. And for most instructors, teaching music appreciation is just one of many professional activities they are juggling. Where to start? What to cover? What are the learning objectives the college has established for this fine arts course, and how can they be achieved? Below is a curated list of high quality resources. Use them to banish boredom and inspire learning in the lecture hall or online.
The tagline is “Experience one of the world’s leading orchestras like never before.” They mean the London Symphony Orchestra, and this site really gives your students an insider’s view. A visitor picks either Ravel’s Bolero, or Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Then they listen and watch. Reasons why this is so engaging: (a) fantastic interface (b) there is just enough interactivity (c) HD quality video and audio (d) perfect pieces for this type of thing (e) performances are superb. Have your students watch the movies with Rachel Leach (under “Explore Orchestras” and “Masterclasses”). These discuss the composer, the piece in its historical context, and a look at the music itself. Great for: in-class viewing, flipped classroom, the instruments of the orchestra, the structure and analysis music, the music professional’s perspective (bios of the orchestra members)
A quote from the site, “The Folkways cover image, as well as the recording, was intended to both reach out to and be an expression of humanity. The covers succeeded in communicating visually, in stylistic range and thematic focus, a breathtaking diversity of the socially relevant, highly topical and, often, politically radical sounds within.” That is exactly how this site makes you feel. Icing on the cake: you and your students will discover amazing music and sound at every turn. Great for: flipped classroom, music relating to visual art and design, history of social movements and activism, record production and marketing, American history emphasis (“the American Experience” as some colleges like to say), African-American culture, roots and origins of popular music up to today, Non-Western Cultures Also Check out: Smithsonian Folkways Records – Tools for Teaching. A lot of their material says it’s intended for k-12, but most of it is actually fine for college level. There are excellent lessons and activities, a fun interactive Jazz site and a fantastic site called Música del Pueblo which is full of videos, interviews, artwork and lots more.
Wildly popular and with good reason, TED Talks are short, informative and inspirational. There are some fantastic ones about music; told from many different perspectives and from across many different genres. The one thing they have in common is that they all feature a musician who has a story to tell. These lectures are almost always ‘meta’ in some way. They are all about context and connections. The playlists below are definitely worth checking out:
- Virtuousos: This playlist features 8 talks, each of which showcases the mastery and performance of different musicians, including 11-year-old violinist, Sirena Huang, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, and first female to make it on Rolling Stone’s “guitar god” list, Kaki King. Fascinating and inspiring!
- Maestros, if you please…!: Composed of 10 talks, this playlist features conductors – who are always excellent speakers and communicators, and often quite inspirational.
Great for: Lecture activity (in class), flipped classrooms, discussions (online or in class), source for assignments that focus on core competencies such as critical thinking, interdisciplinary study, technology, oral communication, and more. Also check out: Ted Ed – the talks are enriched with questions, discussion ideas, and other teaching/learning enhancements.
It’s exactly as the name implies – except it’s a video jukebox (YouTube Channel). Exceptional live, acoustic performances of popular songs from today and the recent past. Each song is done in a particular stylistic genre. For example: Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off, done in vintage Motown style. It sounds kitchsy but it’s actually the essence of postmodernism – which is kind of where popular music is right now. It’s also brilliant. And fun. And did I mention, the performers are exceptional? They are. For starters, try these:
- All about that bass (Meghan Trainor)
- Living on a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
- Style (Taylor Swift)
- Creep (Radiohead)
- Single Ladies (Beyonce)
- Blurred Lines (Robin Thicke)
- Royals (Lorde) (Note: this one will have your students laughing. Or maybe just confused. Both are good things)
Great for: in class activity and viewing, basis for discussion or assignment, exploration of postmodernism, music distribution in the social media age, aesthetics, art in the age of reproduction, etc.
There is so much good stuff here that it’s hard to narrow it down. But the whole point of this post is to provide specific materials so you don’t have to do all the searching yourself. Deceptive Cadence This is the blog with accompanying podcast. Mostly classical oriented. Listen to one of these in class and then discuss. Or assign one for viewing at home (flipped classroom) or for a written assignment. Tiny Desk Concerts These are videos of informal live performances in an NPR studio, mixed with interviews with the artists. All styles represented. Lots of folk, ethnic, blues, singer-songwriter, Americana stuff. Also some classical, some jazz, some rock, some stuff that is not easily categorized. There are literally hundreds of performances. All excellent. Play these in class or assign for homework. Here are some highlights from various genres:
- Amazing solo cello performance by Maya Beiser
- Rapper, singer Poet, Dessa
- So Percussion
- Bill Frisell (doing the Beatles)
- Songhoy Blues
- Hilary Hahn plays Bach and Ives
- Kishi Bashi – violinist, improviser, beat boxer
- Terence Blanchard
- Dublin Guitar Quartet (doing Philip Glass)
Music Documentaries It’s hard to believe how much great video there is on the NPR site (R is for radio, right?). These videos are short and focus on various musicians discussing different aspects of their lives in music. Some good ones:
- In the Studio with a Gear Geek short movie with the man behind the classic rock group, Boston. So interesting!
- Morton Subotnick and Joan La Barbara from the series ‘Interviews with Artists in Their Spaces”
- Jeremy Denk Jeremy discussing one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations
- Mark Stewart another ‘Interviews with Artists in Their Spaces’
Great for: in class activity and viewing, basis for discussion or assignment, exploration of musicians working in their profession, live performances, innovative and hard to classify artists.
Spotify is the only free music streaming service that is not modeled on the radio concept (like Pandora). In other words – you choose the music, you create the playlist, etc. Note: only the desktop application is free and it is ad-supported. For $10 a month – Spotify Premium is ad-free and works on your mobile device. Well worth it and will likely have you listening to more music than you have in years. Spotify encourages sharing music and allows playlists to be made public or even made collaborative. As you can see below, you can easily embed a playlist or a single track on a web page (for example: in your LMS). Great for: in-class music management with playlists; sharing playlists; making collaborative playlists (or assigning this task to students), discovering related music; discussions about music consumption and/or distribution and/or commercialization and how it has changed throughout history; the changing nature of artists compensation, etc. It’s really easy to embed a song or playlist on a web page (or in your learning management system) and it looks and functions like this:
OnMusic Appreciation Romantic Period Playlist:
Even if you don’t use an OnMusic title as the music textbook for the course you are teaching – you can still use the many resources in these brilliant web textbooks. Click on the screen shot at the right for a live page preview. Want the whole thing? As a college instructor, you can get free access here. Just look for the button that says. ‘Request Reviewer Access.’ Great for: in-class playlists; activities and discussions in the lecture hall based around composer maps, listening guides, and videos; ready made drop the needle quizzing (in class).
What about you? Have an article about teaching music courses to non-music majors? Or have an idea for one, but don’t have time to go to all the trouble of creating and maintaining a blog? Send it to us! We are always looking for relevant content to publish and share with the community of college music instructors. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org