Composer History and Listening Activities

I’m back from a couple of weeks of vacation, and tackling some last-minute lesson prep before I start teaching again next week.    I received a number of emails while I was gone with questions about what I’m using for the Listening Challenge and Meet the Composer Challenges that are a part of our studio practice incentive program this year, so thought I’d share a bit more about them.

When I designed this year’s incentive program, I really wanted to find a way to more deliberately include some curriculum areas that tend to fall into the “hard-to-cram-in” category.    Realistically, we’re already squeezing just about all we can into weekly 30- and 45- minute lessons, so I decided to put together several take-home projects that students could complete for extra credit.    I ended up with 4 special project categories: composer history, critical listening, improv and composing.   Here are the resources I’m using for the composer history and listening challenges (I’ll add more about the others after I get a few finishing touches done!):

Meet the Composer Packets

I LOVE Alfred’s reproducible Accent on Composers book:

For each composer covered, it includes a 2-page bio with timeline and “factoids” about the composer’s life, a listening guide to one of the composer’s works (with included CD recordings), and a review worksheet for students to fill out as they read the bio.   I’m going to be using this with the majority of my students, although the text is a bit advanced for elementary kids.

For younger students who aren’t quite ready to complete packets on their own, I picked up a couple of copies of the book Stories of the Great Composers.   It gives a simple bio of each composer, then has a fictional story based on events from the composer’s life, and a quick bit of info on one of the composer’s works (with included CD recording).    Students can check out the book from me for a week and work through the stories and recordings with a parent at home.  We might even include a few composer “story-time” activities in group classes this year!

Listening Challenges

The Classics for Kids website has some fantastic listening activity sheets available for download, with corresponding recordings that can be played from the site.    They’re very appropriate for elementary-aged students, especially with a little help from a parent to make sure they’re following along (would make another great group activity!).

For students who enjoy online activities, Carnegie Hall has a couple of really neat interactive listening modules available on their website.  (My favorite is the New World Symphony activity.)

I also really like the detailed CD listening forms Wendy has posted on the ComposeCreate site.   There are 3 levels, so they’re appropriate for a wide range of students.   Students can pick a CD from my lending library and complete the sheet at home, or before or after a lesson.

For advanced students, I LOVE giving YouTube listening assignments – it’s such a terrific, FREE resource!  I ask them to find 2 or 3 different performances of a piece they are working on, then make notes about what they like/dislike about each one (critiquing as if they were a teacher).   They can either jot down notes, or send me an email with links to the clips they watched so I know they finished the assignment.   Sometimes it’s really helpful for them to hear different levels of performers play the same piece instead of hearing only professional recordings.

If any of you have resources to teach history or listening that you’ve found successful, please leave a comment.  I’d love to hear other tips and tricks for fitting these areas into lessons!


Composer History and Listening Activities — 4 Comments

  1. I use a lot of these same resources during lab time. My students LOVE the Carnegie Hall Listening Adventures guide to the orchestra so I use it as a “reward.” They can play on it after they have finished their regular lab assignment.
    Another fun internet site is
    It tells the story of “Mozart’s Magical Musical Life” with fun sound clips and pictures throughout. This is where my daughter discovered her new favorite song – Rondo Alla Turca 🙂 has some brief composer bios with word searches which I use when a student is playing a new piece by a composer they are unfamiliar with.

  2. The series “Fun with Composers” has been popular in my area. There is a student activity book with CD for the three different books in the series, and they have great activities and music. Most teachers have just used the student books, but there are teacher guides available for each book (at a cost of $99 – yikes! but they have been useful for teachers using the series studio-wide). Here is a link to their website:

    You have a great site! Thanks for all that you do!

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