Fundamental Principles of Classical Instrumental and Vocal Music

Often called “the universal language,” music is a natural expression of human thought and emotions. Few people truly understand the significance or message of music in a culture. Three elements in music convey the deepest feelings contained in the human heart: melody, harmony and rhythm. All musical compositions contain these three elements.

In addition, the principles of national identity, pattern or form, poetry and descriptive ideas are used when a composer sets his or her feelings to music. A bounty of musical selections is available for study on the internet.

Beginning to Listen to Classical Instrumental Music

Each region of the planet has its own style of local music, identified by melodies and rhythms. The language and customs of a people group and the use of local folk instruments have a large influence in differentiating between music pieces.

All music also has a form, or pattern to it. Beginning music listeners may be able to tell the difference between a song and a military march. Certainly today’s young listeners can tell the difference between hip hop and Latin salsa dance tunes. Poetry in music sets the mood. Club music sets the mood for a party atmosphere, while a classical guitar piece may set the mood for a relaxing day at the spa.

Beginning to Listen to Classical Vocal Music

Many young people associate classical vocal music with opera. They may have no idea that their childhood nursery rhyme songs have classical roots or that, as the Smithsonian Institute points out, jazz and blues songs have a history in African folk music. Students may not know anything about “art songs” and the poetry contained within. Folk songs from music of every nationality have a repeatable chorus which is intended to be sung by every person in the audience. Dramatic events are captured in ballads. Songs contain a strong message of love, anger, joy and sorrow.

Music Downloads and Music Videos for Beginning Listeners

Fortunately for the beginning listener, there are many musical selections available on the internet through music downloads and videos. For some suggestions, an interesting folk dance to introduce the concept of nationality is “Kasap Havasi,” a traditional and flavorful folk dance from Turkey.

To introduce the concept of form, consider a Sousa march, such as “Stars and Stripes Forever,” with its strong “one-two,” “left-right” marching beat. Listen to a recording of violinist Joshua Bell playing Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” to understand poetry in music. A sample of an art song can be heard by listening to the famous waltz, “Il Bacio,” by Arditi. Finally, for a rousing chorus, most students will recognize “The Toreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen.