Friday, July 22, 2011


Review: Classic Tunes & Tales
Ready-to-Use Music Listening Lessons & Activities for Grades K-8

Classic Tunes and Tales teaches elementary-age students the title and composer of fifty familiar melodies from classical pieces, while introducing fundamental concepts of music theory. Though designed for classroom use, it can be used with no adaptations for a single student.

The fifty lessons are divided into five levels (Level I = grades K-2, etc.). Each lesson begins with a largely unnecessary (once you've done a piece or two) lesson plan, followed by a brief explanation of the piece and introduction to the composer. At the end of each lesson are one or more activities for learning concepts ranging from tempo (Level I) to duple, triple, and compound meters (Level V). The core of the lesson, though, is the musical excerpt, simplified to the point that even an untaught duffer like myself can plunk it out on a piano or keyboard, together with lyrics.

Lyrics! Yes. The key to this curriculum--which will either amuse or horrify you--is the putting of words to each melody which help the student remember the name of the piece, the composer, and some aspect of the music. For instance: call to mind the familiar melody to the Largo from Dvorak's New World Symphony. Now:
Lar-go means - very slow
By - D-vor-ak
He wrote - the "New World" sym-phony
for - Amer-ica.
Or--and you will know immediately what the tune is here--
Toreador Song written by Bizet
From - an op-era
Carmen was its name.
Takes - place in the nineteenth century
Spain's bullfighter escapade
A soldier falls in love
and Carmen too
A tragic op-er-a.
Admittedly, this can be a painful exercise for the teacher. But I have to tell you, they remember the music. Certainly there's a risk that the child will resent you when he's thirty and attending Don Giovanni and finds that, while everyone else has "La ci darem la mano" going through their heads, all he can think is "Mozart he wrote an opera - called Don Giovanni - the ghost shook the hand of Giovanni - and that awful man was gone in a blink." You'll just have to weigh that against the increased odds that the grown child will be buying tickets for the opera, or symphony, in the first place.

You do need a keyboard of some sort, no matter how primitive, for Classic Tunes & Tales. However, contrary to the complaints of Amazon commenters, it doesn't actually require recordings of the full musical pieces. And at any rate, this is the 21st century; you don't need to pay $14.95 for a CD of Dvorak when you can pay $.99 to download the Largo only.

As with so many excellent curricular items, Classic Tunes & Tales is out of print, and the Amazon sellers offer it for exorbitant prices. A quick Googling however will turn up prices much less than the original $28.95.

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