If I’ve learnt one thing about classical music, it’s that you have to listen to it to get anything out of it.
It’s easy to forget how much the process of listening to music has changed since classical music was actually produced. Back then, listening was an assumed part of the process. You went to a concert, you sat down, they played, you listened.
Now we live in an age when music comes from everywhere, constantly. Playing while you shop, watch TV, or even wait to speak to someone on your phone. We’ve just got used to having music on in the background all the time. We put it on when we get up, and when we go to bed. When we cook, drive. or work-out. When we want to get excited, or when we want to chill. For heavens sake, we put it on even when we’re just walking down a street.
You need to take a moment to appreciate this simple fact. A contemporary fan of Mozart may have been lucky to hear a favorite Mozart symphony once or twice in their entire life. That’s it.
And now, with a few quick clicks of your mouse, you have dozens of versions of the same piece.
That is extraordinary. Technology has enabled us to have music with us wherever and whenever we want. Which is wonderful, but there is a downside. We have all become rather blasé about the actual act of listening to music. And without actively listening to classical music, it’s rather hard to actually appreciate it.
So I’ve designed learnclassical as a listening course. So get your speakers or headphones ready, and let me you you show how it works…
How it works
Yes okay, it’s not exactly Beethoven, but this is not simply noise. This is structured sound.
Music operates through three separate but related dimensions, and this is the first. We would plot this on a graph as the Time axis. In music we call this Rhythm.
Two short beats, followed by a longer beat. Beats, but no notes. One-dimensional sound. Add notes and we discover our 2nd musical dimension:
Play Clip 2
We still have have first dimension – Rhythm – operating in the same way. Two quick notes followed by a longer one.
But now we’ve added movement up and down through musical space. What we call pitch. We’ve added a second axis to our musical graph, we now have a 2nd dimension in our musical universe.
We’ve produced Melody, and our musical universe has increased in definition.
Now lets add a second phrase:
Play Clip 3
Our melody is now replied by a similar melody, played at a lower pitch. The second phrase seems to answer the third, but it’s a rather open answer. That final note leaves us hanging…now the music is starting to tell a story.
We’ve now added a 3rd dimension to musical space. The two phrases share a harmonic relationship.
Our music is now in glorious 3-D, and Harmony is the final axis of musical space.
Play Clip 4
That’s how it works. Not music, plenty more to say on that.
This is how learnclassical works. You read – press button – listen – learn – become inspired with musical wisdom. That kind of thing,
All the content – the music – is here on the site, free and ready to access. I’ve also edited the music into appropriate clips, so what you hear relates to what you read. Or else provides quality background music.
Quality Background music
How is the course structured?
This site concentrates on just six pieces of music, which take you chronologically from Bach (born 1685) to Shostakovich (died 1975), and uses them to explore and understand classical music more generally. That’s the idea at least.
The piece now playing, for example, is the second piece by Mozart, the last movement of his final symphony.
As the course has expanded, I’ve broken it up into three main parts, each accessible from the ‘Courses’ menu at the top of every screen.
Absolute Beginners start here.
We then turn to the three dimensions of music: Rhythm, Melody and Harmony. Basics, but needs-know for the rest of the course.
Beginners start here, but plenty of interesting material for all of you, I hope.
This is the main body of the course, this is where we get stuck into our six pieces.
We take each of our six pieces of music, and examine them through four different lenses:
Four chapters, for each of the six piece.
You can follow the course how you want, but I’d advise going through the four topics (Instruments – Rhythm – Melody – Harmony) in order for each piece. But you do not have to start with Bach. It should work by going with whichever piece you like the most. If it doesn’t, do let me know.
Advanced doesn’t necessarily mean more complicated, just more detailed. For example, the first chapter of the advanced chapter – the ‘History’ chapter – is easily accessible to all.
There’s plenty of different stuff here. Musical Theory, Philosophy, Science, Biography etc. Music touches so many different aspects of our world, it’s really fascinating how much a piece of music can contain.
Feel free to jump around, there’s plenty to explore.
What’s the music?
The six pieces of music take us chronologically from Bach (born 1685) to Shostakovich (died 1975). Bear in mind I ‘m using single movements, not entire pieces. Lengths of these movements vary from under 3 minutes (for the Shostakovich) to nearly 17 minutes (for the Beethoven).
Here are excerpts from the six pieces, with timecodes below for identification:
- 00.00 Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.2, First Movement. Roughly 1720
- 00.29 Mozart Symphony No.41 (‘Jupiter’), Fourth Movement. c 1788
- 00.48 Beethoven Symphony No 9 (‘Choral’), Choral Finale. c 1824
- 01.06 Wagner Isolde’s Liebestod from his opera Tristan & Isolde c 1859
- 01.39 Gershwin Piano Concerto, Second Movement. c 1925
- 02.01 Shostakovich String Quartet No.8, Second Movement. c 1960
Those are the main pieces, but there’s lots more material on this site. It’s still very young, and I’m adding to it and reworking it constantly.
How difficult is Learnclassical?
Quality Background music
Here are two quotes about Mozart, both plucked off the internet:
“Mozart embellishes this architecture by changing the implied harmony on a one bar rhythm… ”
“Mozart was a badass at the keyboard…”
Got to admit, I’m not a big fan of dumbed-down learning. I don’t learn much and often feel patronized.
At the same time I find much of the more advanced writing about classical music difficult and occasionally impenetrable. The terminology is hard enough, and people occasionally abuse it out of laziness or worse, the need to sound clever,
I’m a believer that anything worth knowing can be broken down into a series of simple axioms. Explaining music in everyday language is a core belief of this website.
Does it work?
I don’t know, you tell me!
I’ve been working on this for many years, but the actual execution is recent, and it is still in major development. So feedback is essential. As I write this (April 2017) I am re-editing the entire site, so your input would really help me.
Email me at email@example.com or use the contact button at the top of each page.
I will of course keep all your correspondence and details private and safe, do not fear!
The site is totally free. I want to keep it free, but will need your donations to keep it running.
However, at present I am not getting enough, even to keep this site working, let alone make all the improvements and additions.
Unless I get more, I will have to close it down. Plain as.
So please – top right button – donate anything you wish if you get something worthwhile out of the site.