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A Classical Music Listening Guide for Kids

Written by Christine Turner (M.A., B. Ed. Hons, AMusTCL)

Christine has enjoyed a long career working as a curriculum music specialist in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Schools

Are you looking to introduce your child to the world of Classical music, but are not sure where to start? Playing Classical music to young children can have profound benefits that extend far beyond their musical education. This article sets out some of the numerous benefits, emphasizing the positive impact it can have on their overall development and lifelong appreciation of music. 


Here are five Classical compositions to get you started along with some ideas of how to engage your child with them. They have been specifically chosen to encourage imagination, improve memory and build listening skills. 


The pieces also introduce young children to a variety of musical instruments, music from other parts of the world, a wide range of loud and quiet sounds, and fast and slow tempi. 

Listening to Classical music can be both energising and soothing. It is a magical way to bond and interact with your child. Enjoy!


Click on the title of each piece to watch a video of our chosen version.



1.     FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLE BEE by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1900) 



The Flight of the Bumblebee represents a moment in the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan where Prince Gvidon is transformed into a bee by a magical swan.


Watch the short, animated video of bees collecting pollen on YouTube called Flight of the Bumblebee Animated in Color. Orchestral versions often have flutes or violins playing the main melody (tune) but sometimes it is all played on a piano. The melody is made of groups of chromatic notes (all the black and white keys on a piano played in a row) which helps create the idea that the bee is moving and changing directly continually.


·       Listen to the music again and encourage your child to run in circles and buzz like a bee. 

·       Amaze your child by making a buzzing sound with a home-made comb and tissue or greaseproof paper kazoo.

·       Have fun drawing bees and flowers and make up a story about them.



2.     CLARINET CONCERTO 2ND MOVEMENT by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1787) 



Mozart was 4 years old when he began playing a keyboard instrument called a harpsichord. When he was 5 years old, he started to compose his own music. A year later, Mozart’s father took him and his sister to perform concerts throughout Europe. 


Watch the performance by Andreas Ottensamer and the European Youth Orchestra on YouTube and listen to the soothing sound of the clarinet as it floats effortlessly over the orchestral accompaniment. 


·       Look for different instruments in the orchestra such as violins, clarinets and flutes. 

·       Recognise the different sounds made by string instruments (bowed) and wind instruments (blown). 

·       Encourage your child to close their eyes and imagine they are a balloon drifting or gliding through the sky.



3.     IN THE HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING from PEER GYNT SUITE No.1 by Edvard Greig (1875)        



This piece illustrates the part of the story where Peer Gynt enters the underground cavern of the Troll King. Greig imagined ‘a great crowd of troll courtiers, gnomes and goblins. Dovregubben sits on his throne… Peer Gynt stands before him. There is a tremendous uproar in the hall’. Alton Towers use this piece of music on its adverts and in the park!


Watch the performance by the Seattle Symphony. At the start, you can see that the string instruments are being plucked instead of bowed to create a tiptoeing effect. This is called pizzicato. The increase in tempo makes it sound like Peer is making his escape. The music is in a minor key which helps to make it sound sinister and tense.


·       Encourage your child to keep time with their feet to this exciting piece as it begins with a slow creeping tip-toe before breaking into a wild sprint. Watch them collapse in a heap at the end! 

·       Draw some of the trolls, gnomes and goblins and then decide how they might move and dance about!

·       Make homemade shakers. Fill small plastic bottles with beans, rice, or beads. Seal the bottles tightly. Shake in time to the accelerating tempo.



4.     THE ELEPHANT from CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS by Camille Saint Saëns (1886)   



The Carnival of the Animals is a set of 14 amusing pieces of music including The Swan, The Kangaroos and the Tortoises. Saint Saëns said that no one was allowed to perform the pieces whilst he was still alive in case their silliness damaged his reputation as a serious composer!


Watch and listen to the video which features beautifully-illustrated elephants trundling between the double bass and piano players. The piano plays a waltz-like figure (with 3 beats in a bar) while the double bass, the lowest and heaviest-sounding instrument in the orchestra, plays the melody. 


·       Encourage your child to stomp their feet and to wave one arm like an elephant’s trunk so that they keep in time with the music. Join in! 

·       Find two differently pitched objects. Hit the low one once and the high one twice to mirror the oom-pa-pa rhythm of the piece.

·       Why not have a listen to the rest of the animals in the Carnival and make up different movements to represent each one?



5.     PRELUDE BWV846 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1722) 



Bach was born in Germany. His father taught him the violin and harpsichord and he later learned the organ. He worked as a composer and musician in various churches and royal courts and he had 20 children! The ‘Prelude’ is the first half of the first piece in Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.


Enjoy this beautiful arrangement of Bach’s Prelude played on a 7 stringed classical guitar (not the usual 6 stringed classical guitar). This piece is in C major which makes it sound peaceful and happy. On a piano, it uses only the white notes.


·       On a large sheet of paper, choose a colour and produce a continuous line of slow swirls and circles whilst the music plays.

·       As you listen, lie on the floor next to each other. Slowly clench and release your toes, then your calves, then your thighs, etc., all the way up to your face.

·       This piece suggests a gentle rocking motion that is perfect for quiet playtime, cuddles, or for getting off to sleep.


It is difficult to underestimate the benefits of music on child development. There is growing evidence that shows just how important music is for cognitive development in early childhood. 

Listening to classical music can be both energising and soothing. It is a magical way to bond and interact with your child. Enjoy! 

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