A word to parents and any adult pupils
When you or your children play the piano it’s only a very small part of what music is about. By means of this email course I would like you and your children to start appreciating the bigger picture. In ABRSM Grade 5 Theory, pupils will be expected to be familiar with the characteristics of all the instruments of the orchestra. From Grade 6 Piano the last question in the aural section expects pupils to understand how music is constructed being able to identify texture, style, form and harmonic structure used in the main historical periods. This knowledge will inform their playing.
But apart from the theoretical side, there is so much to enjoy in the world of classical music. Many adults don’t have much knowledge of classical music. Because they don’t know where to begin they miss out and their children miss out on a whole world of discovery.
I will try to get everyone started. I am going to suggest a piece of music to listen to every week. This is how I got started from the age of 13. Every week my class music teacher would bring in a different piece for us to listen to and discuss. That led to my having a special notebook in which I wrote down every piece I liked. Every evening I would listen to the evening concert on Radio 3 as I did my school homework. From age 15 I was able to go to Royal Festival Hall concerts every week. I would love to sit right behind the orchestra in the choir seats and be able to watch the conductor drawing out the most incredible sounds from the orchestra.
Sometimes I will provide questions for the children to answer. They can be encouraged to listen with you and answer the questions. I will write for teenagers and adults. You parents can re-phrase to their level and explain and help them to concentrate. After the first few weeks it will probably be only a piece of music with a couple of questions. Many of the questions can be asked for every piece of music. Please be sure to click on all the links. If they don’t work you can copy and paste into your browser – but don’t miss watching video clips!
Most weeks there will also be a little music related activity to do.
You parents have now to be homeschool teachers during this awful lockdown! Please include this course in the children’s weekly schedule. You will all enjoy the music I am going to introduce you to! Maybe one day you will be as passionate about music as I am!
Before we listen to the orchestra, do we know the names and sounds of all the instruments? Please watch this video first:
This week I want you to concentrate on just one family – the woodwind. Watch this video clip next:
Unfortunately the conductor left out 2 instruments which you will see later: the E flat clarinet (that’s the smaller clarinet sitting on left side of clarinet section) and the alto flute (on far left side of flute section) – it’s the long flute! Note the ranking in the woodwinds: The first flute (Principal) sits next to first Oboe. As we work out from the centre we get to the 3rd member who will have to ‘double’ (2nd might double as well). So 3rd flute will play standard flute and piccolo and the 4th flute will play standard flute, piccolo and alto flute as instructed in his music. When I played flute in an orchestra as a teenager I played 2nd flute doubling on piccolo when needed.
  1. Can you name the 10 woodwind instruments?
  2. Which is the highest instrument?
  3. Which is the lowest instrument?
  4. Which instruments do not use a reed?
  5. Which instruments use a double reed?
  6. Which instrument has a single reed?
  7. Which instrument do you like best? Why?
Now let’s watch the first piece. Listen out for the different woodwind instruments. Write down the names of the instruments you recognize.
Let me tell you a little about his piece. It’s a love story with a beautiful young lady and a handsome young man ending with an amazing wedding reception with rather a wild party! I don’t think children need to know anything more than that! Listen for the evocation of a peaceful beginning of a new day. Listen for the murmering of streams. Gradually daybreak comes. Listen for birdsongs as the countryside awakens…
When I first heard this piece of music I thought the first section of this was just the most beautiful piece of music ever written! In the second section note the incredibly difficult and amazingly exhilarating solo for first flute. It so happens that this piece was used as one of the test pieces that applicants for the first flute vacancy had to play to get into the Berlin Philharmonic. I always remember the occasion when I arrived for my flute lesson and heard my teacher practising this piece to play in an orchestral concert the next day. I stood outside the door transfixed. When the lesson started I found it very difficult to concentrate on playing my Mozart concerto! I hope you will enjoy this piece as much as I still do.
Get your children to name the different woodwind instruments they see and hear, writing them down. Or make a list of the 10 instruments and tick them off as you see them. Next week we will look at the brass section and will listen to an incredible piece highlighting this family.
How did you get on with Part 1? Are you ready for the next department of the orchestra? It’s the brass section. Please watch this video first:
Warning: this piece has some very strange sounds and rhythms- just keep listening! Your job is to connect the sound to the instrument making the sound! Look out for the brass band standing behind the orchestra.
In this very unusual special piece see if you can spot the 7 different brass instruments:
9 x Trumpets in C
3 x Trumpets in F
2 x Bass Trumpets
4 x Horns
2 x Baritone Horns
4 x Trombones
1 x Tuba

  1. Tick the name of each brass instrument as you see it.
  1. Circle any of these things you hear:
Brass fanfare//slow music//very fast music//funny music//a beautiful string melody//intense high woodwinds//cymbal clashes.
Get yourself a hardbound notebook. Get some sections going:
My favourite pieces of music
My favourite pianists (Here’s a few suggestions: Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Stephen Hough, Barenboim, Horowitz – watch them on Youtube to decide which ones to put on your list. Maybe you can find someone else).
My favourite music to make me happy when I’m sad
My favourite animal music
My favourite piano music
Any other headings you like
Get listening to music on Youtube and start filling in your choices. I will look forward to seeing your notebook and hearing about your discoveries over the next few weeks!
      NEXT TIME: The string section of the orchestra.