Elementary Music Appreciation Course (Crew Review)

Music Appreciation Review
When we first started homeschooling one of the things that drew me to the Charlotte Mason method of education was the attention paid to composer study.  Classical music has been a part of my life since childhood, and I want my children to be familiar with and appreciate it as well.  I’ve had my eye on the Great Composers books from Zeezok Publishing LLC for quite a while and was SO excited to get a chance to review the entire Music Appreciation: Book 1 for the Elementary Grades collection, starting with one of my children’s favorite composers: Beethoven.

About the Music Appreciation Book 1 Collection

This collection is an incredibly rich resource, providing materials for seven 4-week unit studies based on the lives of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and Schubert:

  • 7 biographical novels by Opal Wheeler, one for each composer, all softcover except the one Schubert (not sure why we received a hardcover since I know they do publish it in softcover)
  • 1 Student Activity Book (softcover with perforated pages)
  • Set of 5 Audio CDs
  • CD-ROM with files for making a lapbook for each composer
  • (Coordinating coloring book available for separate purchase)

Each of these items is available for individual purchase, but unless you already own something, the you’ll want everything that comes in the collection to complete the lessons.

The heart of this curriculum is the Wheeler books, which focus on the composers’ lives and childhood musical background.  Although the book occasionally references topics covered when studying other composers, for the most part each unit study is self-contained, so they don’t necessarily need to be done in the order they are presented.

BeethovenI chose Beethoven for our first study.  Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells starts with Beethoven as a very young boy and tells about his musical career all the way through his moving 9th Symphony, composed when he could no longer hear.  While the book does talk about Ludwig being forced to practice in the middle of the night as a child and his father’s desire to see him become a musician like Mozart, it is very appropriate for children and doesn’t mention his father’s abusive nature.  Instead the focus is on Ludwig’s relationships with other members of his family, his various teachers and his many musical experiences growing up.

The book also includes music for several of Beethoven’s compositions, which are simple enough for intermediate piano players to be able to play and enjoy as they go through the book.  (These selections are also on the audio CDs.)  Some are interspersed with the text to experience as you go through the book, and there are also several at the end for further enjoyment.

After you have read the chapter for the week, the Student Activity Book is full of questions, activities, and ideas for further study.  Each unit starts with a Weekly Lesson Outline that lists all the reading assignments and activities that will be covered, making note of those required to meet national music appreciation standards.

Each week’s assignments include:

  • reading a chapter in the Wheeler book
  • a page of comprehension questions
  • study of character qualities demonstrated in the chapter
  • listening assignments from the Music Appreciation CDs
  • “Tidbits of Interest” expounding upon specific information in the chapter
  • Lapbook activities
  • Extras like geography, history, or music theory

The Student Activity Book functions as both a workbook and a textbook, with some pages having activities to complete and others containing additional reading material.

The CD-ROM contains the pieces needed for each composer’s lapbooks as well as pictures of completed lapbooks.  These pages include instructions about how to assemble each piece, but to find out where to place it, you have to look up the examples or read the directions in the Student Activity Book.



Our Experience

I chose the Beethoven unit because most of my children are already somewhat familiar with his life story and his music, but there was still a lot for everyone to learn.  This curriculum is designed for K-6th grade, so I planned to include Ian (2nd grade) and Elijah (Kindergarten) as well as seeing how much Arianna (preschool) could participate.

We started each week’s work reading a few pages from Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells while the kids colored.  The boys probably would have been able to read the Wheeler book themselves, but it would have been laborious, so I used it as a read aloud instead.  (An audio version is also available both on CD and as an mp3 download.)

I bought two copies of the coordinating coloring book for the younger two to use since Ian would be using the Student Activity Book.  I was thankful that there were multiple coloring pages for each chapter, because I found Ian had an easier time listening when he was coloring (and my 2-year old wanted to do what everyone else was doing as well).  The pictures directly related to the chapters in the book, so they were a great way to include everyone.  I was a little surprised when the coloring books arrived and they were just stapled together rather than being actual bound books, but that ended up making it easy to take them apart and share the quality coloring pages from 2 books among 4 children.  I don’t know that we would have enjoyed the study nearly as much if I hadn’t gone ahead and gotten the coloring pages.

DSCN1249xThere was so much material in the Student Activity Book, I ended up taking almost twice as long as the suggested four weeks to get through it.  Even though the curriculum is intended for all elementary grades, I felt like much of it was too difficult for my Kindergartner and 2nd grader, though it would be perfect for upper elementary students.  We adapted things and often just went through the material conversationally.

The boys enjoyed working on the lapbook together after we had finished reading and dismissed the little ones.  I struggled a little bit with figuring out exactly what went where,  confused that some of the instructions were in the Student Activity Book while others were on the pages with the lapbook materials themselves.  I think when we go through the next unit I’ll be able to figure it out better, but since this was the first lapbook we’d ever created, I would have felt a little more confident if all the information I needed were in one place.

My Thoughts on Zeezok Publishing’s Music Appreciation

20160317_094524xI am in awe of how much work went into putting together this curriculum.  There is SO much to do and learn about in each study!  Even though we found it to be a bit overwhelming at this point, I think we’ll get a lot more out of it as my children get older.  I’ll probably get the audio books for future studies so we can get through the books as we drive and save our time at home for all the other activities.

Music Appreication Book 1_zpsu33n9px8The only change I would like to see would be separating the Student Activity Book into a textbook and separate workbook.  It is designed to be consumable, with one needed for each student, but so much of it is extra reading material or instructions for lapbook activities that could easily be reused, so it felt a bit wasteful to me.  Since I have multiple children, it would be nice to only be purchasing extra copies of the pages that actually get written in rather than the entire book.

There’s definitely more in the weekly lesson outline than I can get done in the time I usually allot to composer study each week.  In the future I will probably stretch out each unit more intentionally.  Or if I do want to keep to the schedule, I might even use it as a traditional unit study, where it’s the main focus of the school day with other subjects coming out of it (since history, geography, reading, writing, and of course fine arts are all included.  However we end up using it, I am thankful for such a well-designed, detailed curriculum for studying the lives and music of so many great composers.

Music Appreciation for the Elementary Grades {Zeezok Publishing LLC Review}
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  • Great review! Very thorough. I agree the activity book could be split. My 6th grader is really enjoying this curriculum and is able to complete most of it independently.

  • Melanie S

    I like how you mentioned the coloring book for the younger kids. I am thinking about getting this next year for my kids and would need to add this in for my 8 year old.