Classical Music for Beginners — How to Listen to Classical Music

Classical Music for Beginners — How to Listen to Classical Music

Listening to classical music can be an enlightening, inspiring or relaxing experience, depending on your mood and what you’re listening to. But you can’t just play a song and immediately enjoy and understand it — like you can with pop music. Appreciating and taking pleasure in classical music takes time and effort, but it’s something everyone can do. Whether you’ve dabbled in a little classical music before or you’ve never heard a single note, here’s everything you need to know about how to listen to classical music.

Classical music for beginners

Musical Notes

What defines classical music?

Classical music can be difficult to define, but the term generally refers to music composed between 1750 and 1820. The music of Haydn, Mozart and most of Beethoven falls under this category. People first began to use the phrase “classical music” at the beginning of the 19th century, to describe a dazzling new era in music that fell between Bach (who was technically a Baroque composer) and Beethoven.

Although you don’t need to fully understand the definition of classical music to enjoy it, it certainly helps if you can comprehend that music is constantly being redefined. While Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn will always have their place in classical music, the genre didn’t begin with them and it certainly didn’t end with them.

Classical music lives on today, with composers writing scores for film productions, orchestras, solo performers, etc. There are even some bands and artists performing today whose songs are greatly influenced by classical music — whether they realise it or not!

Why should you listen to classical music?

Musician playing cello

Listening to classical music isn’t just an enjoyable hobby for people who like the genre. Scientific studies have proven there’s a host of benefits you can gain if you embrace the classical composers. Here are just a few to motivate you:

  • Decrease stress levels — listening to music can trigger positive chemical reactions in the brain, helping to reduce levels of stress and depression.
  • Improve quality of sleep — in studies, students’ sleep patterns were greatly improved when they spent 45 minutes listening to classical music before going to bed.
  • Speed up thought processes — brain activity is improved when listening to classical music. This means you can perform tasks quicker with better results.
  • Reduce pain — classical music helps sufferers tune out the pain by increasing the brain’s reward centre.
  • Help express emotions — many people connect to classical music when going through a difficult emotional time and use it as a coping mechanism. The notes can express feelings in a way we could never put into words and they help us be more honest with ourselves.

How to listen to classical music

Composer writing notes

The first rule of classical music for beginners is: don’t force yourself to listen to pieces you don’t like. As with any type of music, you’ll find some songs you love, some you like, some you dislike and some you really hate. You’ve no obligation to like a piece of music just because someone said it was a true masterpiece. Approach everything with an open mind, but know that if something isn’t your thing, that’s fine.

  1. Invest in quality equipment
    Classical music is at its finest when it’s played with a decent level of quality — one you won’t get through your phone or computer speakers. You don’t need to spend a small fortune on a top of the range soundsystem. But a proper pair of headphones, with a good response and without pumped-up base is a great place to start.
  2. Listen to classical music radio channels
    The easiest way to discover the plethora of past and current composers is to listen to classical music radio channels. Classical Webcast has a vault of 160 different channels which you can listen to online for free. If you’re struggling to choose from so many, some of the most popular include: BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and Classical WETA.
  3. Search for the emotion in each piece
    Classical music song titles are rarely overly-descriptive. So a lot of the time, you’ve got to figure out the emotion for each piece yourself. Blissfulness? Yearning? Bitterness? Nostalgia? Rage? Sadness? Look at each piece as a whole and try to settle on an emotion which best describes what you’re hearing.
  4. Close your eyes and visualise
    Imagination is a huge part of listening to classical music for beginners. When you’re really enjoying a piece, close your eyes and let your mind be filled with images. Whether you picture the orchestra/solo artist playing the piece, a tale of events unfolding or a series of colours, visualising what you can hear will help you understand the music.
  5. Follow your favourites
    As you’re listening to the music, make a note of any composers that spark something within you. When you’re done listening, look up those composers online and learn more about them. Or search for them on YouTube or Spotify and see if you can listen to any more of their stuff online.
  6. Read threads on classical music forums
    Many people find classical music helps them make sense of their everyday lives. Read threads on classical music forums (like this one on Reddit) to discover how particular pieces of music take on a special meaning to different people. If you learn how individual songs mean so much to others, you might find they take on a new meaning to you.
  7. Attend a classical music concert
    Classical music concerts take place throughout the year across the globe. They provide you with an excellent way of seeing how the genre still plays a part in the modern world and see new performers play pieces composed by the masters hundreds of years ago. To discover a classical music concert near you, just Google it. If you’re in Vienna or you’re planning a trip, we’ve got a huge range of classical music concerts performed by some of the finest musicians in stunning royal surroundings.

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