Resource Roundup: Music History

It’s been awhile since we’ve done a resource roundup on the blog, and coming off of Black History Month and Women’s History Month I’ve been doing a lot of extra thinking about incorporating history into my lesson plans πŸ™‚ Today’s post is not only full of fun and engaging ways to teach music history, but also contains a free giveaway thanks to the generosity of Jenny from The Playful Piano! Make sure you read to the end to find out how to be entered!

Music history can be daunting and often evokes images of large, dusty old history books that were banished to the attic once we graduated college. But it certainly doesn’t have to be this way! If we bring these images into the piano lesson, we can’t hope that our students will be much more interested in the history of what they’re learning either.

The first important aspect of adding music history into your curriculum is that you know it yourself. Some readers may be able to check box pretty quickly. Others may feel they need more than the cursory review. Either way, keep reading, because the fun resources I’m sharing today will help you grow in your own knowledge of music history – whether you work through them before sharing with your students or simultaneously.

Today we’re going to talk through 3 ways to incorporate music history in your studio. All are viable, important, and worth your time!

  1. Integrating music history seamlessly as new pieces are taught.
  2. Specific history activities as part of the lesson.
  3. Self-guided history for students to complete at home.

Integrating music history does require that you as the teacher have general knowledge of the four main time periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century) – including styles of music and big name composers for each one. But it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may sound!

There are some books that include this right along with the music. Alfred’s Exploring Piano Classics series gets a workout in my studio … I know the major history behind each time period and can easily add that in. But each page offers the time period and history behind the composer and information relevant to the specific piece. This is so helpful and you will find you learn right along with your students!

Do you use other books that consistently share the history behind the music? I’d love to hear about them!

Sometimes it is valuable to take a step back and do off the bench activities relating to music history. There is a lot to know that can be firmly grasped overtime, but taking the time to talk about connecting the dots can also be very valuable! One of my favorite ways to do this is to sit down and read a book with the student. I often look for weeks when they haven’t practiced much to read through one together. I will also take a few minuets over 2-3 weeks to read a book with a student. This can lead to increased anticipation for next week’s lesson!

In February, I did this with Welcome to Jazz. The kids had a blast going through it with me! The young ones would help press the audio when it was time, and those who were old enough helped me read (some were very dramatic readers!). If you’re looking for others books I’ve been using you can check out book recommendations here πŸ™‚ This list is added to monthly!

Having a Composer of the Month is also a great way to highlight a composer’s life and works. It gives great freedom – you can send out information and activities in student newsletters, showcase the composer on social media, or spend time during the lesson connecting the composer to what the student already knows. I enjoy this approach because a student doesn’t miss out if they are gone a week or we run out of time. There’s a whole month to make sure we touch on each composer.

Game-based learning is another fantastic way to incorporate history into your lesson time. If repetition is the mother of learning, we might as well make it fun πŸ™‚ There are a variety of ways you can turn history into a game… but Byron Games has already given you a good start! They’ve created Maestro Mastery, and although it’s listed as a 30 minute matching game, there are easy ways to make it quicker or use the cards for practice other than matching. You can check out a a very thorough review here – so I won’t go into more detail today. Maestro Mastery does include a good variety of male and female composers, although they are mostly European. Wondering why games can be so instrumental for your student’s learning? We’ve talked about it a whole lot around the blog πŸ™‚

Finally, you always have the opportunity to send self-guided music history work home. This can be done in conjunction with other theory and workbooks. Then you can discuss as little or much as needed in the lesson πŸ™‚ Here are some of my favorite resources for this –

  • Alfred’s Great Music and Musicians: You can see a full review of the books here. These are great for in lessons OR send home work.
  • Another fantastic (and free) history resource is available from They have created composer trading cards that kids love to collect! I went through a season with my students where they worked to complete one card each week … it was a hit πŸ™‚ To have access to print these FREE, you must sign up for their weekly membership emails (they send the access code this way). But in my opinion, you’ll want to sign up anyway – they have tons of great resources!
  • is a resource that although I’m including in the self-guided category, can be easily put to use in any of the three categories I’ve suggested today. They have an impressively thorough library of composers accessible by name, country, time period or category. Each composer has basic facts available and for many of them, guided listening. Games, interactive maps, and an interactive dictionary make it easy and appealing for kids to spend time exploring around the site. They have even gone so far as to include activity sheets, a beginner’s composing activity, and information about different instruments. This website is engaging, knowledgeable, and sure to have what you need!

The final resource I want to present to you is also our giveaway for today! Jenny Boster from The Playful Piano has created fun coloring book resources that introduce students to a variety of composers throughout history.

Her Shades of Sound series covers every topic from seasons, holidays, dinosaurs, countries, to women composers.

Each listening example has details about the composer and piece, something specific to listen closely for, and a coloring page to engage the listener. She offers hard copies and digital downloads – making these books perfect for a lesson activity or take home work πŸ™‚

Jenny has been super generous, and is offering a giveaway of her Shades of Sound: Seasons bundle (digital download of a full year’s curriculum – $50 value) and her Shades of Sound: Women Composers (digital download – $30 value)!

To enter, leave a comment below on how you incorporate music history into your teaching OR how you plan to in the future πŸ™‚ Winners will be drawn the morning of Monday, April 19th.

But wait … there’s more!

Around the blog we talk a lot about how important it is for us teachers to continually be learning as well. And because I know this takes time and effort, I’m committing to making this as easy for you as possible! You absolutely could pull out your old college textbooks and brush up on your history. But there are quicker and easier ways to make this happen –

  • A Year of Wonder: Classical Music to Enjoy Day by Day – Comes complete with a Spotify playlist to listen and a brief recap of the history behind each song πŸ™‚
  • – is an overwhelmingly thorough site where you can learn who had birthdays today, what albums came out in various countries, and quirky music facts from recent and past history. Did you know that Madonna’s first job was as a Burger King waitress? Or that on this day (April 16th) in 1964, the Rolling Stones released their first album in the UK? That on this day in 2003, Jerry Lee Lewis filed for divorce from his 6th wife? Yeah, neither did I πŸ˜‰
  • Have you heard of Coursera? Once you make an account you can earn college certificates for a relatively low fee, OR audit classes from some of the top universities for free. Music history is included, and these classes can be a great way to learn higher education material with relatively low commitment.
  • Of course, reading a good book is always an option πŸ™‚ These were both published recently and I haven’t gotten to them yet, but they are on my reading list.
  1. Beethoven, A Life By: Jan Caeyers
  2. Chasing Chopin: A Musical Journey Across Thee Centuries, Four Countries, and a Half Dozen Revolutions By: Annik LaFarge

Looking for more Resource Roundups? Click on the pictures below to learn about more of my favorite teaching tools πŸ™‚


6 thoughts on “Resource Roundup: Music History

  1. Pingback: Women in Music: Women’s History Month 2022 – Piano Possibilities

  2. Pingback: 100 Blog Posts and Counting – Piano Possibilities

  3. Daylyn Swanson

    I talk about each composer as we start a new piece, but I am also doing themes to introduce composers that they might not hear about often. Right now, we are doing female composers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Diana

    In group lessons we focus on one composer a year and briefly talk about them and listen to some music. Last time I discovered a minuet written by Haydn (our composer this year) which was written to be played forwards and backward! The kids thought that was interesting! The younger ones watched this video about it from Cliburn Kids I haven’t watched many of them but they have put out a lot of cool stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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