Saturday, February 2, 2008

How to Listen to Classical Music When You Don't Have a Lot of Time

Let me share a few words of encouragement for those of you who might be a bit intimidated by the potential time commitment involved in learning the great classical musical works.

Most of us are accustomed to hearing our music in 3-4 minute songs, so it can seem like an enormous investment in time to get to know entire symphonies that can range from 30 minutes to more than an hour.

Beethoven's famous Fifth Symphony clocks in at a relatively brief 25 minutes, but even that can represent a significant time commitment if you want to listen closely to various sections of the symphony, or repeat a favorite movement a couple of times. Of course, symphonies by composers like Bruckner or Shostakovich can run an hour or more long. And we'll see even more extreme examples of length when we tackle Mahler in future posts.

If you have a job, a family and a typically busy life, you won't often be able to drop everything and invest a non-trivial amount of time in listening closely to a symphony. So I suggest you consider breaking symphonies into bite-sized pieces of one movement at a time.

In almost all symphonies, an individual movement can be heard as its own holistic work. It doesn't necessarily need the rest of the symphony surrounding it to be a beautiful piece in its own right. Sure, it's important to experience an entire symphony from beginning to end, but you can just as easily learn a symphony piecemeal and still become intimately familiar with it. Think of it like tackling a favorite book one chapter at a time.

Great classical music is so beautiful and so profound that it would be a shame to miss out on learning about it because you think you don't have the time. If you have a busy schedule, using the "one movement at a time" technique with just a little bit of daily discipline might mean the difference between listening to classical music regularly and not listening to it at all.


dan p said...

nice idea. i like to listen to one movement a handful of times so that i get comfortable with it before moving on to the next one.

Mumsicles said...

listen while commuting, or while driving your kids around town.