Online Class: Introduction to Music Appreciation
with CEU Certificate*
have taken this course
Music shapes and is shaped by our lives. Learn and appreciate the history of music.
A well-rounded study of music appreciation begins with basic elements of music. Knowing the basic elements of music will aid any music listener in developing a working vocabulary for discussing music, determining different qualities of music, and evaluating a composer or performer's choices with a composition. These elements can then be applied when presented with a new piece or even genre of music. Jazz, for example, is a genre of music started in the United States within the African-American culture, using syncopated rhythms of African music, call-and-response forms used in slave songs and spirituals, and European musical influences. This unique blend of music origins still accounts for new developments and experiments in jazz music today.
We will also study how Classical music has changed since the days of Beethoven and Brahms. The twentieth century contained a rich tradition of new styles and brilliant new composers from Europe and the
Finally, we will review the myriad contributions to the musical repertoire from non-Western regions, including Sub-Saharan Africa,
Students in this course will have the opportunity to sample many kinds of music, from the Gregorian Chants of the Middle Ages to the song that currently occupies the #1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart. You will learn such things as:
- Who wrote the heart-stopping movie music that accompanies the teenage girl going into the dark basement at midnight?
- Who thought of the call-and-response cadences that keep the infantry marching?
- Who developed the Big Band beat that makes us want to get up and dance?
- How did the sailors on tall ships use music to work together as they hauled the long lines?
- What songs helped escaping slaves find their way north?
- How did 16th century music find its way to the top of the popularity charts in the 1980s?
- How did a fire bring about the first Broadway musical?
- How did singing together change people's hearts and minds during the Civil Rights movement?
Join today and learn about the composers and performers whose music has provided the soundtrack for our lives.
In this course, we will develop our appreciation and understanding of music by following how it has evolved, expanded, and branched out over time. To begin our learning experience, we will first discuss what "music" is.
Music is sound. As sound, it is analyzed by the brain. Not only do the sound characteristics of music help the brain determine that what it hears is music, but elements of music can also be analyzed by the brain to evaluate their quality and experience, and even evoke a particular reaction or emotion in the listener. Having a working knowledge of these elements of music can aid the listener in discussing music with others and also give the listener a deeper appreciation of individual musical compositions.Rhythm
The overall movement of a piece of music can be labeled its "rhythm." Rhythm is an arrangement of sounds in a piece of music, and there are several components that make up rhythm. The arrangement of sounds often follows some kind of pattern of alternating sounds and silences through a period of time. Thus, the sounds and silences, and specifically how they are arranged, create a sense of flow to a composition. Rhythm is influenced by the beat, meter, and tempo of a piece.
A beat is what is responsible for giving music its rhythm. A beat divides music into sections of time; it is the music's pulse. Often, the percussion instruments in a song's performance are what play the beats. When listeners clap their hands or stomp their feet to music, it is usually to the music's beats.
A song's meter is how the beats are arranged, usually in terms of strong and weak beats. A meter will tell how many strong beats there are during a certain space of music. These spaces are called measures. Unless the meter changes within a song, the same number of beats will always be played in each measure, so the pattern of the beats repeats. It is this repetition that allows a listener to keep time to the music and, if appropriate, to be able to dance to it.
For example, a song with two beats per measure, called a duple meter, can be counted "1-2 1-2 1-2" in equal length and repeated throughout the entire song. A song with three beats per measure, called a triple meter, can be counted "1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3." The triple meter is the meter for waltzes. Quadruple meters are counted "1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4," and other meters continue in this fashion.
It might be easiest to think of a song's tempo as its speed. Specifically, this speed is how quickly or slowly the beats are played. Most musical compositions have the speed indicated at the beginning of the music in standardized terms, which happen to be in Italian. The tempo of the piece can be sped up or slowed down in the piece as well. Composers, conductors, and musicians may use a tempo to convey a particular idea or feeling. For example, a faster tempo has more energy, can be happy or frenetic, or even exciting. A slower tempo is calmer, more soothing, or could convey a sad or mournful feeling.
Pitch is an important concept when thinking about how humans hear and how the ears work. Sound is made when an object is vibrated, and those vibrations usually transmit to the ears via the air. The faster the vibrations are, the higher the sound. How "high" or "low" a sound is to the ear is called its "pitch." When a sound has a particular pitch, meaning that its vibrations are always the same, such as with the middle C note on a piano, the sound is called a "tone." These tones are the notes of a musical composition that are played by various instruments or are sung.
Though one tone or note is technically the same regardless of who sings it or what instrument plays it, that note will sound different through different media. How the note sounds is its timbre. The timbre is what allows a listener to distinguish one instrument from another and one singer from another. Timbre preferences can be highly subjective, which would explain why some people prefer the sounds of some instruments over others. Composers can use timbre to their advantage by selecting a certain instrument to convey a particular feeling or mood, whether it is calm and soothing or loud and raucous.
The volume of a piece of music, or a section of a piece, refers to dynamics. Like tempo, dynamics are indicated on a composition through a written designation in Italian. While an entire song may be designed to be played loudly and another softly, other songs may have particular sections, notes, or instruments played at dynamics different from the rest of the song. Dynamics can help a piece of music convey an overall feeling, mood, or story.
When people hum a tune of a song, most likely it is the melody. A melody is the arrangement of notes in a musical composition from the beginning to end. The melody is designed to be the most memorable part of a song. The notes of the melody move up and down from each other during the song, and as a whole, they create a tune that, along with the meter, drives the flow of the song.
Melodies often employ a few recognizable characteristics in songs that listeners have come to expect. For example, many songs have melodies that have repeated sections. In popular vocal music, this can be the chorus. A song's melody can also be repeated in shorter sections as well. Sometimes a listener can anticipate the next tone or two in a melody based on previous patterns in the same melody; a composer can write for that anticipation or against it to create interest.
To understand harmony, a listener must first know what a chord is. A chord is at least three tones sounded at the same time. Whereas a melody refers to tones sounded one after another, a chord is when multiple tones are sounded at the same time. Harmony, then, is the concept that describes how chords are created and what their sounds are.
Harmony can be pleasant and comfortable to the ear or sometimes harsh sounding. Consonant chords are the chords that sound pleasing and stable. Many musical compositions make abundant use of consonant chords in their harmonies, and they often end with them. Dissonant chords, on the other hand, can sound jarring and unstable. Harmony with dissonance can be used effectively to create tension, drama, and emotional unhappiness. Experimental forms of music often use dissonance freely, and newer compositions are more likely to use dissonant harmonies as well.
Texture in music deals with the different layers of notes. For example, the main melody could be one layer, and another melody could be a second layer, and so on. In an orchestra, if different sections are playing different melodies or chords, each one of those is a different layer contributing to the overall texture of a musical composition.
Texture can also be further subdivided by the type of layering that a composition has. For example, a monophonic texture is a song that has one melody line. A listener can hear the main melody line, but there is no other layer of music with it. Conversely, a homophonic texture features one main melody line, and other chords accompany that line. It is possible in a homophonic piece of music that a vocalist could be singing the melody while the instruments are playing chords to accompany the melody. This is quite common in American pop music.
A little more complex is polyphonic texture. Music with polyphonic textures features two or more lines of melody with or without chord accompaniment. Some music styles call for multiple instruments to improvise their lines at once; that would be polyphonic texture. Sometimes, polyphonic music can sound cluttered and disorganized; and other times, the melody lines of polyphonic pieces are written in a way to be complementary and consonant with each other.
As the usual definition of the word indicates, form in music deals with the overall structure and composition of a musical work. All of the elements discussed above contribute to the overall form of a musical composition.
Musical forms can be quite complex. For example, there are certain conventions that have been used by many composers through time to write a piece that is intended for dancing, for a chamber performance, or for singing. Particular harmonies, timbres, tempos, and textures can be carefully selected and employed with other elements to create an overall composition that shares the characteristics of other pieces in a musical genre, thereby appealing to listeners who enjoy that type of music.
In addition to conforming to particular musical genres or writing music for certain uses, a composer can also use musical elements together to create a particular feeling or experience, or to tell a story.
There are a few ways to combine musical elements together to create particular effects in its overall form. Repetition involves playing the same melody multiple times. This popular convention helps listeners remember pieces of music, and it also helps tie a whole song together. Contrast, on the other hand, opposes elements to each other. The dynamics can change from loud to soft; a consonant harmony can become dissonant; a tempo can change quickly from fast to slow. Contrast helps keep a listener interested, and it also creates tension or drama in a piece. Variation is almost a cross between the two. Some elements are changed while others stay the same. For example, a melody can be repeated, but its timbre or tempo changes. Used intentionally, repetition, contrast, and variation can create greater meaning in a piece of music.
- Completely Online
- Printable Lessons
- Full HD Video
- 6 Months to Complete
- 24/7 Availability
- Start Anytime
- PC & Mac Compatible
- Android & iOS Friendly
- Accredited CEUs
Lesson 1: Basic Elements of Music
Lesson 2 : Medieval Music
Lesson 3: Renaissance Music
Lesson 4: Baroque Music
Lesson 5: Classical Music
Lesson 6: The Romantic Period
Lesson 7: Classical (Pre-modern) Music, 1900-1945
Lesson 8: Classical (Modern) Music, 1945 to Present
Lesson 9: Jazz, 1890 to 1945
Lesson 10: Jazz, 1945 to Present
Lesson 11: Opera Part One
Lesson 12: Opera: Part Two
Lesson 13: Broadway Musical Theatre
Lesson 14: Pop Music
Lesson 15: Folk Music
Lesson 16: Non-Western Music
- Describe basic elements of music.
- Identify medieval music.
- Identify renaissance music.
- Identify baroque music.
- Identify classical music.
- Summarize the romantic period in music.
- Summarize classical (pre-modern) music, 1900-1945 and modern classic music (1945-present).
- Identify, recognize and describe jazz music.
- Recognize opera music.
- Recognize and identify pop music, folk music, and non-western music.
- Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.
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