Online Class: Introduction to Music Appreciation

Music shapes and is shaped by our lives. Learn and appreciate the history of music.

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Course Description

"Melodies of Time: A Journey Through Music's Evocative History"

Music is an exquisite tapestry, interwoven with the threads of human emotion, history, and culture. Delve into the rich tapestry of musical evolution with our course, "Melodies of Time." Discover how music has mirrored our triumphs, lamented our tragedies, and shaped the very essence of human existence.

Embarking on this musical odyssey, we begin with the fundamental building blocks of music. By grasping these foundational elements, you'll cultivate a refined vocabulary that illuminates the nuances of musical compositions, helps discern the distinctive attributes of various genres, and offers insights into the choices that composers and performers make.

For instance, Jazz, a vibrant genre birthed within the African-American milieu in the U.S., is a captivating fusion of African syncopated rhythms, the haunting call-and-response patterns echoed in spirituals, and the delicate influences of European harmonies. This rich legacy continuously evolves, pushing the boundaries of Jazz to new, exhilarating heights.

We'll traverse the shifting sands of Classical music, observing its metamorphosis since the illustrious eras of Beethoven and Brahms. The twentieth century bore witness to a tapestry of innovative styles and audacious composers from both sides of the Atlantic. Visionaries like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel set a provocative tone for the century, while Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde techniques heralded a seismic shift in the musical landscape.

Our exploration doesn't halt at the Western world. We'll voyage into the vibrant heartbeats of Sub-Saharan Africa, the melodic tales of India, and the rhythmic whispers of Japan. The enchanting legacies of these regions have left indelible imprints on European and American compositions, offering a diverse and illuminating musical journey.

During this course, your auditory senses will be treated to a diverse array of music, from the ethereal Gregorian Chants of yore to contemporary chartbusters. Unearth answers to intriguing questions like:

  • Which maestro orchestrated the suspenseful notes that accompany a film's most tense moments?
  • Who envisioned the rousing call-and-response rhythms that march soldiers forward?
  • How did maritime melodies synchronize sailors' efforts on towering ships?
  • Which tracks became unlikely symbols of liberty for escaping slaves?
  • How did an ancient musical form resurge to modern-day fame in the 1980s?
  • What role did music play in kindling the flames of the Civil Rights movement?

Enroll now to traverse time with melodies and rhythms, celebrating the luminaries whose musical masterpieces have been the ever-evolving soundtrack to humanity's journey.


Course Motivation

Basic Elements of Music

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.


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. 


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.

With a basic understanding of the elements of music, a listener has the vocabulary to converse with other listeners about music while also deepening individual appreciation of music. Knowing the elements can aid a listener in detecting the subtleties of a piece of music, understanding some of the choices the composer made, and comparing it to other pieces of music in the same or other genres in one period or throughout time.
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Course Lessons

Average Lesson Rating:
4.4 / 5 Stars (Average Rating)
"Extraordinarily Helpful"
(815 votes)

Lesson 1: Basic Elements of Music

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 its quality and experiences. 39 Total Points
  • Lesson 1 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Reasons for Taking this Course
  • Complete Assignment: An Introduction
  • Complete: Lesson 1 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 1 Exam

Lesson 2 : Medieval Music

At the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the key characteristics, instruments, and composers of medieval music. Additional lesson topics: Introduction to Medieval Music; Medieval Instruments 39 Total Points
  • Lesson 2 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Music
  • Complete: Lesson 2 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 2 Exam

Lesson 3: Renaissance Music

At the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the key characteristics, instruments, and composers of Renaissance music. Additional lesson topics: Renaissance Music; The Music of the Renaissance 35 Total Points
  • Lesson 3 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 3 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 3 Exam

Lesson 4: Baroque Music

At the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the key characteristics and composers of Baroque music. Additional lesson topics: Bach; Baroque Music 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 4 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 4 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Bach Music
  • Assessment: Lesson 4 Exam

Lesson 5: Classical Music

At the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the characteristics and composers of the Classical period in music. Additional lesson topics: The Mozart Project; Ludwig van Beethoven; The Classical Period; Joseph Haydn 39 Total Points
  • Lesson 5 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Composer
  • Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 5 Exam

Lesson 6: The Romantic Period

By the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the composers and musical styles of the Romantic Period. Additional lesson topics: Romantic Period Music; The Romantic Era 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 6 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 6 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Listening to Music
  • Assessment: Lesson 6 Exam

Lesson 7: Classical (Pre-modern) Music, 1900-1945

The 20th century ushered in some of the most important and exciting changes in music. 35 Total Points
  • Lesson 7 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 7 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 7 Exam

Lesson 8: Classical (Modern) Music, 1945 to Present

The second half of the 20th century saw an even more varied style of classical music, incorporating many styles, such as serialism and minimalism. 35 Total Points
  • Lesson 8 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 8 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 8 Exam

Lesson 9: Jazz, 1890 to 1945

Jazz has an honorary place in American music as being one of the first forms of music to be developed in the United States. 135 Total Points
  • Lesson 9 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 9 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Jazz Music
  • Assessment: Lesson 9 Exam

Lesson 10: Jazz, 1945 to Present

Individual jazz musicians continued to push the boundaries of jazz, and a new style of jazz developed called bebop. 35 Total Points
  • Lesson 10 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 10 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 10 Exam

Lesson 11: Opera Part One

At the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the forms and composers of opera. Additional lesson topics: Ballad Operas; The History of Opera 40 Total Points
  • Lesson 11 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 11 Assignment
  • Assessment: Lesson 11 Exam

Lesson 12: Opera: Part Two

At the end of this lesson, you will recognize some of the voice classifications, performers, and venues of opera. Additional lesson topics: Opera Composers 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 12 Video
  • Lesson discussions: Opera
  • Complete: Lesson 12 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Your Favorites
  • Assessment: Lesson 12 Exam

Lesson 13: Broadway Musical Theatre

At the end of this lesson, you will be familiar with some of the composers and performers who made Broadway music part of our collective culture. Additional lesson topics: Vaudeville 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 13 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 13 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Broadway Music
  • Assessment: Lesson 13 Exam

Lesson 14: Pop Music

At the end of this lesson, participants will be familiar with some early iconic composers and performers of popular music in America. Additional lesson topics: 50 Moments that Shaped Pop 140 Total Points
  • Lesson 14 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 14 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Pop Music
  • Assessment: Lesson 14 Exam

Lesson 15: Folk Music

At the end of this lesson, participants will be familiar with some of the origins, formats, and performers of American folk music. Additional lesson topics: Folk Music; Shanties and Sea Songs 138 Total Points
  • Lesson 15 Video
  • Complete: Lesson 15 Assignment
  • Complete Assignment: Music Choice
  • Assessment: Lesson 15 Exam

Lesson 16: Non-Western Music

Non-Western music is a diverse tradition that reflects the history, development, and characteristics of some of the world's most populous nations. 155 Total Points
  • Lesson 16 Video
  • Lesson discussions: What is your opinion of this course?; Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course); Course Comments
  • Complete Assignment: New Things
  • Assessment: Lesson 16 Exam
  • Assessment: The Final Exam
Total Course Points

Learning Outcomes

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  • 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.

Additional Course Information

Online CEU Certificate
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Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
Course Title: Introduction to Music Appreciation
Course Number: 8900277
Lessons Rating: 4.4 / 5 Stars (815 votes)
Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
Availability: This course is online and available in all 50 states including: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.
Last Updated: March 2024
Course Type: Self-Paced, Online Class
CEU Value: 1.6 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
Instructor: Nancy Fillip
Syllabus: View Syllabus
Course Fee: $120.00 U.S. dollars

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