Classical Music – The Greatest Hits of the Last 400 Years

How do you introduce your child to the world of classical music? How do you expose them to the greatest hits of the last 400 years? Or maybe you are planning a joint discovery of this music – you and your child together. I have some great ideas for you!

Start with some recordings

Recordings May Tell the Story of the Music

An easy way to start this introduction to the world of classical music is to play some of it at home. There are some great recordings produced specifically for children to introduce them to classical music. When my kids were young we found some of the recordings from Classical Kids. My girls loved the one based on the story of the Magic Flute. (Mozart’s Magic Fantasy: A Journey through the ‘Magic Flute’) Classical Kids offers a recording about Beethoven (Beethoven Lives Upstairs), another about Vivaldi (Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery), and several others. These are all stories about composers and their music, using lots of music.

Add Some Silly Words

We also enjoyed a series of recordings called Beethoven’s Wig featuring Richard Perlmutter. These were a lot of fun – the artists took famous themes from classical music and wrote silly words for the themes. We originally found them in our library. I have recently purchased some of these for my grandchildren. The title song, Beethoven’s Wig, uses the theme from his 5th Symphony. The words go on to talk about how big his wig is, how heavy it is when he takes a walk, etc. We just had the audio recordings, but now there are animated videos as well.

Introductions to the Instruments

Your child might also enjoy Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf (with narration). This is a good introduction to the different instruments of the orchestra. Selected instruments represent different characters in the story. Another piece, also featuring different instruments of the orchestra, is Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens. Instead of a story, this piece has a short poem (written by Ogden Nash) for each section of the music. Younger children might not get the humor in the poetry, but older kids will.

One other suggestion here – find recordings featuring the instrument your child is learning. Listening is a great key to learning. This can also be a great inspiration for a young student – imagine the possibilities!

Go to a Concert

Another way to add classical music to a child’s life experience is to go to a concert. Live performances are amazing! The experience of the music is so different from recordings. And you can introduce your child to concert etiquette as well. When to applaud, when not to applaud. What the conductor does. The extra duties of the first chair violinist.

Start Local

Go to some local concerts. Maybe your child knows someone in the local high school music program – a neighbor, a babysitter, someone from church. Go to one of their concerts.

Is there a college near you? Check out their concert schedules. Choose a concert your child might enjoy. A night of Renaissance or Baroque music might not appeal to them, but a concert of movie music might.

Maybe there is a community band, orchestra, or choir in your area. Attend a concert. Support their work. And at the same time, you are introducing your child to some new music and some new musicians.  

Look for Free Options!

Concerts by major symphonies can be expensive! So look for free options. (Or reduced prices.) Chicago offers free outdoor symphony concerts throughout the summer.I enjoy going to some of those! And go beyond thinking of just symphonies. Look for free recitals or small ensemble performances. Again, the Chicago Cultural Center offers free concerts every week throughout the year. (Sorry about the Chicago plugs – but that’s where I live, so that’s what I know. Just examples.)

Reduced Price Options

Some symphonies offer Saturday afternoon matinee performances designed specifically for families with children. The timing is good, the prices may be lower, and the music is often programmed with children in mind.

Programs for Families

Look for concerts with music programmed that will appeal to children. Peter and the Wolf, and Carnival of the Animals are great options. Also, A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Benjamin Britten). Maybe there is a concert of some of John Williams’ movie music. Or how about a movie showing with a live symphony providing the music for the movie?

Ballet, Anyone?

What about taking your child to the ballet? The dancers are graceful and lovely, the costumes are pretty, the story unfolds before you, and the music is usually fantastic. Not every child will find ballet fascinating, but yours might. Consider The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, or Swan Lake. There are also ballet presentations of Peter Pan and Cinderella. Do a little bit of prep work, and your child may fall in love with ballet. Study the story, listen to a little of the music in advance. That way your child will able to follow along as the ballet unfolds.

How about Opera?

I know, everyone is not a fan of opera. But maybe it’s because we haven’t given it a chance. Opera is really like a play – only the words are sung instead of spoken. And the opera stereotype is that everyone always dies at the end. But that’s not always the case. You just have to choose the right opera. Again, go over the story in advance. Even when the opera is performed in English it is not always easy to understand all the words. Knowing the storyline helps to understand what is happening during the performance. And, as always, use discretion for age-appropriateness. If you can’t get to a live opera performance, find one online and watch it. Your local PBS station might occasionally broadcast operas. Here is a list of good introductory operas:

                        The Magic Flute (Mozart)

                        The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart)

                        Cinderella (La Cenerentola – Rossini, or Cendrillon – Massenet)

                        Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck)

                        Amahl and the Night Visitors (Gian Carlo Menotti)

                        Where the Wild Things Are (Oliver Knussen)

                        The Adventures of Pinocchio (Jonathan Dove)

                        Moby Dick (Jake Heggie)

                        All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (Peter Rothstein)


Most of us know about and enjoy musicals. Maybe you even participated in your high school musical productions Introduce them to your child! Of course, your child is probably familiar with many of the movie musicals already – Moana, Aladdin, Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, etc. But what about some of the old classics? Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Newsies, Oliver, Singin’ in the Rain, The Music Man. For older children you could include West Side Story, Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera, Wicked. The list can get quite long! What musical is your local high school producing this year? Go check it out!

Let’s summarize – Introduce your child to a new world of music!

  • Check out some new recordings
  • Listen to a live concert
  • Watch the beauty of a ballet
  • Witness the drama of an opera
  • Enjoy the fun of a musical

Do you have a favorite opera, musical, or ballet? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Introduce your Child to the World of Classical Music