Music in a nutshell

Welcome to the first part of Learn how to listen to classical music! Music from different eras sounds different. In this part, we will look at typical features of music created in various eras with music examples and information about composers and instruments.

Musical eras

Choose the era you wish to explore. We recommend going through the eras in chronological order – so that you can see how things that happened earlier influenced things that happened later!

1400-1600

Renaissance era

1600-1750

Baroque era

1750-1820

Classical era

1820-1910

Romantic era

1890-1920

Impressionism

1910-1930

Expressionism

Modern era

Elements of music

One way of learning about music is to study its elements: rhythm, melody, harmony, form, tonal colour and dynamics. Explore these elements here. Later, we will take a look at how these elements appear in music from different eras in history.

Rhythm

Rhythm is a part of our daily lives. We often talk about a sense of rhythm. We have weekly rhythms, our bodies have rhythm, and so does dancing and any other regular activity. Rhythm is often the element that makes us move or groove along to music. 

Melody

A melody may stick in your ear for an entire day. If we hum a familiar song, it is the melody that we are humming, and melodies have the ability to remind us of important moments.

 

Harmony

Harmony symbolises tranquillity and peaceful coexistence. In music, harmony is what we hear underlying the melody. Harmony can be discordant and tense. Often harmony sets up tensions that are then satisfyingly resolved.

 

Form

Our everyday life is full of forms, shapes and structures. We easily recognise things like shoes, vases or chairs on the basis of their form. If we hear the word ‘school’, we have a fairly good idea of what the building may look like. Musical compositions also have specific forms and structures.

 

Tonal colour

Our eyes are used to seeing colour. The sky in the morning is different from the sky at midday. A person’s face may be pale, bright or sombre. We can also say we perceive colours with our ears. Sometimes the key to a piece of music is whether it sounds bright, soft or dark.

Dynamics

We can be quiet, whisper, talk or shout. What we say changes in meaning as the volume changes. Changes in volume, known as dynamics, are among the most powerful and most expressive elements of music.