Listening Examples

Peter And The Wolf

Sit back and enjoy Prokofiev’s ‘Peter And The Wolf’ – it’s a story with music played by a whole orchestra! The narrator introduces various different instruments which help to tell the story. It’s 30 minutes long, so get comfortable!

  • What instrument is used to represent the bird in the story? Does it sound like a bird? Why?
  • How does the wolf’s music make you feel? Is it major or minor? Fast or slow? Do you know what kind of instrument plays it?
  • What did you like about this piece? What did you dislike?
  • If you wrote a story, what character would be represented by the violin? Or the piano? Or the ukulele?

Peter and the Wolf was composed by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936.

The Incredibles

You might have seen the movie The Incredibles (or Incredibles 2) – here’s some of the music from it played by an ensemble from Los Angeles called Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

The theme was composed by Michael Giacchino but it was arranged for ‘big band’ by Gordon Goodwin (who you might be able to spot playing piano in this video).

  • What different instruments can you see and hear?
  • The drummer is playing in a separate room with a window looking out at the other musicians – can you guess why?
  • Did you notice the improvised solos? Which instruments had a solo?
  • Did this piece sound suitable for a secret agent/superhero movie? Why?
  • And also – did you enjoy it? Is this a style of music you’ve heard before? Do you want to hear more?

Clair De Lune

‘Clair de Lune’ was written in about 1890 by French composer Claude Debussy. It’s the third movement (of four) in a longer piece of music for piano called ‘Suite Bergamasque’.

Some people describe Debussy’s music as Impressionist – like the painter Monet (you might have seen his famous Water Lilies painting). The music might give the vague ‘impression’ of something or convey a feeling or atmosphere, rather than describing a scene in great detail with crisp edges. Tricky stuff!

  • In English, Clair de Lune means ‘Moonlight’. Does it sound like moonlight to you? What mood does this music suggest to you? Can you image a scene or story that might suit this music?
  • What time signature is this piece in? Can you tell?! Can you clap a beat? I think the answer is ‘no!’ or ‘it’s very difficult!’ because the performer is not keeping the beat steady. He’s doing this on purpose – what effect does this have on how the piece sounds?
  • Listen carefully to the beginning of the piece. Can you spot this tune when it returns later on?

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

It’s the famous one! Many people recognise the opening notes of what is probably the most famous symphony ever written. But have you ever listened to the whole piece?

This piece for orchestra was written by German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven between 1804 and 1808. This was during what is called the ‘Classical period’ in music. Mozart and Haydn are examples of other Classical composers. Beethoven also continued to write music in the ‘Romantic period’ of music (which started in approx 1812) – where the new music being written became increasingly emotional and dramatic. Wagner is an example of another Romantic composer who wrote for orchestra in a similarly dramatic style.

The length of any symphony depends on how fast the orchestra plays it, but in the version below (from the BBC Proms) it lasts 33 minutes. However, as in most symphonies this is broken into four movements:

1. ‘Allegro con brio’ starts at 0:00 (this translates as ‘fast, with spirit’)

2. ‘Andante con moto’ starts at 8:26 (‘slowly but with motion’ i.e. don’t play it so slowly that you grind to a halt!)

3. ‘Scherzo: Allegro’ starts at 19:13 (scherzo means ‘playful’ or ‘a joke’, while allegro means ‘fast and lively’)

4. ‘Allegro’ starts at 24:35 (‘fast and lively’ again) – this time there’s no gap between this movement and the one before it! The official start of the movement is when the big dramatic tune comes in – see if you can spot it! (By the way, this is my favourite movement of the four – it has some very catchy melodies and it sounds so exciting!)

I recommend listening to at least the first movement (8 minutes long) and listen to it at least twice! You’ll probably enjoy it more the second time round when it’s more familiar.

Here are a few things to consider while you listen:

  • What instruments can you hear? Are there times when you hear one instrument more than another? Does every instrument get the spotlight at some point?
  • What is the conductor doing? Can you think of three ways he might be helping the orchestra to play this piece?
  • Do the names of the movements (and their meanings) match the style of the music?
  • When was the slowest and gentlest part of the piece?
  • There are times when the musicians in the orchestra are moving around a lot as they play. Why do you think this is? What does the music sound like at this point? Is it fast/slow, loud/quiet, passionate/thoughtful/happy/angry/sad, etc?
  • Did the famous opening notes return later on in the piece?

Blazin’ Fiddles

Blazin’ Fiddles isn’t a piece of music – it’s a Scottish folk band!

Folk music isn’t usually written down the way classical music is. The main tune can be written down if you want a way of remembering it later (this is usually just 16 bars of music with a couple of repeat marks) but that’s about it. The tunes are usually ‘traditional’ – this means they were written a long time ago and played without written sheet music for so long that we don’t remember who wrote the tune in the first place! But nowadays lots of folk musicians are also writing their own tunes in the same style, so it’s not always obvious if a tune is brand new or very old.

Folk tunes are usually played in ‘sets’ – this is several tunes played one after the other to make a complete piece of music that lasts 3 or 4 minutes. The ‘arrangement’ of the full piece of music is decided by the musicians themselves – sometimes in advance, but often improvised as they play! They often grow in energy throughout the set, to finish on a really exciting tune!

In the video below, the first tune is called The Inside-Oot Fish Eater (by Peter Wood). Note: the link will take you to the sheetmusic on an external website. Listen out for the change to the second tune, Peerie Willie (by Willie Hunter), 1 minute 33 seconds into the video. The last tune is called Pat The Budgie (by Graham Townsend) and it starts at 2 minutes 40 seconds.

In the video below these tunes are played by four violinists (or ‘fiddle players’), one guitarist and one pianist. Another band could play the same set of tunes in a completely different way, with a completely different choice of instruments! However, in folk music the ‘arrangement’ of the set is unique to the band playing – so it’s more likely (and considered politer) that another band would choose just one of these tunes and play it in a different way, with two completely different tunes making up the rest of the set!

While you watch and listen, have a think about:

  • Is the music fast or slow? Major or minor? Does it have a clear beat?
  • How does the music make you feel? Happy, sad, energised, sleepy?
  • Do you think these musicians chose the arrangement of these tunes in advance (and practised it) or are they improvising and making it up as they go along?
  • Can you hear the key signature change whenever the musicians move onto the next tune? What else happens at this point? Does the mood change? Does the excitement build?
  • The names of these tunes are a bit silly! Can you think of some good names for folk tunes? Maybe you could write a tune and name it after a pet, a favourite food, or a silly memory? How about a jaunty jig called The Dog’s Pyjamas? Or a fast reel called Polly The Plate Smasher? Let me know what you come up with!

Double Violin Concerto

Bach’s Concerto For Two Violins in D minor is one of the most famous pieces of music from the Baroque Period of music. It was written between 1717 and 1723.

In this piece of music, there are two solo violinists, showing off their skills with parts that only they play, and a small accompanying orchestra of string players (violins, violas, cellos and double basses) and often a harpsichord.

There are three movements:

1. Vivace (meaning ‘lively and brisk’): starting at 2:44 in the video below

2. Largo ma non tanto (meaning ‘slow and dignified but not too much’): starting at 6:57

3. Allegro (meaning ‘at a brisk speed’): starting at 14:12

This piece contains a lot of counterpoint – this means the different musical lines sound very independent from each other, twisting up and down at different times and with different rhythms.

There are also some fugal passages, where one part plays a tune, then someone else plays it a few bars later (often starting on a different note). This reminds me of songs like Frere Jacques and London’s Burning, which you can sing as rounds with everyone starting the song from the beginning but not all at the same time. You can hear a fugue-like tune in this piece at the very beginning. The tune starts at 2:46, played by the two soloists (it starts with the first few notes of a D minor scale). Then at 2:58 you can hear the same tune played by some violinists sitting in the orchestra, but they start the tune a bit higher (on the A string) this time. You might need to listen to this bit a few times to learn the tune and recognise it when it gets repeated!

Baroque Music is very old – it’s some of the earliest music that is played by orchestras today. It contains a lot of the basic building blocks of music, like scales and arpeggios. Can you hear any?

The beat is usually very strict in this type of music. Can you clap the main crotchet beat? Don’t let the quick semiquavers put you off! When you clap the beat it should feel like you are marching along very comfortably, not skipping or running.

Can you spot the harpsichord? It looks a lot like a piano, but a very fancy one! Can you see the pretty patterns on it? These don’t have a musical purpose – it was just fashionable in 1700s when these instruments were made! What colour are the keys? Do they look like piano keys?

Eric Whitacre

Here’s a piece of modern choral music – this is music written for singers (or groups of singers in ‘choirs’). Sleep was written by American composer Eric Whitacre only 20 years ago.

Music for choirs is most often written in four parts for the different voices – Soprano and Alto (the higher voices, usually women), and Tenor and Bass (the lower voices, usually men). These four parts could be sung by one person on each part (a total of four singers, performing in a ‘quartet’) or with several people singing each part (a total of…however many people there are in the choir!).

This piece, Sleep, is written for SSAATTBB, so there are eight different musical lines all happening at once. When it was first performed, there were 16 singers in the choir (so I’m guessing there were two people singing each part). In the video below, there are only 8 singers, so there is only one singer on each part.

  • The lyrics for this song can be found in the comments below the video. Do you think the style of the music suits the words? Here’s the first verse: “The evening hangs beneath the moon, A silver thread on darkened dune. With closing eyes and resting head I know that sleep is coming soon.”
  • Does one voice stand out with an obvious tune throughout, while the others provide an accompaniment, or are all the voices equally important?
  • The different notes sung by these singers make chords – can you spot some moments where the music seems to ring comfortably in our ears, and some moments where the chord is more clashy, or ‘discordant’?
  • Let me know what you think of this piece! Is it boring or relaxing? Creepy or beautiful? Would you like to sing it, or to play a piece like this?

You’ll probably need to listen to this in a quiet environment, with the speakers turned up so you can catch the quiet notes!

Toccata And Fugue

Do you recognise the first few notes of this piece?

This is Toccata And Fugue In D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was written about 300 years ago, during the Baroque period of music. It’s probably the most famous piece ever written for organ!

Organs look very similar to pianos, but they’re definitely a little more complicated, and they sound very different because instead of striking strings with a hammer, air is pushed through metal pipes. This is a bit like a recorder, but air is blown through the pipe by the organ itself, not the human playing it, and each pipe only plays one note – the bigger the pipe, the lower the note. The pipes are often enormous! Can you see them in this video as the camera moves across the church?

This particular organ has four different manuals (which are keyboards played by the hands). You can see these from the very beginning of the piece, as the organist swaps between them to make slightly different sounds, and to play particularly high or low notes. This organ also has a pedalboard (played by the feet!) but you’ll have to look closely to spot it being played. For example, at 2:44 you can see the organist moving his legs and you can hear some very low notes join in. And even more impressively, at 6:47 he plays the main tune with his feet – it’s very fast!

At 7:05 you can see a second man reach across to pull out the stops at the side of the organ. Just like the different manuals, these knobs can be used to change the sound of the organ. The main organist definitely doesn’t seem to have enough hands to keep playing and change the stops himself!

This piece contains a variety of textures. Sometimes all you can hear is a single melody line – one note at a time (or two notes exactly an octave apart, played in unison). Sometimes you can hear full chords – lots of notes stacked on top of each other. These moments remind me of hymns an organ might play in church. Sometimes there are lots of very quick notes, like arpeggios or broken chords. These notes change so quickly that you can almost hear two different melody lines at once – one containing the higher notes in the broken chord, and the other containing the lower notes.

Next time you enter a church or cathedral, have a look around and see if you can spot the organ – there’s usually one somewhere!

Swan Lake

Swan Lake is a ballet set to music by Russian composer Tchaikovsky in 1875-6. The ballet follows the sad story of Odette, a princess who has been turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer.

Consider what is required of music that is used for ballets, and see if you can spot these features as you listen:

  • The dancers need a clear beat so that they can keep in time with the music (and each other!).
  • There is no speech in a ballet – the story is told entirely through music and movement, so the emotions of the characters must be conveyed in the music.
  • Ballets often have a mixture of characters with different personalities, so the style of the music may change drastically depending on who is in the scene.

This video shows an orchestra playing the first two musical numbers in Swan Lake:

Scene (the swan theme) starts at 0:00. Can you hear the shivery tremolo strings? The oboe melody? Does the music help you to imagine swans swimming across a lake

Waltz starts at 3:05. What moods can you hear in this music? (The mood might not be the same all the way through – can you hear any moments of anger, joy, thoughtfulness, calm, excitement….?)


Several of my students have expressed an interest in folk music recently so I’m going to keep sharing the occasional folk track on here!

Here’s a video by Beoga, who are an Irish band consisting of five musicians – a pianist, fiddle player (violin), a bodhran player (Irish drum), and two accordion players.

This tune is called Eoichaid and it was composed by Sean Og Graham, but this particular ‘arrangement’ of the tune will have been a collaborative process between all five members of the band.

And here’s a fun bit of trivia – you can hear Beoga playing on Ed Sheeran’s songs Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan!