Music Special

Happy Thanksgiving week! Martin and I are taking a break and we will not be learning about a new country this week. Instead I thought it would be fun to revisit some of our past music activities!


Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer who lived from 1770- 1827. He is considered one of, if not the most important composer who ever lived. His music has endured centuries and several works are strongly established in our modern pop culture.

In 1798, at the young age of 28 Beethoven began losing his hearing. This was during the height of his career and of the pieces I shared above all were written after his hearing started to go or was completely gone. When his 9th symphony debuted he could not hear the eruption of applause when the audience heard the premier. Can you imagine? Music is your life force and drive to live and you can’t hear. In fact for the last 10 years of his life he was completely deaf. Thankfully for us, Beethoven didn’t let this medical condition stop him. According to

“From 1803 to 1812, what is known as his “middle” or “heroic” period, he composed an opera, six symphonies, four solo concerti, five string quartets, six-string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs. 

The most famous among these were the haunting Moonlight Sonata, symphonies No. 3-8, the Kreutzer violin sonata and Fidelio, his only opera. 

In terms of the astonishing output of superlatively complex, original and beautiful music, this period in Beethoven’s life is unrivaled by any of any other composer in history.”

This week I wanted Martin to learn about Beethoven not only as a composer but as someone who over came a massive hurdle. So we learned about the different ways to experience music. You can see it, feel it, and hear it.

We started with science!

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The Magic School Bus, has a wonderful episode and subsequent book all about sound waves. Ms Frizzle and her class go to a sound museum to perform in a music concert. Carlos is building a new instrument but the more he adds to the instrument the cooler it looks but the worse it sounds. By way of bizarre circumstances, fitting for the magic school bus, students end up in a room with giant instruments and magic glasses that let them SEE sound waves! Pretty cool huh?

The students learn that in order for an instrument to make sound it has vibrate!

So after reading the book, Martin and I set out to see if we too could SEE sound. We have a small drum that we used but you can make your own drum by stretching a balloon over an empty can. We took turns playing the drum with a small toy on top, we watched as the bug jumped across the drum.

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Next I had Martin hold the sides of the drum while I played and he felt the vibrations. We talked about how the drum is vibrating and what he was feeling was the vibrations or the sound.

Thanks to sound waves we can hear, see and feel music.

Now back to Beethoven, he was the most famous composer in Vienna at the time and he was losing his hearing. People were expecting more new music, so how was he supposed to compose without being able to hear?

One way he over came this, was by sawing the legs off of his piano so that it would sit on the floor and he could FEEL the vibrations as he played!

Beethoven was one amazing human!

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As you may or may not know, Italy was home to some of the most important musical composers of the world- Vivaldi, Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi, to name a few of my favorites.

You have probably heard their music for years though you may not realize it. Here is some Rossini:

Some Puccini:


Italian composers were influential in their time as many musical terms are in Italian. Specifically the way we describe how fast or slow music is, is in Italian.

Largo means slow, Moderato means at a walking pace, Presto is at a running pace and then Molto Presto is at a very fast running pace. So when you look at a piece of music it might have one of those words at the beginning of the song, and without even hearing it you would know how fast or slow it is.

Introducing the Tempo Mini Game!

I developed a game for Martin that accomplished so many things! It worked on Martin’s letter and word recognition, his understanding of these new words and best of all it got him tired!

I wrote largo, moderato, presto, and molto presto on small pieces of paper and put them in a little bucket. Martin would draw one, tell me what it said and then we would run, dance, or walk around our kitchen to whatever speed the paper told us to go. Once we went through all the papers, we would put them back in and repeat. We both had a lot of fun and best of all he had a great nap!

Play the game at home:


As a musician I have always had a massive respect for African style music and musicians. So I was very excited when I learned that Zimbabwe has a unique national instrument- the mbria! The mbria (Mm- brie-yah) is also know as the finger harp. It is a small instrument made of a wooden base and metal ‘fingers’ that the player plucks. The sound is beautiful.

Martin and I set out to make our own. I found a wooden tag at the store and so that would be our base. I extending our craft time quite a bit by having Martin paint the base in layers. He started with yellow then we taped what we wanted to stay yellow. Then we did the same with red then green till finally we did a final layer in black (we used the colors of the flag).

Once it was fully dry (an hour or so later) we peeled off the tape to reveal the beautiful pattern underneath!

Next we bent open some different style and sized bobby pins. Then finished it off by taping them in place with some electrical tape. The sound is no where near what a real mbria would sound like but it’s close enough for a 3 year old šŸ™‚

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