The Value of Music Appreciation Classes

From a study by Lenore E. DeFonso, Stephen M. Johnson, and Mary E. Rowlett:

In this study we attempted to determine whether reported enjoyment of classical music is affected by having some task that involves one in the music while listening, or by receiving information about the music, as opposed to simply listening. Three groups of participants heard eight short musical excerpts, all programmatic classical music. An “Involvement” group was asked to imagine a scene or story while listening. An “Information” group was told the title, composer, and what the music represented. [emphasis added] A third group simply listened to the music. All groups then rated the excerpts on several measures. A significant group effect was found for four of the excerpts when pre-experiment experience with classical music was controlled for. The “Information” group consistently reported liking the excerpts better than did the other two groups. [emphasis added] The “Involvement” group did not show an increase in liking; in fact, their mean ratings for some of the excerpts were lower than the control group.

So if we want people to enjoy classical music, we need to teach them the facts about it–composers, dates, and more. Music appreciation courses really work!

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), 1804
Willibrord Joseph Mahler

Schools need to teach the basic facts about classical music: composers’ biographies; who knew, was influenced by, hated, loved, admired or stole from whom; how one form of composition led to another, and so on. Struggling symphonies might do better to reinstate those “Symphony Saturdays” series with the lecture before the concert, and a free series of this might do more to attract faithful listeners than any number of cutesy, “relevant” programs. Smaller ensembles might do well to learn this trick.

And this makes sense on the common-sense level, too. After all, who doesn’t like to feel smart?

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