Why Music History Matters.


Does your child ever ask you, “Why do I need to know this?”

Sometimes it can be a difficult question to answer. I remember asking my trigonometry teacher that question in high school. Every now and then, a piano student will ask me such a question when we’re going over a challenging concept. I might be explaining the theory behind diminished 7ths and a student will politely ask, “Ms. Carly? Why do I need to know this?”

The other day, our family was listening to some classical radio in the car and I was explaining something about the instrumentation of the piece. My 7-year-old rolled his eyes and said, “Mo-om. I don’t need to know this.”

It is probably true that the specificity of the instrumentation of this piece wasn’t something he needed to know. However, familiarity with music history is important.

Why do we need to know about music history?

Music is the language of Culture

Music is a universal feature of the human experience. Yet each culture and society has its own style of music. When we study the music of cultures in the past (and cultures in the present) this gives us huge clues into what life and society was — or is — like, and how people felt about it.

For example, when we listen to and study music from the Baroque period in Europe, we learn the importance of patronage, the influence of the Church on what was composed, the emphasis on decorum. If we study music from ancient Africa, we learn about the importance of drums in their culture and how music was a form of communication between tribes.


When you study music and listen to different kinds of music, you’ll develop a vocabulary around music. You’ll also begin to reflect on your own particular tastes and learn to articulate them.

You might discover that you dislike classical opera because the vocals are too dramatic for you to enjoy. You might tell someone that “Claire de Lune” gives you goosebumps when you hear it because of the dissonant chords.

This ability to discuss music and appreciate different styles of music opens up doors for rich, fulfilling and new experiences. Connection with other people of similar interests and sharing musical experiences together become possibilities.

Music history is relevant

It might be difficult for your student to believe that what now plays on a classical music station was once the “pop music” of its time.

But the music of the past is still important today! Imagine attending a ballet of The Nutcracker without the music. Would it have the same meaning and nostalgia? Would it be as enjoyable without the familiarity and beauty of Tchaikovsky’s score?

Whether you spend a lot of time listening to rock and roll, jazz or hip-hop in your household, it was influenced by music and musicians of the past. Many current performers in the music industry have connections to classical music. They also likely studied a musical instrument before becoming a famous performer. (Check out Justin Bieber playing a little piano here)

There are plenty of ways that classical music makes its way into present day music. Groups like Black Violin and the Piano Guys combine classical inspiration with modern day rhythms and songs to create their breathtaking compositions.

Music of the past sets the framework for the music your family enjoys today. Studying music history helps your student to both acknowledge and appreciate that connection.

To get started with your study of music history, download my free eBook below:

composers for kids




2 thoughts on “Why Music History Matters.”

  1. Rob – thanks for commenting. I’ve explained in the article why I picked the methodology I used. There are definitely also other valid ways to look at the data. They all would tell you something different. They are not better or worse per se, just different. It really depends what you want to know.

  2. The history of classical music is of no significance at all! To me the best piece of music that’s ever composed is “Beethoven 7th symphony movement two” I’m 41 years of age and nothing to date had reach this lvl ov near perfection (and I’m a MASSIVE Tupac fan”.
    My point is why are we studying music which was written by a composer and that’s what we’re graded on!
    The violin is not the best instrument in the world it’s the best instrument to interpret what Beethoven possibly/mabey wanted to get access! Just one example!
    History belongs in the past! Appreciate and respect it but come on move on from it! I know musicians who makes sounds that will blow your mind but because we are restricted to what makes a good artist they will never get the respect they deserve! Classical music is obviously above all in my opinion but you have to let the musicians create and not just interpret

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