On the 28th of July, it will have been 269 years since the death of one of music’s greatest composers: Johann Sebastian Bach.
When it comes to teaching my own students and my children about composers (and the way in which I set up my online music appreciation course), I prefer to do it in a certain order. I start by sharing information about a composer’s life, either through a book or video. Then we take the chance to listen and discuss some of the composer’s music (thank you, YouTube!). Finally, we’ll engage in some hands-on activities inspired by the composer.
Here’s some ways you can teach your children about the life and musical contributions of Bach. I’ve presented it in the order that our family explores composers, but adjust it in whatever way will engage your own children!
Learn about bach through children’s books
I love to introduce my children to historical figures and subjects through children’s books. A visit to our neighborhood library turned up these 3 gems.Sebastian: A Book About Bach by Jeanette Winter was a great read for our youngest (who is 7) as the short bits of information and colorful pictures were perfect for his attention span.
Johann Sebastian Bach from the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers” series by Mike Venezia was fun for both kids. My children find the comic book-style illustrations hilarious. The books in this series are always jam-packed with photographs and great historical content.
Introducing Bach by Roland Vernon has more of a text-book feel to it and is organized into chapters. If your student is doing any type of report on Bach, this is a wonderful resource. My 7-year-old mostly just enjoyed looking through the pictures. My 10-year-old and I read a section from it at bedtime each night.
Learn about bach through his music
After your kiddo has learned a little bit about Bach’s life, enjoy some of his music. Some of the tunes might be familiar to your student already. Here are a few performances to watch and discuss together:
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” played by a string quartet:
Questions to discuss: Is this tune familiar to you? What instruments do you see playing it? Where might you hear music like this played?
Bach wrote a lot of music for the organ, and was a skilled organist himself. Listen to this performance of “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”:
Questions to discuss: What are some words you would use to describe this music? How does it make you feel when you listen to it? If you were going to use this music as background in a film, what would the scene be like while this plays in the background?
Finally, play this collection of Bach music as background music when your children are studying or you’re eating a meal together. Take notice of songs they enjoy so you can add them to your regular playlist!
learn about bach with hands-on fun
Back in March, the Google Doodle celebrated Bach. You can still access the game they created using Artificial Intelligence here. Compose a two-measure melody on your computer and they’ll harmonize it for you in a Bach-like style.
Print this coloring page from Making Music Fun and color while listening to some of Bach’s music.