Bring Romantic (Music) Back

February can bring images of worksheets with pink & red hearts. But, it’s also a great time to plan an epic Romantic music group lesson! If I can have an excuse to tweak lessons a bit I am quite happy to change it up. The kids’ eyes light up & they quickly forget that they’re still learning.  But, what should you do if you have students that don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day? Do they have to be left out? No!


The month of love

Did you know February is the month of love?

  • Love of learning: both for myself & my students (I always attend the MusicEdConnect.com* online conference!)
  • Romantic love: Valentine’s Day
  • Family love: Family Day (3rd Monday of each February here in Alberta)

So, what better way to celebrate this month than a few activities specially designed to get your students forgetting that they are still learning?


romantic music vs. Romantic Music

John Legend, Ed Sheeran, Tay Tay (Taylor Swift), Camila Cabello, & Adele are names that probably come up for many students when we ask about romantic music. But, THEY aren’t Romantic with a capital R.

If your students want Romance with a capital R, they will need to look to:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven (wrote in both Classical & Romantic eras)
  • Richard Wagner
  • Fr├ęderic Chopin
  • Robert Schumann
  • Felix Mendelssohn
  • Franz Liszt (a rock star in his time)
  • Johannes Brahms
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Gustav Mahler
  • Sergei Rachmaninov (wrote in both Romantic & 20th century)

What a great opportunity to talk about the characteristics that make this music so … well, romantic! And, how that relates to the romantic music we listen to now.  Doing a Romantic music group lesson focused on Romantic music works fantastic to hear this distinction.


Romantic Music: What is it?

The thing I tell my students is that musical eras weren’t created at the time. No one said, “Oh, well this music is part of the Romantic era. Can’t you tell?” It wasn’t until much later that someone (usually several someones) realized that the music within a particular set of years shared common characteristics.

For the Romantic era (roughly 1830 – 1900) it was all about breaking free from the rules of the Classical era that came before it. Forget about following a bunch of stuffy rules. It was all about expressing emotion (or dare we say on occasion angst) & showing individuality.  Hmm. That sounds a lot like my teen students.

For a quick overview of what the Romantic era was all about, watch Classical FM’s Fast & Friendly Guide to the Romantic Era.

By the way, I’ve quickly become a fan of Classical FM’s “Fast & Friendly Guides to …” since they are quick, to the point & fun.  I am hoping you will as well!


Ideas for a Romantic music group lesson

I think each group lesson should be a mix of on & off the bench activities that flow together. And this is especially true for online group lessons!

When we choose to focus on a particular musical era, there are so many possibilities! Here are few …

Vocab in a fun way

Every era has a vocabulary or lexicon that is unique to that time.  Quizlet has several Romantic Era study sets all ready to go.  These were a big hit during our Romantic music group lesson. Especially since my students had seen some of these popping up in the activities we did in private lessons (both before & after)!

Listening … instead of worksheets

One thing that my students really love hearing are examples of various terms & styles.  A few of the terms we covered in our group lesson were:

  • Berceuse:  Thankfully, I had been working on a Berceuse so I could play an example.  My students enjoyed talking about the characteristics of the piece, especially the sound of a rocking cradle.
  • Etude:  When I showed them the Etude I was working on, I asked them to tell me what technical element was being practiced in the song.  Once they got past all the notes, they realized it was very much about scales & octaves (kind of like our scales challenge from the beginning of that school year).
  • Rubato:  First, I showed them a steady tempo by conducting (I kept it simple with just moving my arm up & down).  Next, I sang the first part of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star with notes landing ON the beat.  Lastly, I sang the same section with rubato & asked them to watch where the notes landed in relation to the beat.

Get moving

Find videos of simple dance moves from the Romantic era to get students off the bench. Students will get a laugh out of trying to dance with a partner that has no clue what they are doing either. Just keep things lighthearted & don’t worry if it is perfect. Chances are neither you nor your students have taken years of dance lessons that focused on this era.


2 Tips to make your group lesson epic

There are a few ways to make any group lesson epic, regardless of whether you are online or in-person. And, the nice part is … it doesn’t have to be complicated!

Make it memorable

To end our Romantic music group lesson, we played a Kahoot to review the terms.  Because it was a short period of time, I opted to simplify things. They saw the definition first, followed by 2 options for the name of the term.

Some of the options I gave were:

  • “Theme played at half the original speed”: Sheldon-the-Turtle speed vs. augmentation
    • Sheldon is a tortoise at the the Calgary Zoo that goes for walks every day.  Since almost all of my students have met him at some point in their lives, we talk about Sheldon quite a bit … including how fast they should play if it is ‘Sheldon-going-up-the-stairs-slow’ (Hint:  it’s super slow).
  • “Theme played at twice the original speed”: Road Runner speed vs. diminution
    • Funny story:  I could NOT pronounce diminution for the life of me during one of our group lessons.  But, we all had fun trying to get the accent in the right spot!
  • “No line repeated”: A hard song vs. through composed
    • We focus on patterns a LOT in our music, so the idea of having no repeating lines was something my younger students thought would be especially hard to play.  Some of my teens liked that it was similar to a stream of consciousness poem.
  • “Art form with music & bodily movements combined.”:  So You Think You Can Dance vs. Ballet
    • Our family loved watching this show & I know many of my students have their favourite dance routine as well!
  • “Leading motive”: Star Wars songs vs. Leitmotiv
    • We heard how Anakin Skywalker’s journey to Darth Vader has similar elements in each of their themes (though the similarities show up towards the end of Anakin’s theme).

Whether you play a Kahoot, use a Romantic era digital escape room or create your own game, make sure it’s something that will be memorable for your students! We want to encourage conversations that start with “Remember when we …”.

Make it accessible!

If you host multi-age & multi-level group lessons as I do, you know how important it is to keep things accessible regardless of which children are in the group.

Make music vocabulary accessible by letting students

SEE it in action

HEAR examples

TRY it out

TIE IT IN with what they already know or are interested in.

We never fully know which approach is going to reach a student. Plus, brain research has shown that when we can make learning multi-sensory, the learning sticks better.


Bringing the Romance Back to Lessons

What will you be doing in your studio this month to bring back the Romance?

Perhaps it will be some music history, active listening, or theory worksheets.  Whatever it might be, have fun!  And, don’t forget to enjoy those cinnamon hearts!

If you would like a head start on your planning, check out the Romantic digital escape rooms in the “Travel Through Time: Digital Escape Rooms“. These have been a HUGE hit in my studio, both for music lab & group lessons!

Travel Through Time: Digital Escape Rooms

For a fun end to your week, here is a video clip that had my students & I picking our jaws off the floor!  It’s Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” in a whole new way.


NOTE: This article was originally published on February 9, 2018. It has since been updated with new ideas & tips … while still keeping the great stuff from the original!

Also, there is an * for the MusicEdConnect.com conference. This is an affiliate link. All this means is, at no extra cost to you, I receive a small fee when you choose to purchase a pass to the conference. These fees go towards creating free resources for you, like this article.

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