About the Product
The Music Appreciation: Book 1 Collection that we received is a treasure trove of interesting readers, music, an engaging student workbook, and printable resources for making associated lapbooks. All of these components work together to give the student the complete study experience and full benefit of what they offer. It is my understanding that the complete collection covers all the national standards for musical appreciation for kindergarten through sixth grade.
Book 1 covers seven composers, including Beethoven, Paganini, Schubert, Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. (I hear they are working on Book 2, which will include Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, Foster, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and MacDowell as well.) Each composer has a separate associated reader and lapbook project, in additional to the variety of activities in the student book.
The readers, or biography books, seem to be of good quality. They have some black and white illustrations scattered throughout, along with some selections of written music from the composers. They have a lot to cover and attempt to be thorough and true to history. The one about Paganini that we read seemed to jump forward from one thing to the next quickly sometimes and perhaps could have used better transitions here and there to make the flow of events more smooth, but I imagine doing so would have made the story longer and it was nonetheless engaging, as is, for my soon-to-be 4th grader (Big Sis).
There are five music discs with tons of musical pieces from the composers and a few additional selections that complement the studies. (I appreciate the complete track list in the front of the student book.) The CDs were fantastic in their scope and variety overall; really a great resource that would have taken me hours to seek out and choose on my own, so I'm very happy they were already available this way! They were fun to listen to and a nice introduction to the compositions and musical styles, but many of the selections we heard seemed more electronically created compared to some other classical music we own. For us, these CDs are good for an educational experience (as intended!) rather than an addition to our musical library for everyday listening.
The lapbook disc provides printables that are used throughout the program, in conjunction with simple file folders and basic school supplies, to create a project for each composer unit. These projects display some of what was learned in the course of the study and can act as a reference or review later on. The assembly of the lapbook is done in small steps over a few weeks as a composer study develops versus all at once at the end. This could provide a nice change of pace and break from reading and writing that might be especially beneficial to kinesthetic learners (unless they don't enjoy cutting, folding, and pasting type projects).
I was quite excited about using Music Appreciation: Book 1 because we have wanted to include a music study in our homeschool week, but I just wasn't sure where to begin, what to cover, or that I would be comprehensive enough (and not make it too complicated). This program, so far, has been just what I've been looking for! Plus, it was perfect timing because it acted as a nice compliment to a six week composer study that we've been doing through a co-op in which we participate. The co-op gave us a good overview and group introduction to music styles and composers and this Music Appreciation program has been perfect for going further in-depth.
Big Sis was our primary student for the music appreciation course, but what she does, Lil Sis usually wants to do too! Since the program's student book is designed for use by only one child, we got an additional book so that Lil' Sis would be able to participate as well. She is young and I thought some written answers would be too much for her, but it turned out to be a good opportunity for her to practice on those questions she wanted to try writing responses for, and we did the rest of the questions verbally as needed.
While there are seven composers covered in the student book, we have focused mainly on one so far: Paganini! We decided to start with him because of my daughters love of the violin. And it was a good choice indeed! This study has inspired both Big and Lil Sis to practice more intently, to have goals, to really appreciate what it takes to be a good musician, and to more fully appreciate the instrument they are learning to play.
We liked the pace of the weekly outline (loose schedule) suggested in the book, though Big Sis was begging to continue reading about Paganini once we got started. This tends to be par for the course with us, however, and anything that involves a book is difficult to go through slowly with this kid! She devours chapter books in less than a day sometimes and does not always appreciate going through one chapter at a time over a few weeks. Still, a "slower" [than is typical for her] pace helped us focus on certain aspects and kept her wanting more as we went along.
As mentioned earlier, I think the readers (biographies) are well done and of nice quality, but we did find the story to occasionally and somewhat awkwardly jump ahead from one thing to the next, leaving me feeling like we missed something or that a better transition could have been used. This was not an issue for Big Sis (my 3rd grader), who loved the story and learning about Nicolo Paganini. Lil Sis (my kindergartener), on the other hand, was not always as engaged as her sibling. I think we should have broken the story down even further into shorter sessions for her sake. I could tell her mind wandered and that there were many words she didn't understand or parts of the story she wasn't able to follow easily. Even so, I was surprised to find out how much she absorbed when we discussed the comprehension questions from the student book. Additionally, the included student book's hands on activities aided in her learning and she got much more out of it than I think she would have with the reader alone.
The lapbook was another hands on project that is a large part of this study. Luckily, my older daughter loves to cut, paste, and put together lapbooks and really loves having a finished project that shows her work and things she learned. My youngest would prefer more creative expression (more coloring or choice in placement/creation), so she assisted now and then but left much of the assembly to Big Sis. We had some technical issues getting the lapbook printables to load and did have to wait quite a long time as the computer processed the file before being able to print what we needed. I wonder if, instead of having a large file with all the composers lapbooks all in a row, they could perhaps break it into smaller files to facilitate easier and quicker loading for each unit. Then again, it could have just been my computer having glitches. Once printed and while assembling things, I was not as impressed with this lapbook as I have been with others we've done for other subjects. It simply did not seem as polished and clearly laid out as I expected. It was certainly good enough to serve it's purpose, however, and each individual printable and part of the lapbook was useful and nicely designed. And whereas I felt the lapbook seemed sparse in places like the cover, Big Sis saw an opportunity to decorate, elaborate, and create (just what Lil Sis wanted)! And so it was that my girls were well pleased with the lapbook and their finished product.
There were a couple of opportunities to listen to the music discs in this unit, but we found that there were very few songs about or from Paganini, compared to other composers in the book. Undaunted by this, we found several videos online with violinists playing Paganini compositions. These really complimented our study and allowed us to dig further into the music. A favorite for my girls was of a young lady performing Paganini's Caprice 24 - a great example to my own budding violinists! We also enjoyed another video entitled "The Best of Paganini", which allowed us to listen to several more beautiful pieces.
Overall, this program is well designed and I could see a lot of heart, thought, and details put into the student book. It is a comprehensive approach to learning about famous composers and music, with so much more incorporated as well! I think it's well worth looking into and I would recommend the program to others, particularly those who enjoy lapbooking (since it is difficult to get the full benefit of the program without doing the lapbooks too). Both girls learned so much from the reader stories and activities. We found ourselves chatting about Paganini, his experiences, and the character qualities he displayed at other times in our daily life. It was fun for all of us to learn about this intriguing composer!
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I'm a homeschooling mom of two, enjoying our time in Hawaii and hoping to share some of that experience with you, including ideas, reviews, resources, and information.