Arts Blog

Pathways to Listening

One thing I find gratifying about classical music is that there is always more to learn from this art form. Whatever your relationship is with classical music right now, it can be enriching to continue learning about it, regardless of your level of experience and knowledge with the genre. It is a joy to hear All Classical carry this spirit of learning into their day-to-day programming. Composer’s Datebook and The Score, for instance, dive deep into the background and compositional process of different pieces of music. On air between pieces, All Classical hosts will often give tidbits of insight into the music just played or the next piece coming up. How old a composer was when they wrote a piece, a memory of the first time the host heard a piece – you never know what interesting and inspiring knowledge you might come across when listening to All Classical.

Are you eager to learn more about classical music? Whether new to classical music and want a more structured introduction to the genre, or already a long-time listener, there are many options for deepening your relationship with classical music in some way. The sheer number of resources and information available, however, can make such a task daunting. To make the process easier, let me suggest a few different pathways of learning to take, depending on your personality, preferences, or specific interests. Consider this a “Choose Your Own Adventure” – for classical music!


The Bookworm’s Pathway: Exploring Historical Context 

Do you define your quality time as spending a night in and curling up with a good book? Then you may find digging into the background and context of the music you love to be a rewarding experience. Who wrote this music? Where, and when did they write it? Why did they write it, and what social and political factors may have influenced their artistic output? Oftentimes I find that asking these questions and learning about a particular composer or time period of music can lead me into an ever-deepening rabbit hole of even more and topics to explore and pieces of music that I have never heard before.

Begin by creating a “listening tour” for yourself. If you don’t have the time or resources to go out to concerts on a regular basis, do not fear!  Simply make a music playlist using a favorite composer, instrument, or time period as a starting point. Services like Spotify are great for this because they can recommend music based on your listening preferences. Once you have your personal playlist created, find a resource to learn more about the topic or theme of your playlist.  (For example, you might seek out a biography or documentary on the composer you are interested in). A site like Wikipedia can also be a useful launching point, but there are also several quality websites that focus specifically on classical music knowledge. Here’s a list of recommended, free resources:

Building your playlist:

  • ClassicalArchives– An archive of classical music recordings. This is a great place to search, purchase, and download recordings. Entering search terms for classical music on iTunes can be a nuisance at times, but this site has useful search functions by composer, period, principal instrument, and more.
  • Naxos Records Classical Composers Database– An alphabetical list of hundreds of composers, with useful links to lists of all music albums which include their music.
  • Spotify “Composers Basics” Playlists – In the Classical Music section of Spotify, a number of playlists have been created for individual composers which feature their most influential and loved works.

Learning about composers and their works:

  • Classical Music Navigator– A comprehensive encyclopedia of music works, composers, as well as forms and styles of music.
  • Classical Net– A catalog of both information and news on classical music, including CD reviews and recommended recordings.
  • AllMusic– A website includes reviews of new music from all genres, but also containing useful many composer biographies and program-note style descriptions of classical music pieces. Simply look up a classical music term using the search bar.

Resources on the All Classical website:

  • Beyond The Music Blog– All Classical’s Music Director, John Pitman, listens to new classical music releases each month and selects one album to feature each month. If you are interested in seeking out new music or performers, this blog is for you!
  • Programs on All Classical– Discover programs like Club Mod, The Score, Northwest Previews, and more.


The Explorer’s Pathway: Discovering Your Local Classical Music Scene 

This pathway is the perfect option if you love live music and enjoy going out to meet new people. Challenge yourself to attend a classical music event every week or month. Try going to events that feature performers, groups, or styles you’ve never heard before – there are likely to be many hidden gems in your city waiting to be discovered. If you live in the Portland, OR, the classical music scene here is alive and well. Wherever you are, your local new publications are a good place to start searching.

Here are some useful resources for finding music events in the Portland area:

  • All Classical’s Cultural Events Calendar– A listing of upcoming music performances with descriptions and links to ticket information.
  • All Classical’s Northwest Previews– Tune in to All Classical Friday mornings at 8:00 am for a five-minute feature highlighting arts events taking place throughout the upcoming weekend. If you miss the broadcast time, Northwest Previews is also available as a podcast.
  • Oregon Symphony Events Calendar– The Oregon Symphony presents a variety of concerts each season, from symphonies and concertos to movie score music.
  • OregonLive Events Calendar– The Oregonian’s online calendar features submissions for events in the metro area as well as other cities in Oregon. Filter your search by location, keyword, or category (including classical music).


The Tinkerer’s Pathway: Pick Up an Instrument and Play! 

Have always been itching to learn to read music for the first time or pick up an instrument you haven’t played since your high school days? If you are a hands-on person and enjoy immersing yourself in the process of whatever it is you are doing, this pathway is for you. Learning to make music can be a valuable source of growth and enjoyment for the mind, body, and soul. An increasing gamut of scientific research is supporting the finding that music making promotes neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to reorganize and develop new synaptic connections between neurons. Learning a new instrument is a particularly effective practice that feeds the brain by strengthening existing and making new neuronal connections.

The science behind learning a new instrument may be complex, but the challenge of taking on this path is deceptively simple: keep it fun. Committing yourself to practicing for a certain amount of time on your instrument every day can turn your adventure into an obligation. Instead, find ways to engage with your instrument that remind you of the joy of music, whatever that means for you – learning your favorite songs on the piano and singing along, getting together with other musicians and playing duets, or maybe even writing your own music! The possibilities are endless. Here are some learning resources that are free and simple to use, on your own time:

  • Coursera Music Courses– Coursera is an online platform that offers free MOOCs (massive open online courses) on a variety of subjects from top universities and institutions from around the world. For music, Coursera offers options for learning music theory fundamentals as well as more specific topics, including guitar playingsongwriting, and jazz improvisation.
  • Music Theory Websites – Websites like and teoria are great for building up a basic knowledge in musical elements like scales, chords, and intervals, and include exercises in ear training, rhythmic skills, and more.
  • iOS and Android apps – There are a variety of free or low-cost apps for learning and playing music, including SimplyPiano, Yousician, and Uberchord.
  • YouTube Channels – There are many quality YouTube channels and videos on learning just about any instrument. Go out there and explore!


There are many ways to experience classical music, but one thing we have in common is that we are all listeners. Even when life gets in the way and we might not be able to engage with the music to the extent you would like to (as a reader, concert-goer, or musician), we can always listen. Your financial support of classical music is also a tremendously impactful action that doesn’t require too much time and effort on your part. But if you do have the time, challenge yourself to choose one of these learning pathways and stick to it. You never know what new discoveries about classical music, and also about yourself, may come your way.

Do you have a favorite resource for connecting with classical music that was not discussed here? If so, feel free send us a message at



  • Seinfeld, Sofia, et al. “Effects of music learning and piano practice on cognitive function, mood and quality of life in older adults.” Front Psychol. 2013; 4: 810. PMC. Web. 17 Jan. 2018.
  • Slevc, L. R., Okada, B. M. (2015). Processing structure in language and music: a case for shared reliance on cognitive control. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22, 637-652.
  • Wan, Catherine Y., and Gottfried Schlaug. “Music Making as a Tool for Promoting Brain Plasticity across the Life Span.” 16.5 (2010): 566–577. PMC. Web. 17 Jan. 2018.

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Intern: Winter 2018


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