Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Music Appreciation Zeezok Publishing {review}

I appreciate the beauty in the fine arts and I know they are vital to a well-rounded education, but I sometimes struggle with incorporating them into our homeschool.  So when we were given the opportunity to review Music Appreciation Book 2 for the Middle Grades from Zeezok Publishing, I thought it would be a good chance to work at including more music education into our days!

This program consists of the Student Activity Book and nine composer biographies from The Great Musician Series.  These titles are:
  • Frederic Chopin, Early Years
  • Frederic Chopin, Later Years
  • Robert Schumann and Mascot Ziff
  • Adventures of Richard Wagner
  • Stephen Foster and His Little Dog Tray 
  • The Young Brahms
  • The Story of Peter Tchaikovsky
  • Peter Tchaikovsky and the Nutcracker Ballet (not pictured, as we received an ebook)
  • Edward McDowell and His Cabin in the Pines
Most of the books are written by Opal Wheeler, except The Young Brahms, which was written by Sybil Deucher.  While I received a digital copy of the second Peter Tchaikovsky book, those placing orders would receive a physical book to complete the set.  However, I did receive a mix of paperback and hardcover books, so I'm not sure if the sets would be consistent in format and sizing.

This curriculum is, as the title indicates, Zeezok's second Music Appreciation course.  The first was aimed at K-6 students, and this one is written to meet the national standards for music appreciation for 5th-8th grade students!  It is written for a variety of learners, and includes visual, auditory and kinesthetic cross-curricular activities.  My older kids are 7th and 5th grade, so right in the target age range.  My younger two children (6 and 4 years old) came and went as we read, but were not required to participate.  There is a corresponding lap book and a coloring book available for purchase, if you do want to try to make the curriculum more approachable for wider age ranges.

The Student Activity Book is a consumable, large paperback book that is hole punched and perforated.  It includes a very thorough Scope and Sequence, so you know what is covered in the course, and in which composer study it is covered.

For each composer, you will find a Weekly Outline to complete the unit.  On the outline, each week tells you which chapters to read from the corresponding biography, and lists related activities.  All activities that are required to meet the national music appreciation standards have a star, but there are many more activities included.

The first composer introduced in the course is Frederic Chopin, so that's where we started!  This is the only unit with a five week outline.  Chopin is covered in two biographies, and these are exquisite living biographical books for elementary and middle school students!  They are lively and well-written and have lovely black and white illustrations!

Throughout the study we learned not just about Chopin's life through the readings, but the Student Activity Book expanded on this with Comprehension Questions for each chapter and a wide variety of activities.

Each week included Character Qualities that Chopin demonstrated, such as being independent, loving, and persistence.  Tidbits of Interest are included for each chapter, and are essentially a list of facts from the text that one might consider important or interesting.  The remaining content and activities vary week to week.  Many weeks of course, include listening to the music tracks.  App Alert! activities will also include videos to watch for further study.  Listening to the music and accessing additional online content is as easy as scanning a QR code (or entering the included website to access the content) and listening--no CDs or downloads required!

Additionally, we were introduced to reading music.  My kids aren't particularly interested in learning to play instruments at this point, but they do follow in a hymnal and I want them to at least understand the basics, so this section was particularly interesting.  It included learning about note values and rests, treble and bass clef, time signature, mnemonics for learning the names of the lines and spaces on the staff, and even the hands-on activity of practicing with rhythm instruments!  While I know not every child will have a passion for music, they also won't know what interests them without being exposed to it, and as I said, I want my kids to have at least a basic understanding!

Other activities throughout the unit included the obvious of learning about his homeland Poland--there were some facts included, Polish recipes, and App Alerts for the online content.  Chopin enjoyed nature, so one active assignment was related to going outdoors and really observing and appreciating nature, and then there was a journaling assignment.

Journal Notebook assignments are an optional activity that are designed to help the student connect with the music and the musicians.  This is particularly great for children who like to write, or perhaps one that doesn't like to write but enjoys music--sometimes encouraging one subject through the love of another is enough to get creative juices flowing.  While the nature activity was open-ended, other times they were fairly guided, such as the assignment about responding to a patriotic song with specific suggestions on what you might include in the writing.

Lapbook Alerts are another optional activity scattered throughout the Student Activity Book.  This is a separate purchase, but for students who like lap books, it might be worth considering.

Quizzes are in the book, but you can scan the QR code or go onto the website to take the quiz online as well.

Answer Keys are included at the end of each section.  If you have a student that might be tempted to peek, you could easily remove the answer keys, since the pages are perforated.

Other Composers
Our core curriculum includes composers and music selections to study, so I decided going forward I would try to line up the studies with this book.  It just so happens that the second composer studied in this curriculum, Robert Schumann, was also one of our curriculum's featured composers this year!  In addition to learning about Schumann's life, we're exposed to geography by matching the cities and rivers he visited to the countries where they're located, history by learning about Napoleon, and learning about conductors, among many other lessons.  I also loved seeing the sections on Folk Songs in the Foster unit--one area of music that I do include and adore is our monthly folk song!  Another interesting topic covered is music piracy, in the Tchaikovsky unit--I can see how this is an important discussion to have in our world of digital everything, something for nothing and instant gratification.

Schumann, and the rest of the composers in this course, are four week units.  The units are similar in that they include the comprehension questions and character qualities, but obviously the remaining content is focused on the people and events that influenced the individual composers.  Now that we're back to our full school schedule, I'm even more aware that the time commitment required to do this program as written is too much for us.  With littles often tagging along, it requires a significant amount of time to read the chapters, answers questions and do even just a couple of activities each week.  We're accustomed to spending about 15 minutes per week on our Composer Studies, as we follow the Charlotte Mason philosophy, so this was a heavy approach to music for us.

Four to five weeks on a composer is a bit speedy for my family, as we are used to spending a full 12 week term (Charlotte Mason style) on a composer, and going forward, I'd prefer to adapt the course to be more Charlotte Mason friendly.  The biographies are already suitable for a Charlotte Mason approach because they are truly living books, but I would ask for narrations instead of relying solely on comprehension questions, or perhaps reword some of the comprehension questions to be more open-ended on occasion.  We can still discuss the Character Qualities by first letting the kids tell what they noticed, then comparing it to those pointed out in the course.  I'd prefer to let the kids choose from the composer-related cross-curricular activities as desired, rather than trying to fit in all of them, but I still want to slowly work through the music theory and the other lessons like the orchestra, musical styles and evaluating musical performances.  It would take a lot longer to get through this program if I stretched the units out over twelve weeks, but I do think that would fit our natural rhythm better.

Final Thoughts
This course is full of information!  There are so many cross-curricular lessons on geography, history, language arts, visual arts, and I even saw at least one math activity.  It is essentially a series of unit studies based on composer biographies, and unit studies are a conflicting method with the Charlotte Mason method, which I think is why it felt overwhelming to even look through the program, much less try to implement it as written.  I have trained myself to do things in a way that works with my natural tendencies, and this program just presents information differently.

I do want to make it clear that this curriculum does not claim to be a Charlotte Mason curriculum, and my thoughts on how to make it more Charlotte Mason friendly are just based on my personal preferences.  I do think though, that the course, if being used as-written, is better suited for unit study families and homeschoolers who don't follow a particular method.  Of course, I also see this program being very useful for a music appreciation class or in a co-op setting.  Although it was written for the middle grades, high schoolers with no background in music theory or exposure to composer studies would gain a lot from it.  There is a lot to this course, and it is a flexible enough that can be used in a variety of ways.

If you're wanting more information about the curriculum, be sure to check out the rest of the Crew Reviews and find Zeekzok Publishing online!

Music Appreciation Book 2: for the Middle Grades {Zeezok Publishing Reviews}

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