Mozart on the Brain: Listening In Ways That Engage Our Minds

When we listen to popular music, there are certain things we expect. Most popular songs use a combination of verses and chorus. Each verse is the same melody, but different words are used to move the story along. The chorus is a repeat of what happened the first time. You hear the same melody and words. For music to make sense, we have to organize its ideas. What’s the primary way we organize music? Great question!

Music is a unique art form because it extends over time. It is different than a painting. For example, a person moves their eyes around the painting, studying the details and brushstrokes, and experiencing the scene being communicated. Music, however, tells a story through time. Think of it as a joke with are two parts; there is the set-up and the punchline. These ideas have to be organized when you tell them. Sometimes the joke teller messes up and reveals the punchline before it should be said, and the joke is ruined.

Music is similar to telling a story or joke and needs to have a sequence of events for it to make sense. When we hear the chorus come up again in a song, we appreciate it and understand that it’s the chorus. It orients us to where we are in the story. In instrumental classical music, we actually do the same thing, but we have a lot of different ways to organize our repeated ideas.

To begin learning how music is organized, I simply want to encourage you and your kids to listen for repeated melodies. Today, I added two piano pieces for you to listen to and hear how musical ideas get repeated. The first is a concise song called “The Happy Farmer” by Robert Schumann. He starts the song with an evident and catchy melody. When it ends, he starts another that moves the story forward. Then, at the end, he plays the first melody again. The Happy Farmer is a very simple way that composers repeat musical ideas to help listeners focus on the music. 

Second, I have a longer piano work, Mozart’s Sonata in D for Two Pianos. The melody you hear right at the beginning is repeated 3 times throughout the piece. There are other melodies and ideas that you will hear repeated throughout the piece, too. Sometimes they will be repeated exactly the same. Other times they will be different but maintain the same characteristics it had at first.

Parents: To help your kids really understand this and encourage active listening skills do this activity with them. Have them raise their hand any time they hear this theme. It happens three times throughout the version I include in my Spotify Playlist, and kids can quickly pick up on it. If they are older or do really well the first time, listen again and have them raise their right hand for Theme 1 and their left hand for Theme 2. This kind of listening activity will engage their brain in ways that strengthen the synapses connecting different parts. Some say this will make you smarter, but at the very least, it helps become good listeners.