By Marcia Washburn

Music is one of those subjects we all feel guilty about.

“I really ought to expose my children to great music,” we tell ourselves. We know that music gives us opportunities to express our emotions and draws us together socially. And we remember the Scriptural commands to make music.1 Martin Luther wrote, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.”2

Music touches us in every area of our lives—body, soul, mind, and spirit. Nothing has quite the same power over us, other than the Holy Spirit Himself. It is a gift that we can take to Heaven with us.

But that niggling little voice inside reminds us, “But you don’t know anything about music,” or “We just don’t have the money to buy a bunch of CDs,” or “My kids won’t like classical music anyway, so why bother?” And of course there is the time objection: “I have so many other subjects to teach—how can I fit in music, too?”

What if you could use the Internet to teach music? No expensive CDs or concert tickets to buy—just your trusty computer and the world of classical music is opened to you. Below is a sample lesson for you and your family to enjoy.     

There are several optional activities so it will likely interest even your least musically-inclined child.3 Some children will enjoy hearing stories about the composer’s life. Others will be fascinated by the science behind how the music is performed. The computer-lovers in your family will enjoy the bar graph version of the music.

Let’s get started on your ready-made introduction to classical music.

TIP: Don’t try to do all of the activities below; choose those of interest and spread them out over several days.

Capture Their Interest

Play the opening lines of the music found at this link [–Bach+Toccata+%26+Fugue+Kurt+Ison&mid=217868C6C97ABBC8BAC4217868C6C97ABBC8BAC4&view=detail&FORM=VIRE7].

After listening to the music for a little while, pause it and ask questions such as:

  • Have you heard this music before? Where?
  • What does it make you think about? Encourage the use of vivid adjectives and even stories.
  • What instrument is the man playing? How is the sound made?

The Instrument

The pipe organ’s sound comes from air passing through a collection of pipes of various lengths. Before the harnessing of electricity, air had to be pushed into the pipes by hand- or foot-operated bellows. A young boy was often given the job of pumping the bellows for the organist during rehearsals and church services.

Most churches today have electric organs due to the size and financial requirements of building a pipe organ. The sound is made electronically and does not require pipes. However, you may be able to find a church in your community that has a pipe organ. Denominations such as Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist are good places to start since they often use classical music in their worship services. Ask the organist if you may take a tour.

Learn more about pipe organs at the links below.

This short video shows what the inside of the pipe organ looks like and how it works. Click here[].

A more detailed history and explanation of the engineering of the pipe organ can be found here[] in this description of the largest pipe organ in China. It discusses how electronic technology has permitted much advancement in the organ.

This video shows a man taking apart his homemade organ and narrating how it works. Click here[].

A five-part series here[] follows a man as he reassembles a pipe organ stored in his barn.

The Composer

Johann Sebastian Bach came from a musical family in Germany. He held many different positions which included directing music for his church and composing music for choir and orchestra (with a quill pen and no copy machine!).

Since women didn’t sing in public at that time, young boys sang the higher parts. Only those who could afford to pay tuition could attend school in those days, but boys with good voices could audition to sing in a church choir, receiving an education as their payment.

Part of Bach’s job, in addition to composing, rehearsing, and directing the choir and orchestra for the church, was to teach and supervise the boys at the church’s boarding school. Oh, and he was also the father of his own twenty children. Bach was a very busy man!

The Music

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach—your family may recognize the opening of this piece as one that is sometimes used for scary movies. The first movement is the Toccata. A toccata is a “touch” piece in which the performer can show off his technical abilities at the keyboard. The Fugue is a copycat piece; the theme is played multiple times between the hands and feet.

Although this composition is over nine minutes long, seeing it on the video will probably hold your child’s interest as they watch the organist’s feet and hands fly over the keys and pedalboard. If not, stop as soon as your child loses interest.

Our first video features Kurt Ison playing the grand organ in Sydney Town Hall. It offers so many sounds, the organist is almost like a one-man orchestra. In this video you see up close the workings of a pipe organ.The huge pipes are for the lowest notes and are produced by playing the pedals with his feet. The pedalboard is set up like a piano keyboard only larger; you will see the pedals being played at 4:15.4 The knobs on either side of the organist can be preset to use certain pipes for different sounds; you will see him adjust them occasionally.

Notice that he has four different manuals (keyboards); these allow him to preset certain pipes for certain keyboards. Sometimes you will see keys linked—he will play on one manual but the keys on the upper manual are moving, too. At 4:39 you will see him using two different keyboards which are playing the shorter pipes.

At 5:51 and again at 6:58, you get another pedal close-up; notice that he uses heels and toes of both feet for the complex pedalboard part. It is easy to understand why, with both hands and feet working, he needs someone else to turn his pages for him! At 8:31, listen for the deep rumble of the lowest pipes. View this video here[].

You won’t want to miss hearing the Toccata played on an angelic organ, now known as a glass harp. There are rows of glasses and two performers play the music by rubbing the rims of the glasses. Click here[]  for the Toccata and here[] for the Fugue.

Popular music like the Toccata and Fugue attracts those who want to arrange it for other instruments. Here are some fun links:

The Toccata is shown in bar graph version here[]. This is a different way to show the high and low and overlapping notes as they are played.

The music is played by two very nimble, energetic men on a floor keyboard at the FAO Schwartz Toy Store in New York City here[].

For an amateur version played on a soprano recorder click here[].

Be sensitive to your children’s interests and stop while they are still interested. Use the power of the Internet to acquaint your family with great music.5


 Marcia K. Washburn holds degrees in elementary and music education. She homeschooled her five sons for nineteen years. This article is adapted from “Hands-On Homeschooling” in the Management for Moms series by Marcia K. Washburn. See this and other homeschool resources at .

1. Psalm 100:1-2; Psalm 98:1, 4-6; Ephesians 5:18-20.


3. Usually I recommend starting with such favorites as Carnival of the Animals (Saint-Saëns) or Peter and the Wolf (Prokofiev). I have selected a more mature piece because it is often older students who are most resistant to classical music. This piece will interest your little ones, too, but not in the obvious ways that story-based compositions do.

4. 4:15 means four minutes, fifteen seconds into the piece. Hover your cursor over the red line at the bottom of the picture to check the time elapsed.

5. For classical, folk, patriotic, and sacred listening lessons; music reading; and much more for all ages, see Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music at

Copyright, 2013. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine, November/December 2013. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *