How to choose classical music - a beginner's guide

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How to choose classical music

A guide for the beginner

Would you like to know more about classical music? Are you confused as to where to start?

Many people find classical music very confusing at first. This guide is intended to help you take your first steps into the beautiful world of the classics. Instead of boring you with jargon, history and dates, it will present a simple guide to finding the music that you like.

The first mistake to avoid is - don't worry! Sadly, there is a certain snobbishness amongst many classical music lovers, and newcomers often feel like they are being treated like children when they say they enjoy popular classics. Don't worry about this! The short and simple rule is, if you like it - listen to it. If you don't like it - don't listen to it. Don't feel pressured into listening to something you don't enjoy, or into ignoring something you do enjoy, just because someone else may turn their nose up at it.

An easy way to start - some popular classics

The easiest way to find your way into classical music is to try out some popular pieces and see what you like. You will find some of the most popular listed below, mainly ordered by composer, but including some specific other pieces. All of these are easy to obtain on CD from eBay. As they are popular, you should be able to buy most of these at very reasonable prices.


Perhaps the very best way to get into classical music is to explore the music of the ever-popular Russian composer Tchaikovsky. Much of his music will make you say "Oh, I recognise this!" - a good way to start.

Some of his most famous, and best music was written for ballets. The three most famous are the music for Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. These contain some instantly recognisable tunes, and will have you humming along in no time! If you ever saw Walt Disney's film Fantasia, then much of the Nutcracker will be familiar to you already, as it featured waltzing hippos and crocodiles amonst the zany cast of dancers.

Tchaikovsky also wrote six symphonies, each of which is excellent in its own right. The 4th, 5th and 6th are probably the best, although they are all so good that it's worth looking for a set that includes all six. Some may take a few listenings to appreciate, but you will quickly learn to love them!

The other Tchaikovsky piece worth mentioning is his 1812 Overture. When played correctly, this features real cannons being fired at the end!! It is one of the most exhilarating pieces of music you are likely to hear.


Probably the most famous classical composer of all, and certainly very prolific, Beethoven's music is stunning when it's good, but a little disappointing when not. If you choose carefully, you will find Beethoven a wonderful experience. The selection mentioned below only covers five of his nine symphonies, and does not cover the rest of his prolific work. This is because the ones mentioned are excellent first steps in classical music, whereas some of his other music requires more time and effort to appreciate.

The most famous symphony he wrote was his 5th, with its familiar "da da da-daaaaaa" introduction. You simply can't sit still when listening to this piece - between tapping your feet and waving your arms in the air like a real conductor, this is music that will stay in your mind long after the CD goes back in its box (if it ever does). This is essential music.

The next most famous is his 6th symphony, known as the Pastoral. In complete contrast to the 5th, this sensous music will relax you and fill your mind with wonderful images. Written on the theme of a day out in the country, the beautiful tunes simply flow over you. Also essential.

Also worthy of note is the 9th symphony, known as the Choral due to the massed choir that features in the last movment. Along the grand lines of the 5th, this is music you cannot do the ironing to!!

When you have absorbed the previous three, the 1st and 3rd symphonies are also worth checking out. Whilst not quite on the peaks of the 6th, the sheer beauty of these two makes them worth buying.


Despite the enormous amount of music that Vivaldi wrote, the majority of people have never heard of anything other than the Four Seasons. This piece is a wonderous frenzy of violins, over a powerful orchestral backing. The four pieces were inspired by the four seasons of the year, and each evokes thoughts appropriate to the time of year. A must for anyone looking for the best in classical music.


This English composer is probably most famous for his Land Of Hope And Glory, which is actually just one of several military marches that he wrote. You just can't sit still to music like this!

The Enigma Variations is a longer piece that deserves attention. Varying between soft and loud, slow and fast, this has some wonderful tunes and is well worth hearing. It may take a few listenings to appreciate it fully, but it is worth the effort.

Violin concertos

Concertos are pieces that strongly feature one instrument above the rest of the orchestra. As the violin is the backbone of an orchestra, it is natural that more concertos were written for the violin than any other. The main problem with concertos is that they often end up sounding like someone doing acrobatics on the violin, which may be impressive, but is often a little painful to the beginner's ears!

Exceptions to this rule, and therefore strongly recommended in this category are the violin concertos by Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Mendelssohn and Bruch. Each of these stands out as a fine piece of music that won't jar your ears. The first two are often found on one CD, as are the second two, making these an easy choice.

Popular classic collections

If you look through eBay's Classical CD category, you will see hundreds of collections for sale. These vary from single CDs featuring a few popular pieces, up to huge boxed sets featuring hundreds of pieces. If you do not own any classical music at all, these can be a good way to start, however you find that most of these collections contain the same pieces over again, and are probably not worth exploring too much. By all means buy a couple to get you going, you never know what you might discover!! As mentioned above, these can be bought very cheaply, so you have little to lose by trying. Once you outgrow them, you can come back to eBay and sell them on to someone else.

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