Classical Music for Children

Here are some ideas for using classical music with young children

Find more music ideas on the Art & Music Resource Page

The Tale of the Tzar Saltan: Flight of the Bumblebee

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Pass a beanbag (the “bee”) around the circle of children while the music plays. Pause the music occasionally. The person with the beanbag is “stung” and moves to the middle of the circle.
Another idea: Allow the children to move around the room like buzzing bees. Pause the music occasionally and everyone must freeze.

Carnival of the Animals

Camille Saint-Saens
Each song in this series represents the movement of a different animal. Have children move around the animal represented in the song: they will prowl like lions, crawl like tortoises, walk and swing their trunks like elephants, move in a slow, swimming motion like the fish, etc.

Carnival of the Animals: The Aquarium

Camille Saint-Saens
In this song, the piano keys represent the bubbles floating up to the surface and the violins and flutes represent the fish moving gently through the water. Children can dance slowly with scarves, pretending the scarves are the waves or seaweed. As them to move in a slow, gentle motion like the fish moving through the water.

Carnival of the Animals: Royal March of the Lions

Camille Saint-Saens
Children can prowl like lions along with the music. At intervals, the piano rumbles up and down the bass notes to create a lion’s roar, and the children can pretend the are roaring.

Carnival of the Animals: Tortoise

Camille Saint-Saens
The music plays slowly and lazily like turtles. Have the children move like turtles, in a slow and cumbersome crawl. You can also have them place a carpet square on their back as the turtle shell, trying not to let their shell slip off as they crawl.

Carnival of the Animals: The Bird

Camille Saint-Saens
The children can pretend to fly and flutter about the room along with the fluttery sound of the flutes and piano in the song. Give them verbal instructions to pretend to land on a branch, fly away again, swoop down to catch a worm, etc.

Carnival of the Animals: The Elephant

Camille Saint-Saens
Children can pretend to move like elephants, swinging their “trunk” (arms), in a slow, cumbersome manner. Give them verbal instructions to stop, drink water from a pool with their trunk, lift their trunk to spray the water, scoop up some food with their trunk and curl it to their mouth, etc.

Carnival of the Animals: The Kangaroo

Camille Saint-Saens
Children can hop around the room like a kangaroo as the piano plays the short “jumpy” notes (staccato), then keep still as the piano plays gently.

Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop

Hans Christian Lumbye
This song is so neat. It sounds just like a train! Have the children line up and move around the room like a train. Choose a leader to be the engine.

La Danza Tarantella

Gioachino Rossini
Make paper plate tambourines to dance with during this song. The tarantella was a dance where people bit by a tarantula spider would dance crazy to save themselves from the poison (or so it was believed). Have the children dance a “crazy” dance while playing their tambourines.

Radetsky March

Johann Strauss Sr.
Children keep the beat on drums while marching. As the music gets softer and then louder at intervals, stop the drum beat, then begin again.

The Tales of Hoffman: Barcarole

Jacques Offenbach
This is a gondola boat song, and the steady flowing rhythm reminds me of boats rowing. Have the children pretend to row boats along with the rhythm of the song. You can either have them sit on the floor and pretend to row with their arms while rocking back and forth; or you can pair them up to sit face to face with feet touching, holding hands while rocking back and forth.

Slavonic Dance No. 8

Antonin Dvorak
This is another song with contrasting themes from forceful to gentle. Give children verbal signals to move in contrasting ways as the music changes in contrasting themes: jumping/ walking, marching/ gliding, stomping/ tiptoe.

Listen to excerpts of the above songs on this playlist:

More Ways to Move to Music

  • Paper plate dancing
  • Scarf dancing
  • Use vocal signals to change movements
  • Stomping
  • Free dancing
  • Clapping to the beat
  • Use rhythm sticks
  • Castanets
  • Shakers/Maracas
  • Rhythm band instruments
  • Beanbags
  • Drums

Fast and Slow: Moving with Varying Tempos

Here are some songs you can use to vary the tempos. Children move fast or slow to follow the mood of the music.
Fast:

  • Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat – Mozart
  • Symphony No. 4 in A Major Op. 90 “Italian” – Mendelssohn
  • Mandolin Concerto in C Major Op. 134 1st Movement
  • La Danza Tarantella – Rossini
  • Country Gardens – Percy Grainger
  • Tritsch Tratsch Polka – Johann Strauss II
  • Piano Sonata in A Major: 3rd Movement (Rondo Alla Turka) AKA “Turkish Rondo” – Mozart
  • Rodeo: Hoedown – Aaron Copland

Slow:

  • Nocturne in E-Flat Major – Chopin
  • Porgy and Bess: Summertime – Gerschwin
  • Madame Butterfly: Humming Chorus – Puccini
  • Memories of the Alhambra – Tarrega
  • Carnival of the Animals: The Swan – Saint-Saens
  • Gymnopedie No. 3 – Erik Satie
  • Nabucco: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Va, Pensiero) – Verdi
  • Symphony No. 3 in F Major – Brahms
  • Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven
  • Pelleas et Melissande – Gabriel Faure-Sicilienne
  • Petite Suite: En Bateau (In a Boat) – Beethoven

Integrate Classic Music with Themes or Projects

Bugs

  • The Tale of the Tzar Saltan: Flight of the Bumblebee – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
  • The Wasps – Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • La Danza Tarantella – Rossini

Farm

  • Carnival of the Animals: Cocks and Hens – Saint-Saens
  • Carnival of the Animals: Wild Donkeys – Saint-Saens
  • Where My Sheep Safely Graze – J. S. Bach
  • Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-Flat 3rd Movement (horses) – Mozart
  • La Boutique fantasque: Galop (horses) – Rossini

Forest

  • Peter and the Wolf – Prokofiev

Fairy Tales

  • Hansel und Gretel – Englebert Humperdinck
  • Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty – Ravel
  • The Sleeping Beauty – Tchaikovsky
  • Cinderella Suite No. 3 – Prokoviev
  • The Firebird – Stravinsky

Ocean

  • Carnival of the Animals: The Aquarium – Saint-Saens

Pond Life

  • Carnival of the Animals: The Aquarium – Saint-Saens
  • Swan Lake – Tchaikovsky
  • Swan of Tuonela – Jean Siberius

Space

  • The Planets – Gustav Holst

Safari

  • Carnival of the Animals: Royal March of the Lion – Saint-Saens
  • Carnival of the Animals: Elephant – Saint-Saens

Transportation

  • Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop (train) – Hans Christian Lumbye
  • Pacific 231 (train) – Arthur Honneger
  • Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (airplane) – William Walton

Christmas

  • The Nutcracker – Tchaikovsky

Halloween/ Spooky Songs

  • St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain – Mussorgsky
  • Carnival of the Animals: The Fossils – Saint-Saens
  • Also Sprach Zarathustra – Richard Strauss
  • Hebrides: Fingal’s Cave – Mendelssohn
  • Walkyre: The Valkyries – Wagner

Resources

A list of classical music for Pre-K children: Classical Music Resources

The very best resource for using classical music with children is a book (with CD) called “Can You Hear It?” by William Lachman. It’s published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Each music selection has a corresponding work of fine art. The book describes what to look for in the artwork and what to listen for in the music, and has suggestions for ways children can move with the music. My students have really enjoyed this book and often look at it/ listen to it during free choice time.