Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

Interested in classical music but don’t know how to start? Been listening for a while but need some guidance? This course provides a framework for understanding classical music, examining the major periods of music history, the music of the great composers, and the main classical genres.

Each week, we will listen to some works and examine their historical, social and musical context. You will be able to explore your own taste in music and learn how to find more of what you like. No musical knowledge is necessary.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • list some of the main periods of classical music history
  • describe some of the characteristics of each of the main periods of classical music history
  • list some examples of some classical music forms
  • describe some of the features of some classical music genres
  • identify some aspects of your own musical taste
  • listen to classical music in a more focused way.


Topics to be explored

  • Elements of music: what to listen for, and how to talk about it.
  • The Symphony Orchestra: families of instruments, learning to listen, and what the conductor actually does.
  • Symphonies, Sonatas and Concertos: what the composer is trying to achieve, what you’re supposed to get out of it, and when to clap.
  • Choral music: how composers write for choirs, and how they achieve such magnificent music.
  • Chamber music: what it is, how to listen, and why it’s worth exploring.
  • Opera: singers and singing, and how stories are told through music.
  • Vocal music: an introduction to the loveliness of lieder and song.
  • Outside the boundaries: how to find more of what you like.

Historical periods to be explored

  • The Middle Ages: the birth of music notation.
  • The Renaissance: the richness of musical texture.
  • The Baroque Period: more is more.
  • The Classical Period: elegant simplicity.
  • The Romantic Period: passion and drama.
  • The Impressionist Period: pushing the boundaries.
  • The Twentieth Century: innovation and exploration.

Classical music we will listen to

We will listen to many pieces of classical music, some famous as well as some lesser-known. These include:

  • Bach: Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 1
  • Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
  • Handel: Zadok the Priest
  • Liszt: Fountains at the Villa d’Este
  • Mozart: Bassoon Concerto
  • Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli
  • Philip Glass: Closing Piece from Glassworks
  • Ravel: String Quartet in F
  • Schumann: Dichterliebe
  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite
  • Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
  • Verdi: Rigoletto.

Intended audience

Designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike.



Delivery style

This course will be richly illustrated with musical examples, artworks and portraits of the times, video clips, and readings from letters and historical documents. Susan Deas will use the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions will be encouraged and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


Handouts will be provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • Well prepared lessons and lecturer knew their subject very well.
We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.