Become a Fan of Classical Music in 10 Easy Steps


So… you want to become a fan of classical music. You want to be classy AF, taking your sweetheart to the symphony, listening to Brahms while you work… I totally get it.

But classical music can be intimidating as hell! So many composers’ names! So many words like “concerto” and “sonata” that you… “kind of know what they mean” (*ahem* or not…). And… how do you even know what to listen to? If you’re staring down the abyss of a streaming service, where do you even start?

Fear not, my friend, I’m here for you. Let’s actually start at the beginning, so you can get off on the right foot. Here are the 10 Easy Steps to Becoming a Fan of Classical Music: 

1.     Memorize four words: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern.

Those are the four major periods for classical music. Period. Yes, we can get wayyy fancier and more specific (and more accurate…), but you’re just starting, so let’s keep it simple. Each chunk of time had its own famous composers and signature style, and they evolved in that order: Baroque (picture: Shakespeare in Love), then Classical (picture: Marie Antoinette), then Romantic (picture: Pride & Prejudice), and finally, Modern (20th/21st centuries… picture… well, now).

2.     Listen to 30 seconds of one of the most famous Baroque pieces by the most famous Baroque composer, Bach.

Friends, Johann Sebastian Bach was the big daddy of the Baroque era. Listen to a snippet from one of his most-played cello suites to get a feel for what the era is all about. When you think Baroque, think “robotically following all the rules, but… like nature, or DNA, or the solar system follows all the rules.” Baroque music = Godly perfection.

3.     Listen to 30 seconds of one of the most famous Classical pieces by the most famous Classical composer, Mozart.

Just as Bach ruled the Baroque, so did Mozart rule the Classical era (I know it’s confusing, but when most people say “classical music,” they mean all classical music… not just the Classical period.) As the overture (aka, opening music) to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro shows, the Classical period is about grace, decorum, and also the kind of excitement that comes from lustily romping around a garden party at a big ass manor. Classical music = well-organized emotions and a lot of noble frolicking.

4.     Listen to 30 seconds of one of the most famous Romantic pieces by one of the most famous Romantic composers, Chopin.

After the Classical era, way more composers got famous in each consecutive period. So there are like, 20 big composers of the Romantic period that you’re likely to hear on, say, a “Best Classical Music”-type playlist. But king of the piano Frédéric Chopin captures the essence of the era: raw emotion. I’m talking, teen angst-level emotion. Romantic era = big feels.

5.     Listen to 30 seconds of one of the most famous Modern pieces by one of the most famous composers of the 20th century, Stravinsky.

Now’s when we hit a lot of music people think of as “modern.” Like modern art, sometimes it’s difficult to “get.” Like paintings made of splatters, 20th century music is all about questioning what classical music even is, maaaan. A lot (but definitely not all) of 20th century music is experimental or experiential – it pushes the boundaries of how instruments are played, where the beat is, and how everything fits together. And a lot of that started with ya boi Stravinsky. 20th century = boundary-pushing.

6.     Decide which of the four you felt most drawn to.

Don’t think about it too much – just pick which one felt the most like you. That’s the period you’re going to start with.

7.     Watch/listen to whichever of the following longer videos corresponds to your era.

Feel free to skip around if you like, or take in the whole thing. The objective is to get the sound of the era in your ears, and also pique your curiosity. It’s good to have questions like “what is that instrument?” or “is that supposed to sound that way?!”. Questions = learning.

Baroque: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra on The Concert

Classical: All-Star Concert Celebrating Mozart’s 250th Birthday

Romantic: Schubert Symphony No. 8 with Christoph Eschenbach

20th Century: Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with the Chicago Symphony

8.     Take a break.

Like any skill, learning to love – really love – classical music takes time. Deep learning happens while we sleep, so take a break and come back to your new hobby tomorrow.

9.     Passively listen to a playlist from the era you chose.

Pick the corresponding playlist below and let ‘er roll while you work, clean, cook, play videogames, knit… whatever. With the deep processing you did last night, you’re primed to take in some primo classical music for pure enjoyment. Bonus points: if you hear something you really like, have a glance at your computer/phone/whatever to see what’s playing (especially which composer).

Baroque Playlist

Classical Playlist

Romantic Playlist

20th Century Playlist

10.  Get readin’.

You’re ready now. Head over to my Fine Arts Primer (it’s free, it’s short, it’s fun to read) and go through the Classical Music section to get a more well-rounded understanding. Now that you’ve done your first round of listening, you’re ready to become a superfan. You’re there, buddy!