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Can listening to classical music improve your life?

The emergence of legal streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music has blown open the door to all types of music (Credit: Getty)

Can a daily dose of classical music change your life? It sounds like an impossibly grand claim, but in my case, the answer has been a resounding yes. And January — so often a miserable month of discarded resolutions, debts and diets — is arguably the perfect time to dive in to a new sonic soundscape in all its rich, diverse wonder.

We are a music-making species — always have been, always will be. We are also a music- exchanging species: long before lovesick teenagers started curating mixtapes for each other, or digital streaming services enabled us to swap favourite tracks, we were communicating and connecting through music. We evolved as humans by coming together around the fire after a long day’s hunter-gathering, singing songs and telling stories through song. That’s what our ancestors did; that’s how they made sense of the world; that’s how they learned how to be.

We have never needed more urgently the emotional space that music — and classical music in particular — can provide

It is an impulse that is still fundamental to who we are. Yet our own modern lives are frazzled and fragmented to an unprecedented degree. Who, seriously, has the luxury of making time each day to actively listen to a particular piece of music? Perhaps, though, we have never needed more urgently the emotional space that music — and classical music in particular — can provide . Scientific research is increasingly proving that regular acts of so-called ‘self-care’ can have untold benefits on our mental health and well-being, but personally I’ve never been able to get the hang of, say, regular meditation or yoga. I never go to the gym, no matter how noble my intentions. I basically run on coffee and sugar. I always leave my tax return until the deadline. Inevitably then, this time of New Year’s resolution-making and breaking is liable to make me feel pretty wretched. Each year, I set annual expectations that I fail utterly to stick to — and become increasingly stressed out as a result. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. (I hope I’m not alone.)

The miserable month of January is the perfect time to dive in to a new sonic soundscape (Credit: Getty)

The miserable month of January is the perfect time to dive in to a new sonic soundscape (Credit: Getty)

Yet it turns out that even I have the self-discipline to eke out a few minutes each day to stick on my headphones, listen to a single piece of music, and be transformed. Although I have played the violin since childhood and worked as a classical music broadcaster and writer for a decade, I only fully grasped the miraculous effect of a daily engagement with this music after a particularly gruelling couple of years. Personal grief; juggling the irreconcilable demands of a relentless freelance career with an energetic toddler; feeling permanently on the edge of burnout whilst signalling to the outside world that ‘everything’s just fine!’ — suffice it to say, I wasn’t in a very healthy place. And yet none of the potential solutions I tried had any effect.

Except music.

There’s a reason everyone from film to funeral directors invariably relies on classical music when they want to ramp up the feels

It turned out that, when I converted my listening habits into a conscious daily ritual, I began to feel less anxious almost immediately. I curated myself monthly classical playlists with a specific piece for each day. Getting on the Tube and pressing play, instead of automatically being sucked into a social media scroll hole, seemed to be spiritually stabilising. I began to look disproportionately forward to it. And it occurred to me that, if I could benefit in such a meaningful way from this small but powerful act of soul maintenance, so might others. What if I could build on my lifetime’s love of classical music? What if I could open up this vast treasury of musical riches by demystifying both the music and humanising those who created it by giving each piece some context, telling some stories, and reminding readers/listeners that this music was created by a real person, probably someone who shared many of the same concerns as them, who in many ways might be just like them .

Where to start?

Classical music is an art form that, for myriad complex reasons, is often perceived to be the preserve of a narrow elite; an exclusive party to which few are invited. This is painfully ironic, because the work itself is among the most emotionally direct that we have. There’s a reason everyone from film to funeral directors invariably relies on classical music when they want to ramp up the feels. And I was losing track of the number of friends, family and even strangers who were asking, often sheepishly, if I might be able to make them a classical playlist.

Scientific research is proving that regular acts of so-called ‘self-care’ can have untold benefits on our mental health and well-being (Credit: Alamy)

Scientific research is proving that regular acts of so-called ‘self-care’ can have untold benefits on our mental health and well-being (Credit: Alamy)

Sometimes it was a precise request: music to study or work to; music to soothe their newborn babies or fall asleep to or to impress their new partner’s parents with; music to exercise to; to unwind to; to garden, commute or throw a dinner party to. The guy who runs my local coffee shop asked me to curate him a classical soundtrack for the late-afternoon/early-evening shift. My teenage niece was after something to help her through her exam revision. And so on. Most often, what I heard from these playlist-hunters was something along the lines of: “I heard a piece of what I think might be classical music on a TV show/film/video/advert, and I loved it. I don’t know anything about classical music, but I’d like to hear some more and I have no idea where to start …”

Getting on public transport and pressing play, instead of automatically being sucked into social media, could be spiritually stabilising (Credit: Getty)

Getting on public transport and pressing play, instead of automatically being sucked into social media, could be spiritually stabilising (Credit: Getty)

That question of “where to start” is critical. As with practically every other industry, technology has disrupted the music industry in both positive and negative ways. It’s true that the decimation of traditional financial models is generally leaving artists and labels less well off than they were previously. But the emergence of legal streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music has blown open the door to that party in a thrilling, democratising way. What many of us now have access to at our digital fingertips would have been unimaginable even 10 years ago. Now anyone with a half-decent internet connection can explore a musical universe that was previously closed to all except those who already knew what they were looking for and had the resources to pay for it.

Everyone has the self-discipline to eke out a few minutes each day to stick on some headphones and listen to a single piece of music (Credit: Getty)

Everyone has the self-discipline to eke out a few minutes each day to stick on some headphones and listen to a single piece of music (Credit: Getty)

And yet: the sheer volume of what is now available for free at the click of a button can be daunting, if not paralysing. So I decided to write a sort of field guide, not so much a history of classical music as a hand-curated treasury of music that I dearly love. It includes plenty of women - who for centuries have been written out of the canon — composers of colour; gay and transgender composers; differently-abled composers (Beethoven, after all, wrote some of his most magnificent works while fully deaf); composers who battled — or are battling — mental health issues, addiction, low self-esteem; composers who had to make ends meet by doing all manner of unlikely day jobs (taxi drivers, plumbers, chemists, orange pickers, postal workers) but who kept at it, despite the odds, and created these glorious pieces for our listening pleasure. And maybe for our salvation.

I believe the greatest works of music are engines of empathy: they allow us to travel without moving into other lives, ages, souls. They are also robust: they can handle you multitasking all around them, fitting them into your real life. So don’t give another thought to whether you have the right ‘credentials’ to become a classical aficionado or whether you’re listening 'right’: trust me, the only entry criterion is to have ears.

“The greatest works of music are engines of empathy: they allow us to travel without moving into other lives, ages, souls,” says Clemency (Credit: Getty)

“The greatest works of music are engines of empathy: they allow us to travel without moving into other lives, ages, souls,” says Clemency (Credit: Getty)

You can listen on your commute; take them with you on a walk; stick them on in the background while you hustle your kids’ breakfast or do the school run; make them your soundtrack to fixing dinner, pouring a drink, putting your feet up, or doing the washing, ironing, catching up with emails, whatever it is you need to do at the moment where you get to finally press play. I believe there is very little in life that this music can’t beautifully complement. This is music to live to — to live your best life to.

Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Da y is out now.

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essay on classical music

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Nineteenth-century classical music.

essay on classical music

"The Antonius" Violin

Antonio Stradivari

Cor Solo

  • Dubois et Couturier

Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)

Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Cornet à Pistons in B-flat

Cornet à Pistons in B-flat

Courtois frères


Christian Frederick Martin

Grand Pianoforte

Grand Pianoforte

Érard , made in London

Square Piano

Square Piano

Robert Nunns

Grand Piano

Grand Piano

  • Steinway & Sons

The Music Lesson

The Music Lesson

John George Brown


Giosue Esposito

Idle Hours

Julian Alden Weir

Pedal Harp

  • Lyon & Healy

Two Young Girls at the Piano

Two Young Girls at the Piano

Auguste Renoir

Jayson Kerr Dobney Department of Musical Instruments, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004

The nineteenth century brought great upheaval to Western societies. Democratic ideals and the Industrial Revolution swept through Europe and changed the daily lives of citizens at all levels. Struggles between the old world order and the new were the root causes of conflicts from the Napoleonic Wars to the American Civil War . From New York, to London, to Vienna, the world was changing and the consequences can still be felt to this day.

The lives of musicians, composers, and makers of musical instruments were greatly altered by these social changes. In earlier times, musicians were usually employed by either the church or the court and were merely servants to aristocratic circles. Composers wrote music for performances in these venues, and musical instrument makers produced instruments to be played by wealthy patrons or their servant musicians. With the rise of the middle class, more people wanted access to music performances and music education.

A new artistic aesthetic, Romanticism , replaced the ideals of order, symmetry, and form espoused by the classicists of the late eighteenth century. Romantics valued the natural world, idealized the life of the common man, rebelled against social conventions, and stressed the importance of the emotional in art. In music, Romanticism, along with new opportunities for earning a livelihood as a musician or composer, produced two seemingly opposite venues as the primary places for musical activity—the large theater and the parlor.

Music as Public Spectacle One result of the Industrial Revolution was the creation of a middle class. This new economic strata consisted of a larger number of people with more disposable income and more leisure time than had ever existed before. Musical extravaganzas that triumphed the musician or composer gained popularity with the masses of concertgoers. Beginning with Beethoven, composers began to arrange large concerts in order to introduce their works to the public. As audiences desired more, composers wrote larger musical works and demanded more of performers and their instruments.

The “bigger is better” mentality led to new musical forms such as the tone poem and large-scale symphonic and operatic works . Orchestras grew, including larger string sections with a full complement of woodwinds, brass, and ever more percussion instruments. New types of orchestral winds ( 2003.150a–g ) and brass ( 2002.190a–n ) that allowed for greater facility and more accurate playing were introduced. Composers such as Hector Berlioz, and later Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner, continually pushed the limits of the available musical forms, performers, instruments, and performance spaces throughout the nineteenth century.

Musicians who could dazzle and amaze their audiences by their virtuosity became the first musical superstars. The two most famous nineteenth-century examples were the violinist Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840) and the pianist Franz Liszt (1811–1886). Both dazzled audiences throughout Europe with their performances, elevating the status of the musician from servant to demigod. Their fame grew throughout Europe, and their likenesses would be recorded in a variety of visual arts.

In order to withstand the virtuosic and often bombastic playing of these soloists, as well as to provide the type of volume needed in large concert venues, more powerful instruments were needed. Larger and louder violins like those by Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737) or Guarneri del Gesù (1698–1744)—preferred by Paganini—replaced the quieter and subtler violins of earlier masters like Jacob Stainer (ca. 1617–1683) or the Amati family. The demands of pianists like Franz Liszt pressed the technology and design of pianos to ever-larger instruments, eventually replacing the internal wooden structures of the eighteenth century with cast-iron frames that could withstand thousands of pounds of pressure.

Parlor Music Conversely, music gained popularity in the intimate nineteenth-century parlor. At the time, home life was centered in the salon, or parlor, where children played and learned with adult supervision, and where the family entertained company. Musical performances for small groups of people became popular events, and some composers/performers were able to support themselves financially by performing in these small venues and attracting wealthy patrons. Most famous among these was Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849).

Music in the parlor was of a very different sort than in the concert hall. Solo performances and chamber music were popular, and included everything from operatic and orchestral transcriptions to sentimental love songs and ballads. In the United States, hymns and folk songs by composers like Stephen Foster (1826–1864) supplemented the European repertoire.

With the rise of the parlor as the center of family life, music education became increasingly important. Children were often taught to play musical instruments as part of a well-rounded education; for girls, playing an instrument was more important than learning to read. When guests and potential suitors visited, the children and teenagers would entertain with performances of the latest popular works.

All sorts of musical instruments were used in the home, and at various times the guitar , harp ( 2001.171 ), concertina, and banjo were extremely popular. However, the most important musical instrument in the home was the piano, because it was useful as both a solo instrument and as accompaniment to a group of singers or instrumentalists. To accommodate home use, smaller pianos were created, first square pianos and later uprights. Small pianos took up less space and, although they were not as powerful as larger types, they were also less expensive. With the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, the mass manufacturing of musical instruments—especially pianos—provided a seemingly endless supply for the huge markets of both the United States and Europe. The piano would remain a central component of domestic life until it was replaced by the phonograph, radio, and television in the twentieth century.

Dobney, Jayson Kerr. “Nineteenth-Century Classical Music.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Further Reading

Samson, Jim, ed. The Cambridge History of Nineteenth-Century Music . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Additional Essays by Jayson Kerr Dobney

  • Dobney, Jayson Kerr. “ Archtop Guitars and Mandolins .” (September 2016)
  • Dobney, Jayson Kerr. “ The Guitar .” (September 2007)
  • Dobney, Jayson Kerr. “ The Piano: Viennese Instruments .” (March 2009)
  • Dobney, Jayson Kerr. “ Military Music in American and European Traditions .” (October 2004)

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Classical music essay

The world has gotten too complicated. People have too many choices in their hands that sometimes they end up with the wrong priorities. This points out why there are many things today in the world that can use some changes to make lives more meaningful and worthwhile. In this regard, one thing that I would definitely change is the way people regard classical music and to make them appreciate more and benefit from the real wonders of music. More specifically, I want people in America to shift their disdain to classical music into a newfound love, so that they can enjoy the benefits it can bring to their lives.

People consider any sound that is refined, stylish and mostly instrumental as classical music. It is seen more as something appreciated only by the elite or the educated. This should not be the case. Classical music, as the term connotes, is part of the classics. It consists of creations of the eighteenth and nineteenth century composers, like Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. This type of music is usually characterized by a beautiful melody and performed by an orchestra (“The Music of Bach”). Classical music, through the years, has taken on various permutations.

It can also be appreciated in the variations of the art songs, opera and oratorio. The art song consists of a poem performed by a trained singer with a classical music background. The creations of the poet, singer, composer and musician conspire for an art song masterpiece (“Lotte Lehmann Foundation”). The oratorio, on the other hand, is a musical creation that has a more philosophical or religious lyrics and context. It is performed by an orchestra with the soloists delivering the story line. Opera on the other hand is the art of singing a drama accompanied with the music of an orchestra.

Today, people are engrossed too much on the boisterous music of pop and rock that these classic art forms are often left to the enjoyment of a select few. The classical genres are far from being exclusive. The classical music just so happens to be not utilized and enjoyed by majority of the public. Evidently, people do not know that they are missing a lot. Why is there a need to change the perception of people with regard to classical music? Basically, American adults should put an end to their ignorance and disregard to the classical music.

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Majority of the people are missing a lot by not opening their minds and considering their options with regard to this artistic creation. For one, classical music is deemed to have a therapeutic affect to its listeners. Studies show that the sound waves produced by classical music are capable of bringing harmony to the psyche of a person, thus bringing more balance to the existence of a person (Heather). Classical music can also provide good exercise to the entire brain, thus making one more intellectually perceptive and mentally capable.

Findings of a study illustrate that an active listener of the classics tend to utilize their brain more compared to the listeners of pop (Heather). For example, there are many people who suggest to a pregnant woman to listen to classical music, particularly to Mozart. This is due to the proposed Mozart effect that aids in optimizing the potentials and brain of a child, even at the stage of infancy or before birth (Jones). There are studies also that establish how music can enhance the learning and people skills of a person.

It does not necessarily make one smarter right away, but it provides the proper disposition to make a person perform better. The relaxing and energizing effect of the harmony and melody of a classical music can very well tap any potential inherent in a person (Lehman). Classical music is really worth loving. The likes of opera, oratorio and art songs are more than just performances. They are wonderful creations of talented people that relate a story that invokes feelings and touches the psyche. In the end, it is more than just being ‘cultured’ as what most people perceive it to be.

The effects are beyond what have been addressed to the senses. The social, intellectual and psychological growth it brings to the person showcase inspiring musical prowess that are definitely to aim for.

Works cited

Heather, Simon. “The Healing Power of Sound. ” Positive Health. 2002. Positive Health Publications. 2 July 2006. < http://www. positivehealth. com/permit/Articles/Sound_and_Music/heather64. htm > Jones, Martin. “The Mozart Effect. ” Human Intelligence. 2003. Indiana University. 2 July 2006. < http://www. indiana. edu/~intell/mozarteffect2. shtml#music >

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Essays on Classical Music

In your classical music essay explore the music that has passed the test of time and nowadays has not lost its relevance. Classical music belongs to a specific period in the history of music, which authors of essays on classical music refer to as the classical period, or the period of classicism, that took place in the 18th and 19th century. Writers of essays name some of the world’s most famous classical musicians: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Vivaldi, and others – the list can go on. Classical music essays define depth, elegance, and harmony as the most common features of classical music. If you need some ideas, check out our classical music essay samples. We listed the best essay samples below for you to learn from.

Music is a sequential type of art that has been annotated for a long time by vibrational methods. Classical tunes are created using a variety of structures in music. The theme character is made up of tiny groups of stages that complete the musical premise. It is similar to an...

Claude Debussy, a prominent French composer who was one of the most protuberant figure that was involved in the late 19th and 20th century impressionist music and Gustav Mahler who was an Austrian romantic composer and served as a link amid the modernism of the earlier 19th and 20th century...

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 ”Allegro con brio” (first movement), first carried out in 1808, has always been an eye-opener to me because of how it is delivered by revealing to the ears and the deepest part of my soul. This is with regards...

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Ludwig Van Beethoven was a pianist and composer of German origin. His music is greatly distinct from the rest because of their large extended architectonic designs that featured broad templates, musical materials, and motifs developed through ‘modulation’ technique (Swafford 92). The technique involved an adjustment of the home keys through...

On September 14th at 7:30pm, 10-day orchestra nights was organized by Barbican. It featured local and international Classical music. This program brought the best orchestras and international artists to London. Staged orchestras, operas and contemporary compositions were some of the wonders of music seen in this concert. The aim of...

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58 Classical Music Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

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  • Classical Music: Composer Philip Glass Classic music emerged in the beginning of the 11th century in the West. Conclusion Philip Glass is a great composer who has helped conserve the unique nature of classical music.
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  • Classical Music: Cultural Consumption and Cultural Diversity The author states that the value of classical music is great, and it is recognized widely. It seems important to emphasize that the author of the given article aligns classical music with equality and dignity.
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  • Music Appreciation: Reggae Music and Classical Music At the end of the paper, the relationships between reggae and classical music will be considered with the emphasis made on the similarities between the genres.
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Classical Music Essay Examples

Classical music: tracing the evolution of western musical tradition.

Music is a very important part of history. It represents the style and people of the era it is from. Music is also constantly changing to fit the style people like. Throughout the history of music, conductors have played an important role in organizing and...

Analysis of Classical Music's Effect on Humans

To start with, this is classical music essay where will be discussed its effects on human's brain and emotions. Classical music's roots lies in Egypt. They used classical music to express their culture, society, art and their lifestyle. They created music called cheironomy. Also healing...

Strauss: One of the Most Recognizable Composers then and Now

When someone mentions the name Strauss most people would recognize it. But probably not through knowledge of Richard Strauss. The popular jean brand Levi Strauss probably comes to mind. Or maybe they think of Johann Strauss II, also known as “The Waltz King.” They may...

The Stroop Test: Measuring an Individual’s Ability to Inhibit the Cognitive Interferences

Beethoven is one of the most well-known and influential musicians of all time, if not, the most. He has been credited for the romantic period, which drastically changed the way music is played in a lot of ways, especially in [the three pieces]. To put...

The Life Story of the Musical Genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not only a musical genius but was also one of the pre−eminent geniuses of the Western world. He defined in his music a system of musical thought and an entire state of mind that were unlike any previously...

The Influence of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 K.467 on Concertos by Other Composers.

This essay will discuss the influence of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 K.467 in C major on the works of other composers. This concerto was finished on 9th of March in 1785. It has significant influence on Piano Concerto No.5 in C major by Joseph Wolfl...

The Concert "Stravinsky’s Firebird and Ravel"

The concert “Stravinsky’s Firebird and Ravel” was performed at the David Geffen Hall on Friday, February 22, 2019. The David Geffen Hall is located in the Lincoln Center and is the home to the world-renowned New York Philharmonic. The hall is very beautiful with a...

The Problem of the Law of Incarceration in the United States: the New Jim Crow

We listen to the music of Beethoven not only for its ability to transcend time and to experience visceral emotional fulfillment, but also to gain insight into the composer and his mythologized life. Music came to occupy a privileged role within Romanticism because of its...

Mozart's Contribution to Classical Music

The classical music period that started in the early 18th century and ended in the early 19th century is perhaps one of the most significant periods of music. The classical period gave rise to composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, who remain...

Víctor Mirecki – a Genius of a Cellist

Víctor Alexander Marie Mirecki Larramat, achieved Spanish cellist and music teacher, died of old age at 72, on April7th. Víctor Mirecki was one of the most flexible and talented concert performers in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was a man of...

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