The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What are the best classical music pieces for beginners to listen to? And why? | September 9, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear needs your help.

Recently a good friend said: “I don’t listen to or know much about classical music, but I wish I did. You know a lot. What would be good pieces for me to begin with?”

I said I would think about it.

So many composers and works come to mind.

But it is so subjective.

So The Ear thought: Why not turn to readers?

Why not ask readers what pieces got them started on listening to classical music?

And what pieces they would recommend to others?

There are of course some proven and popular standards such as the Symphony No. 5 and the  Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” by Beethoven; the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Tchaikovsky (played and recorded by Van Cliburn in a way that influenced a whole generation); and the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff.

But there is so much more to choose from, as you can tell from the YouTube video at the bottom.

String music, wind music and brass music.

Big pieces and small pieces.

Solo music, chamber music and orchestral music.

Vocal music and choral music, including operas.

So what would you tell my friend?

Leave a suggestion and why you chose it in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

The friend is waiting.

And The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Beethoven Symphony #3 got me started.

    Comment by Chuck Bauer — September 9, 2017 @ 9:20 pm

  2. Watching Fantasia or old cartoons (e.g Disney’s “Silly Symphonies”.)

    Comment by Steve Rankin — September 9, 2017 @ 5:59 pm

  3. The six Brandenburg Concertos 🙂

    Comment by Marika Fischer Hoyt — September 9, 2017 @ 9:09 am

  4. Beethoven Symphony #7 (Carlos Kleiber)
    Sibelius Symphony #5 (L. Bernstein)
    Hovhaness (Mysterious Mountain. (G. Schwarz)

    Comment by fflambeau — September 9, 2017 @ 8:37 am

  5. I listened to the “Tallman” program on a Chicago radio station when I was in HS and it was the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 that hooked me. The rest is history.

    Comment by John Beutel — September 9, 2017 @ 7:47 am

  6. My sixth and seventh grade music teacher played MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose every class period as we came into the room and got settled. That got me hooked on classical music. ( also a soft spot for MacDowell.)

    In the 21st century I would suggest the
    Planets by Holst.
    Another suggestion is chose a piece you like and play it over and over until it is very familiar. Perhaps Bach Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring. Another favorite in my youth Brahms Fourth Symphony.
    I suggest you start with a melodic piece, and work your way
    Into more complex music.

    Comment by Polly — September 9, 2017 @ 7:31 am

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