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16 Educational and Inspirational Classical Music Compositions

16 Educational and Inspirational Classical Music Compositions

“One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music ‒ nor, indeed, to be particularly ‘musical’ ‒ to enjoy and to respond to it at the deepest levels. Music is part of being human, and there is no human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed.” — Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia

With the advent of the internet, many of us are privileged to have easy access to music from legendary names such as Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, and Mozart, whose compositions provide tens of millions of people with inspiration every day.

Thanks to modern composers and educators such as Stephen Malinowski, the music is easier than ever to appreciate and understand. He uses the Music Animation Machine to synchronize popular compositions alongside eye-catching animations. These turn the complex world of classical music into understandable, colorful, and often mesmerizing videos with pioneering educational capabilities.

His process of creating the animations has evolved over time. Recent efforts incorporate elements of Voronoi diagrams “as an analogue to music perception”, dazzle with flashy neon-esque signs, showcase music as a blooming digital flower, mix aural play with geometry, turn compositions into 3D animations with ChromaDepth technology, and make nods towards retro video games.

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Many of these techniques are in use on the 48 preludes and fugues by J.S. Bach he turned into animations during summer 2016. You can read about some of his techniques at Well-Tempered Clavier, or you can visit his YouTube channel smalin. Whether you want to educate yourself about classical music, find some inspiration, or simply relax, his videos will open you up to a vivid world of genius compositions and peace of mind.

1. Bach, Fugue in C minor, WTC I, BWV 847

This is from the first book of Bach’s the Well-Tempered Clavier (1722) – BWV 847 is one of many Preludes and Fugues in this ambitious set. Malinowski’s video breathes life into the piece with positively luminescent neon flashes.

2. Chopin, Nocturne in D-flat major, opus 27 no.2 (Voronoi)

The second of two piano pieces composed by Frédéric Chopin in 1836, now considered some of his best work. The Voronoi animation style is featured here.

3. Bach, Fugue in B-flat minor, WTC I, BWV 867

This is also from Bach’s the Well-Tempered Clavier—the animation style features an unrolling spiral which emphasizes the 5-voice, 1-beat stretto at the conclusion of the piece.

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4. Franck, Violin Sonata, mvt.1

Written in 1886, this would become one of César Franck’s best known works; it’s considered a masterpiece sonata for violin and piano. Malinowski’s epic animation takes the viewer on a wildly colorful journey, featuring pong-like video game sections in a glittering musical landscape of neon lights.

5. Franck, Violin Sonata, mvt.4

The final movement of Franck’s violin sonata. The animation offers another unique insight into classical music as it features a canon displayed visually.

6. Strauss – The Blue Danube

An easily identifiable work composed in 1866, it’s since been used regularly in popular culture, perhaps most notably in Stanley Kubrick’s landmark 2001: A Space Odyssey.

7. Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, 3rd mvt, Rondo, Allegro

Beethoven composed this piece circa 1800. Thunderous and fast paced, it’s an exhilarating trip through a geniuses’ musical capabilities.

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8. Rivera, Cumba-Quín (guitar)

In this innovative piece, the performers use guitars with a wide range of playing techniques. Each one can be seen represented on the video.

9. Bach, Sheep May Safely Graze, Cantata 208 (guitar duet)

Composed in 1713, Bach’s piece is often called by numerous names. It’s best known as Sheep May Safely Graze, but it’s officially called Cantata No. 208. As this isn’t likely to sear itself into your memory any time soon, over hundreds of years it’s picked up various catchier nicknames.

10. Joplin, Gladiolus Rag

Scott Joplin (1867-1917) composed this piece in 1907. It’s Stephen Malinowski performing the lively piece, which was then set to a Voronoi animation.

11. Bach, Organ sonata no. 4, BMC 528, 2nd mvt., Andante (E minor)

From a set of six sonatas pieced together in 1727, the organ sonatas are Bach’s reworking of previous cantatas, organ pieces, and chamber music. Although several hundred years old, when matched with this colorful animation it’s made strikingly contemporary.

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12. Debussy, First Arabesque (Hearts/Butterflies)

Claude Debussy was in his twenties when he composed the Deux Arabesques. The first remains one of the most easily recognizable piano pieces in modern times. Here it’s been set to v-ring technology – a partial ring with variable attributes which, after some experimentation, led Malinowski to the above effect.

13. Chopin/Godowsky, Étude, opus 10 no. 6/no. 13, E-flat minor

Leopold Godowsky’s (1870–1938) take on Chopin’s work is notable for its playing demands. As Malinowski explains: “Chopin’s original etudes presented certain technical challenges, but Godowsky’s versions present challenges that go far beyond Chopin’s. For example, in this one, the speed of the fast-moving notes is doubled from the original, and the piece is played completely by the left hand.” This is also, apparently, not even the most challenging piece from Godowsky’s rearrangements!

14. Bach, Cantata 35, 5. Sinfonia

This rousing composition from Bach offers, when complemented by the animation, another example as to why classical music can lift the spirits like nothing else.

15. Ante Božić Kudrić – I Western Dances – part 1 (Suite for 2 violins and Piano)

This is a modern composition from film soundtrack composer Ante Božić Kudrić.

16. Pachelbel, Canon in D (ChromaDepth 3D)

Finally, we have this hypnotic video which shows off Pachelbel’s Canon in D as never before. The piece was likely composed late in the 17th century, but was lost to obscurity for hundreds of years afterwards. It’s now arguably one of the most well known pieces of classical music. The video highlights each note of the melody fading in and out as each violin joins in with the canon, with the legendary (and, occasionally, notorious) bass repeating itself in the center.

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Alex Morris

Content Manager, Copywriter, & Blogger

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Published on July 7, 2020

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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