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Music History Lesson: Classical Composer Trading Cards


brahms composer
Johannes Brahms

--Music History
--English Language Arts



Brief Description

Students travel through musical history learning about classical composers from medieval through modern times.



Students will:

  • Develop a historical understanding of classical music.
  • Research selected composers who made major musical contributions.
  • Use creativity to compile composer facts onto trading cards.
  • Gain an appreciation for these composers' pieces by listening to music as they work.


Music, history, composers, classical, medieval, Renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, modern


Materials Needed

  • Two pieces of printer paper per student (or a dozen unlined 3-by-5 index cards per page)
  • Computer access and/or pens, pencils, colored pencils, fine-point markers, etc.
  • Internet access
  • Ability to play music
  • Ruler and scissors (optional)


vivaldi composer
Antonio Vivaldi

Lesson Plan

Before the Lesson

First, define classical music for students.

Composer and musician Lowell Hohstadt defines it as follows:

The word "classical" is used by popular culture to distinguish a particular kind of music from jazz, rock or other contemporary styles. The term "classical music" is used to describe a genre that spans the course of hundreds of years, including the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods, and encompassing all the music from Palestrina to Stravinsky to the current day. (Many people are unaware that classical music is still being composed today, although it is far different than what was created several hundred years ago.) Technically, however, the word "classical" represents a period of time in Western Art Music that describes the music of Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven, as well as other composers who lived at that time.

Next (if desired), select composers in addition to the ones suggested below.

Then select and queue up one or more classical pieces to play during the research portion of the lesson. 

Finally (if desired), assign students to groups.


  1. Give students a brief introduction by defining classical music and discussing its role in society (more on that here and here), and how we hear its influence today across both film (more here) and television, as well as popular music.
  2. Ask your class if they're familiar with sports or gaming-related trading cards. Then explain that they'll be making trading cards based on classical composers.
  3. Go through some examples (the medieval composers Landini and Balbulus, whose facts are filled out below).
  4. Have students choose and research 5-6 additional composers (from among those listed below, or from other lists and sources of information such as this one). Or, the teacher may wish to assign particular groups of students to research certain periods of music history. Play selected classical pieces while kids are conducting research.
  5. Have kids design six trading cards each. Students can use this template, a text document, photo editor or drawing software to make an even six-square grid. Alternately, have them use a ruler to divide their paper into six equal squares, and ask them to fill out the facts by hand. (You may decide to let students use Landini or Balbulus as one of their six composers.)
  6. A drawn or printed picture of each composer (many public-domain images are available on can be placed on the same side as the facts (although that might get crowded on handmade trading cards). Or, tech-savvy students can print a second six-square grid (each square containing a composer image) on the back side of their information sheet so that images line up on the opposite side of facts about corresponding composers.
  7. Have students present their cards and research findings alone or in groups. You might also wish to play a whole-class swap game. Play music as kids circulate throughout the room. Stop the music every 30 seconds or so. When the music stops, students must turn to the nearest classmate, discuss the facts on one of their cards, and then exchange a card with the partner.       

The Composers

Medieval Era (476–1400)

Francesco Landini

Era: Medieval

Country of Origin: Italy

Influences: Peers such as Lorenzo da Firenze and Andreas de Florentia

Major Works: Giovina Vaga, Sy Dolce Non Sono, and I' Priego Amor

Instrument of Choice: Organ

Bio: Seen as the most influential composer of the Trecento, Francesco Landini's work makes up about a quarter of Italian music that's survived since the 14th century. It is believed that Landini wrote his own musical and lyrical texts for the majority of his surviving work.

Most Interesting Fact: While blind from childhood, Landini was able to design new instruments as part of his work, including the 'syrena syrenarum', which combines parts of a psaltery and parts of a lute.

Notker Balbulus

Era: Medieval

Country of Origin: Switzerland

Influences: Saint Tuotilo and teachers including Iso and Moengall at the monastic school Saint Gall's.

Major Works: Liber Hymnorum, a collection of sequences written from the years 881 to 887.

Instrument of Choice: Voice

Bio: Known as "Notker the Stammerer," this Benedictine monk and composer of hymns has been credited with writing many sequences that may or may not be his, including Media Vita In Morte Sumus, which was attributed to him far after his death.

Most Interesting Fact: A writer of poems, hymns and biographical work, Notker authored De Carolo Magno, which chronicles the life of Emperor Charlemagne. The work is often criticized by historians for its inaccuracy. He was a great singer, despite his stutter.

Renaissance Era (1400–1600)

Thomas Whythorne
Antonio de Cabezón

Baroque Era (1600–1760)

Jacopo Peri
Antonio Vivaldi

Classical Era (1730–1820)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Johann Christian Bach

Romantic Era (1815–1910)

Johannes Brahms
Scott Joplin

Modern (1900–2013)

Annie Gosfield
Hanna Kulenty



Have students share and discuss the facts and images on their trading cards. Evaluate the students' findings based on their presentations, or by collecting and reviewing the cards afterward.


Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted by

Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

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