Teaching Timbre with Art Music

Back in November, I wrote about how to teach tempo using art music. I covered pieces by Florence Price, Johannes Brahms, and Alton Adams. In this post, I’m going to discuss how to use Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango to teach timbre; specifically the wind quintet. Wind quintets are a great way to compare and contrast several woodwind instruments along with the timbre of the horn.

Students, just like adults, are used to passively listening to music (in the car, the shops, etc.) Therefore, it’s vitally important that students are given clear guidelines to help facilitate active listening. That might mean telling students to listen for a specific instrument and to touch their finger to their nose when they hear it. Or perhaps it means drawing how the music makes them feel.

If we simply tell students to “listen to the music”, they’ll do exactly that. Because listening to music doesn’t imply analyzing it, despite how naturally this may be for us.


Listening maps are an effective tool for listening lessons. Students can see what they should be listening for as they follow along.

I created the following listening map to be used in conjunction with the video above. I highlighted each time they revisited the theme, as well as the different timbres we hear throughout. You can download the pdf by clicking the button below.


  • Start the lesson by having students watch the video.
  • After watching the video, discuss each instrument briefly as you point to the instruments on the map.
  • If you own or have access to any of these instruments, be sure to bring them in for a quick demo. It’s much more impactful if students are able to hear the instruments in real life and touch some of the keys.
  • Pass out egg shakers (or other shaker instrument) and have students play along each time they hear the main theme. During the other sections, they can move around the room to the music.
  • Finally, pass out the maps to each student and have them watch/listen to the piece again. Ask them to follow along in their listening map. This is a good time to discuss concert etiquette and explain that you want them to practice these rules during the final listen of the piece.

2 Responses