Review: Discovering Music (Professor Carol)

I wanted to like Professor Carol’s Discovering Music:  300 Years of Interaction in Music, Arts, History, and Culture.  My 13-year-old son, a talented piano student, wanted to like Discovering Music as well.  Reviews were fantastic, the sample video on the website interested my older son and I, and I really liked the idea of studying some history that wasn’t all about war.   So with my son’s approval and enthusiasm, I drummed up a used copy and we dove in.

Discovering Music consists of sixteen videos of variable lengths which contain far more lecture than music and march the viewer across the last 300 years of, as the title suggests, history, music, arts, and culture.  Overall, we found the videos dry, with little musical content.  While Dr. Carol Reynolds has considerable knowledge base from which to draw, her delivery struck me as a bit frenetic and disjointed.  Each video is a collage of vocabulary words and historical facts, somewhat bound together to form a whole.  But there’s no feeling to that whole, and that’s where more music (and art) would be helpful.  The sample lecture we viewed was not representational of the amount of  music in the lectures, and that was a disappointment.  (A recent check of the Discovering Music website reveals more sample lectures.  I’ve not watched these, but they may give one a more realistic view of the rest of the program).

The curriculum does include three listening CDs designed to accompany each of the chapters (16 have lectures and listening CD assignments, the first of the 17 in the book does not).  The music on these CDs is decent recordings of pieces spanning those three centuries, and my son’s greatly enjoyed this part of the program.  However, I’d rather see more music within the lectures themselves, with commentary on the music as part of the lecture.

A resource guide ties the videos and listening CDs together and serves as a repository for website links, listening guides, lists of terms and dates, “Putting it All Together ” questions, and short-answer quizzes for each chapter.  The listening guides serve as a note-taking aid, which my older son found helpful during the lectures.  He’s working on note-taking skills, and these guides served him well.  I’m sure they would have served as study guides for the quizzes as well, but we’re not very quizzy around here, so these went unused.

The web links were frustrating.  Entering lines of text and characters to get to a link frustrated my son (and would have done the same to me), especially when a link was then broken.  A password-protected website with updated, clickable links would have been far more useful and encouraged more exploration of the sites and their subjects.  Hopefully any subsequent editions of Discovering Music will have this content online.  The links themselves were variable, and for many of them, a quick google search would be at least as fruitful (and less tedious) than the link-entering my son did.  More patient and persistent children may find more satisfaction with the existing edition and links.

The “Putting it all Together” questions were a highlight of the program.  These five to eight questions required a moderate amount of research to accomplish, and I generally allowed my son to pick the one or two that interested him most.   A highly interested child could do all the questions, and with some focus on editing and composition skills, this would likely be fine vehicle for a writing course at the high school level.  Since my son’s ambitions for writing are fall less, well, ambitious, we stuck with just a question or two.  Some questions involve more than simple recitation of facts but call for comparison and contrast or other higher-order thinking.  The variety of questions is impressive.

As a whole, Discovering Music wasn’t a hit at our house.  My older son and I liked the idea, but found the videos dry and scant on actual music.  The listening guide’s use of links was frustrating in an age of digital links for other curricula we’ve enjoyed.  The questions presented for writing or discussion were the high point, and the student driven to seek out all those answers would likely have been more enamored with Discovering Music that were we.  We hung on through 13 chapters, although I’m not sure why.  While I’m not generally prone to peer pressure, the positive reviews I’d read from others led me to hang in for longer than I’d usually have.  While I’d lost interest a few lectures in, I encouraged my son to hang in, for surely it would improve.  And while he remained unimpressed, he did learn some music history and improved his essay writing skills.  And that I like.

I’ve received no product or other compensation for this review.


5 thoughts on “Review: Discovering Music (Professor Carol)

  1. Thanks for your honesty in this review. I’ve been sorely tempted by this product, but it would not be a good fit for my family, given your comments. Thanks!

  2. Hi,

    I’ve been seriously considering this curriculum, but will go back for additional information after reading your comments. Thanks for taking the time to post this review.

    • You’re welcome. As I mentioned, there seems to be more sample material to review on her website than there was a year back. Many do like the program. We, however, did not.

  3. I appreciate your review. I’ve been mulling over the purchase of this curriculum as well, but have hesitated, mainly because I’ve only been able to find glowing, positive reviews and alot of marketing/advertisement. That’s not necessarily a problem, per se, it’s just that I want to hear from real-life people who’ve struggled with the curriculum a bit — that way I am more likely to believe that they’ve actually used it and determine for myself whether their problems would be similar (or not) to our potential experience. So, thank you for what appears to be an honest and straight forward review.

  4. I just heard this person lecture as a preview to the Chopin Festival sponsored by the Cliburn Foundation. I am a retired university professor. I was dismayed and insulted by the delivery of her lecture and see that this was not an anomaly. A teacher who really understands how to educate will organize the material, speak clearly, and will provide examples (e.g. art & music) to illustrate verbal content. This is important for reaching the variety of learners that one will encounter. Real learning does not proceed from definitions, as it seems that she believes from the way the course is laid out (from your description). Real learning comes from interaction with the information, which is probably why your found that the questions were so useful. OK I’m off my soapbox.

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