The Halloween Playlist that Won’t Leave You and Your Child in a Musical Sugar Coma
Fall is probably my favorite time of year, for so many reasons! The crisp weather, the changing colors, pumpkin-flavored everything, pulling out my favorite fleece…just to name a few. But as a musician and elementary music teacher, fall is my favorite season because of the music. There is nothing better than sharing some of the best orchestral pieces written with children at this time of year — and getting them to learn all of those fantastic adjectives to describe what they hear…spooky, eerie, dark, mysterious, exciting, wicked, suspicious, surprising…the list goes on. Halloween brings out the best in children’s imagination and creativity.
Challenging children to listen to a piece of music and imagine what the music is describing, or create a story being played out through the music is one of the best ways to actively engage multiple areas of a child’s brain while they listen. Creating different movements, steady beat patterns, and being aware of sudden changes in mood, tempo, and instrumentation also engage many parts of a child’s brain. And there truly is no better music out there to do this than the music on this Halloween list.
Mike and I have gone through our favorites and put them together here so that you can have the whole playlist handy. Find a good time to play some music for your child (in the car, while making dinner, bathtime…pretty much anytime is a good time…although, maybe not right before bed) and ask them a simple question like, “what does this music make you think of?” to get their imagination and creative juices flowing. Then prepare to be amazed by the stories they invent to go along with the music.
Even after twelve years of being in the music classroom, there was never a year that I wasn’t blown away by what the children thought of as they listened. One year an entire kindergarten class insisted on turning off all the lights as we listened to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” because, as they insisted, you just couldn’t be mysterious and spooky with all of the classroom lights on. So, that’s what we did, and they loved every minute of it.
So here’s our list and we hope it helps you and your kiddos have some spookily awesome moments together.
1. Danse Macabre Op. 40 by Saint-Saens
This piece is exciting and cloaked in spookiness at the same time. It is dance music, so it lends itself beautifully to you and your child creating different movements for all of the varying sections. What movement do you make when you hear the violin solo? How do your movements change when you hear the whole orchestra playing, especially near the end when the brass and percussion come in?
2. Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky
Right from the first note, this piece brings to mind a dark and stormy night with mischief and excitement in the air. It is a fantastic piece for you and your child to come up with a story to go along with the music. Where is the action taking place? What is happening when the brass section plays? What is happening when the strings have the melody? How does the story end? Is everyone happy at the end or is their still mischief in the air?
3. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas
This piece is perhaps most famous from Disney’s Fantasia…remember Mickey Mouse and the broom? That video is fantastic, but if your child is too young to watch it (it can be a bit stressful at times and the Sorcerer can be downright scary), you can easily tell an abbreviated version of the story to your child while the music plays. It makes choreography easy…remember the marching brooms theme? Listen for this and march around the living room with your little one! Remember the water starting to rise and swirl around Mickey? Listen for this and run around with your arms spread wide like you are the water rising and swirling around the room!
4. Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach
This should be the unofficial theme song to Halloween — it’s gorgeous and complicated, and super spooky. Just a head’s up…because it is pretty intense, I usually save this for my older students (ages 7 and up). I think there is something about hearing this on a huge pipe organ that is too much for really young children to understand and enjoy.
5. In the Hall of the Mountain King from the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg
This piece is my absolute favorite to play for young children. It has a fantastic story that goes along with it and it lends itself perfectly to keeping the steady beat and adding movements. It begins with excellent music for tiptoe-ing around and sneaking up on each other and ends with big and explosive timpani hits perfect for jumping out from behind furniture. And if you want to go the route of my little kindergarten class, turn all the lights off to up the spook factor!
6. Monster Mash by the Groovie Goolies
I couldn’t resist adding this one to the list. I LOVE this song and it brings back all of these great Halloween memories from my own childhood. Put this one on while you are all getting your costumes on and boogie and twist your way through the house!
7. Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner
This piece is so exciting, you can feel the energy from the first note! Gallop, fly, leap, jump! Do all four! You and your child won’t be able to sit still for this one! And if you’re a brass person like me, this one hits the spot.
8. Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter by John Williams
I am a huge Harry Potter fan, and even though my kiddos are still too young to watch the movies, we still listen to the soundtrack by John Williams (same composer that wrote the infamous Star Wars music!) because it is fantastic and really puts their imaginations in high gear…so much action and excitement. Listen to it with your child and as the music moves through all of the different sections, ask your child the simple question, “what do you think is happening now?”.
9. Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod
Yet another piece that is great for both keeping a steady beat and creating different movements to go with each instrument. If you are feeling inspired by the title, you can even seize the opportunity to teach your child about puppetry and marionettes. Can they move like a marionette, as if all of their limbs are controlled by strings? Can you move as if you are controlled by strings? What if your child was controlling the strings???? (Mine would have me in the kitchen pantry taking out the chocolate chip cookies in about five seconds!)
10. Skeletone and Them Bones by Caspar Babypants
We absolutely love Caspar Babypants in our house — Mike and me just as much as the kiddos. Did you know that Caspar Babypants (also known as Chris Ballew) was once the lead singer, guitarist, and bassist for the band The Presidents of the United States of America?? He’s an AMAZING musician and his children’s music is on point.
These two songs are particularly delicious this time of year. “Skeletone” even quotes “In the Hall of the Mountain King” — genius! And I dare you to try to not dance to “Them Bones”, its just so darn good.
Thanks for reading and have a great time listening to our carefully curated Halloween playlist with your little goblins and ghosties! If you liked this post please share and click the clap button for us :) Happy Halloween!
This was originally posted on the My Piano Starts Here blog at mymusicmary.com