Characteristics of Music: Classical

Starting in April, we’ve been taking an incredible journey through the characteristics of music! We started the voyage with a look at that most popular and ever-changing genre, pop. From there, we’ve gone on to explore the key characteristics of genres including jazz, rock and roll, punk, funk, R&B, reggae, swing, country, folk, and finally, last week, gospel. Let’s keep this train rolling with another genre this week: classical!

The Classical Period

The Classical period of music was lasted nearly 100 years, from about 1730 to around 1820, although certain aspects and variations of it continued well into the middle of the nineteenth century. Composers and performers of his period almost exclusively came from Europe, but it wasn’t long before the music found its way to European colonies around the world. The Austrian capital of Vienna became the musical center of Europe during this time, and so many composers and musicians were either from Vienna, or spent time studying there.

When was the Classical Period

Following the late Baroque period, the Classical era is usually defined by musicologists as starting sometime around 1730 and running until at least 1820. With such close proximity in time to the popularity of the Baroque period, classical kept many styles from the previous era, but with more emphasis on elegance and simplicity. This helped differentiate and define classical as something new compared to Baroque’s grandiosity and complexity.

3 Key Characteristics of Classical Music

The most important forms from the Classical period are the string quartet, opera (which includes the opera buffa and opera seria genres), trio sonata, symphony, and solo concertos written for a variety of different instruments. While each of these musical forms are separate and unique, they each have the same three key characteristics in common:


When compared to the Baroque period that came before, Classical period music puts a lot more emphasis and importance on simplicity, tonal harmony, single-line melodies, and enlarged ensembles. In contrast to the elaborate melodies and embellishments of high Baroque music, this newer style utilized somewhat simple melodies and supported them with large ensembles.

Classical period music borrowed melodies from folk music and could be arranged to create new variations with changes in tonality, tempo, and dynamics. While this trend got its start during the Classical period, it would continue to be used, and indeed expanded, during the Romantic period that followed behind the  Classical era.  


During the first half of the eighteenth century, European popular culture experienced a surge in a stylistic movement called “Classicism.” Those who followed the tenant of Classicism had a special love for the Classical period of antiquity, meaning Greece during the fifth century or so. This love for the art and architecture of Classical Greece could be found even in the musical tastes of the eighteenth century.

Each of the musical forms that became standard during the Classical period embraced order, simplicity, strength, and a celebration of humanity – all of which are perfectly aligned with reverence, respect, and love for Classical Greece.


In the time leading up to the Classical period, nearly all composers worked in the courts of aristocrats. Once the Classical era began, this was still mostly true, but public concerts were more common throughout Europe. This helped bring music to the masses as members of the middle classes were able to take part.

This, in turn, helped to make Classical music significantly more open, popular, and generally egalitarian than Baroque music, which was most often performed as chamber music exclusively for upper-class listeners.

Instruments Used in Classical Music

Prior to the Classical era, the harpsichord and organ were the preferred primary keyboard instruments. However, the piano quickly overtook both during the Classical era and has remained in that position ever since.

Other instruments that are heavily featured in Classical music styles include the:

  • violin
  • viola
  • cello
  • double bass
  • flute
  • clarinet
  • oboe
  • bassoon
  • French horn
  • trumpet
  • trombone
  • timpani drums

Classical Period Composers

Vienna, Austria quickly became the hub of European Classical music, and as such, the composers who worked out of the city were often called members of the Viennese School. Great and enduring composers of the Viennese School included Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Each of the instantly recognizable names was foundational to the Classical music period, and beyond.

Are you inspired by the simplicity and beauty of classical music? Maybe you prefer something with a driving bassline and pounding drums? No matter your musical inspiration, there’s no time like today to start learning to play! Our professional instructors offer a wide range of classes and programs to help you reach your musical goals. Sign up today!