Difference Between Classical Music and the Classical Era

What is Classical Music?

Classical music includes many styles of music and spans over 700 years.

The term classical music comes from the Latin word classicus. It means the “taxpayer of the highest class”. After the word classicus worked its way through the French, German, and English languages… an early definition expanded to “classical, formal, orderly… approved…”

In today’s dictionary, classical music is defined as “serious or conventional music following long-established principles rather than a folk, jazz, or popular tradition”.

Classical Music Eras

Before 800 AD   Early Music (not always considered classical music)
800-1430            Medieval
1430-1600          Renaissance Era
1600-1750          Baroque Era
1750-1830          Classical Era
1805-1910          Romantic Era
1900-1940          Revolutionary Era
1940-Present     Modern Era

To the parent/teacher:  As you can see, some of the eras overlapped a little. If you study music further (which I sincerely hope you do), you may notice that some people have a slightly different time line. They all go in this order, but not everyone agrees on the exact years for each era.

What is the Classical Era?

After the death of Johann Sebastian Bach (who we learned about in a previous lesson), composers wanted to ignore the strict rules of the Baroque Era/Period. Some composers had already started going off in other directions.

In the Baroque Era, music was so full of quick and complicated rhythms and melodies that many musicians had a hard time even playing music from this era. 

JS Bach’s Famous Sons


Some composers, including two of JS Bach’s sons (Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel “CPE” Bach ~ the top two pictures over to the left) were already going off in new directions. 

The Classical Era focused on structure, patterns, and clarity. This is an important era because a lot of composition and style were developed including: the style of the four movement symphonies, motifs, themes, and variations. (We will learn about these in future lessons.)

The piano became an important instrument for composing and performing during this era. It took the place of the harpsichord and clavier, which were used a lot in the Baroque Era.

Composers started writing music that was easier to play and meant to be pleasing to regular people like you and me. Orchestra music was not only for royalty and churches anymore.

Composers paid attention to music theory and techniques as they composed music during this era more than any previous era in the history of classical music.

Common people started to attend concerts during this time. This meant that composers in this era were sometimes able to work for other rich people who loved music or able to travel more freely and give concerts. 

Listen to this harpsichord concerto composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. This is a great example of music during the Baroque Era.


What is the Difference Between Classical Music and the Classical Era?

The Classical Era refers to music from a certain time period, while classical music refers to most orchestral music.

Music from the Classical Era is a part of classical music, but classical music is not necessarily from the Classical Era.

The Classical Era is supposed to be capitalized while classical music should not be capitalized (unless it is used in a title or at the beginning of a sentence), but most people do not know this (so you will often see them both capitalized).


If you are new to the Music Adventures Lessons, please click on the graphic below for an introduction and more information.


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