This site uses features found in IE5 and Netscape 6 and higher

Collecting Classical Compact Discs

Collecting CDs

Articles A Beginner's Guide to Classical Music Music Periods Music Styles Collecting Classical Compact Discs Boxed Sets Glenn Gould Classical Music for Children
Faced with 30 different recordings of the Four Seasons? Like Pachelbel's Canon but wonder who all these other composers are? The rules will help you sort through the chaff.

Rule 1 - Enjoy the Chase!

You could learn about classical music by reading books, learning music theory or going to classes. And you'll end up hating classical music. Classical music is fun, and exploring the field can be an adventure. The best way to learn is to listen to what you like and use it as a stepping stone to other music.

Rule 2 - Start Small and Build

You've decided to explore classical music because of one piece you heard and liked. It may have been Vivaldi's Four Seasons, or Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Try looking for other things they have written. Try Vivaldi's other concerti, or Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. Or try music by other composers of that time. And explore further from there.

Rule 3 - Listen Before You Buy

A CD collection can end up costing thousands of dollars. To be sure you like what you buy, listen to music before you hand over the cash. Most cities have classical music stations. If you hear a work or recording you like, try to find it in the stores. Libraries often have CD collections to listen to. Even CD stores will let you listen in the shop.

Rule 4 - Newer is Not Better

Some classical recordings are very recent, while others may be from the Sixties or Seventies. The performance is very subjective. If you like the older recording, buy that one. That said, recording technology has improved with time. Recordings from the Fifties are often scratchy, or have audible hiss. Even so, the performance may be so good as to make the CD worth buying.

Rule 5 - AAD, ADD, DDD are Irrelevent.

Every CD is labeled with the SPARS (Society of Professional Recording Studios) code according to whether analog (A) or digital (D) recording equipment was used in the recording, mixing and mastering sessions. If digital equipment was used throughout, the CD is labeled DDD. Does this make it a better CD? NO! Good recordings using analog equipment can be far better than a poor recording on digital equipment. For most of us, the SPARS label is not the most important criterion for buying a CD.

Rule 6 - Read the CD Insert

Most classical CD's have an informative booklet included which may include information about the composer, the works or even the recording process on the CD inside. Because it is specific to the CD in your hand, it can be a great guide to the work, or hints to other music to explore.

Rule 7 - Find a Good CD Store

Classical music CD stores are run by people who like and know classical music. The should know what's good and what's not, and they can help you find an elusive piece of music, or choose a good recording of it. They have a listening area where you can sample CD's without disturbance, and let you browse at your leisure. They know that if you buy a recording you like, you'll be back for more.

Rule 8 - Listen Once, Listen a Dozen Times

You probably hated olives or anchovies the first time you ate them. They are an aquired taste. Likewise music. Some pieces of music are instantly likable, such as Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, or anything by Mozart. Other pieces grow on you with time. It may take several listenings before you start to appreciate Mahler, Bartok or even Bach. It is worth persisting. Listen to Bach's organ works over and over, and you will discover patterns and motifs emerging, that eventually tie together to form the whole. The music clicks and it becomes wondrous.

Rule 9 - Price is No Guide to Quality

Why are some discs so expensive? These are usually recent issues by big name artists. Sometimes they are imported or rare. They are not necessarily better. Some of my favourite recordings are on inexpensive CDs. This may be because they are older recordings or editions, part of a boxed set or collection, or from lesser known performers. These mid-priced or bargain-priced CDs can be a great buy with performances and recordings that are just as good, if not better, than the full-priced versions. Again, listen before you buy, and choose what you like.

Rule 10 - Use! features CD's that have good music, great performances and excellent recording quality. Check the forum. Other CD guides include books (Penguin Guide to Classical Music, The Stevenson guide), magazines (Fanfare, Gramaphone, American Record Guide) and other web-based resources (All-Music Guide, Here you will find reviews of CDs new and old, good and bad, to help you on your quest.

Search Good-Music-Guide