Photo of Comparing J.S. Bach and Paul McCartney, Constance Vidor

Comparing J.S. Bach and Paul McCartney, Constance Vidor

By Constance Vidor


The J.S. Bach and Paul McCartney VoiceThread introduces young learners to the great baroque composer by way of a comparison/contrast with a musician with whom they are more familiar. Each fact about J. S. Bach is accompanied by a fact from a similar aspect of Paul McCarney’s life. Each pair of facts or anecdotes concludes with a question asking students to respond or reflect on the differences and similarities that are suggested in the VoiceThread.


I was looking for a way to show how even students with very little formal knowledge of classical music could make connections between a subject they already know about and subject that is new to them. I began by reading several junior book biographies of J. S. Bach and in order to get some ideas about how to communicate interesting and lively facts about Bach’s life to 4th-6th grade students. Then I polled my 5th graders to find out who some of their favorite musicians were. I was surprised to discover how many of them are Beatles fans! Paul McCartney fit my criteria of being a composer as well as a familiar musical figure. The most time consuming part of this project was researching and writing the narration so that it made sense and communicated enough information for young learners that they could use that information to make some informed and thoughtful responses to the questions.


The goal of the project was to introduce upper elementary-middle school learners to the music of J. S. Bach in a way that would be developmentally appealing and accessible.


  • Students will learn some facts about Bach’s life and music.
  • Students will be able analyze some key differences or similarities between the music and life of Bach and that of McCartney.

Easy Parts

Unlike other multi-media creation experiences I’ve had, the easiest part was the technical part. Once I had the narration in place and the images and videos selected, uploading was easy.


The hardest part was writing a good narration and honing my speaking skills for recording. Condensing this kind of information into intellectually authentic yet accessible small chunks was challenging. Also, when recording, I noticed many off-putting vocal habits, such as gulps, “umm’s” and weird inflections in my voice. I wanted students to not be distracted by these vocal mannerisms, so I did a fair amount of re-recording in order to eliminate them.

The other setback was having to go back and find the original links for many of the images in order to create the Credits page. As a librarian, I wanted this VoiceThread to set a good example to the students by documenting where I got my images. I did not keep track of the images as I was collecting them, and this is exactly what I remind my students to do when they are doing research! Going back and re-locating them almost doubled my prep time. Next time I do a VoiceThread I will keep track as I go along.


I used to download videos of performances so I could upload those to VoiceThread. I used the Grab application to select parts of images from web sites.


When using this VoiceThread with students I have found that they get so pumped up from the Beatles musical excerpts that it can be a challenge to get them settled down and re-focused. Listening to popular music and listening to classical music are two very different kinds of listening, and switching back and forth from one domain to another is hard for young learners. I still think that combining information about two different kinds of composers is a valuable learning experience, and I am continuing to think about the most effective way to do this.


This VoiceThread could be used as an example of how to do a research project on composers in upper elementary or middle school. Asking students to do a report on one composer makes it hard for them not to just copy facts. Asking them to pick a living musician and compare and contrast aspects of that person’s life with a pre-20th century composer would seem to offer more opportunities for reflection and critical thinking. You could use this VoiceThread to demonstrate the idea of the comparison/contrast, then ask students to use the same technique with different pairs of composers. NB: There are two versions of this VoiceThread—one is open for comments, the other is closed.