For Starters of Classical Music.
By David King (Amphissa)
Pick up a copy of a good introductory overview book, like Goulding's Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works which discusses many (not all) of the major composers and lists their most important works, and Swofford's The Vintage Guide to Classical Music which gives a thumbnail of most of the basic concepts and periods. There are many other basic guides. None of them is perfect. I like these two because they can be ordered used, cheap on Amazon, and are handy to start with.
There's one basic that is hard to deny - the most famous composers are famous for a reason. And some of their music is already familiar to you, if you've been listening to the radio, even if you weren't paying attention to the announcer when he gave the specifics. You've heard music by Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Dvorak, etc. Perhaps you already know you like some of them.
Scan the books and pick out a couple of composers to start with. Write down some of the works that are recommended and head for your public library. Start checking out CDs. Listen to them and read about the composer. These two books are easy, entertaining reading, not dense.
Make notes in your books. Check off the items you've listened to. Write down works you would like to hear again or maybe buy. Mark through the ones that don't appeal to you.
Don't worry initially whether the version you are listening to is the greatest performance ever recorded. What you are really interested in at this point is to discover which composers, periods and/or styles of music you really like.
Don't go out and buy a bunch of CDs until you are at least familiar with a few of the works of that composer. You can end up with a lot of money invested in CDs that you never listen to.
Don't forget that experts are not beginners. They have been listening to classical music for a very long time. They've heard the core works hundreds of times, and in many cases have traveled down esoteric lanes far from the core repertoire. They are likely to be seriously opinionated about their pet viewpoint. That is not IMHO a good way to learn.
Do buy tickets to your local/regional performances. Go to hear the music performed live. Get a sense of the experience of classical music as living, breathing music. Try some chamber music as well as the big venue orchestral events. (The first season tickets to a symphony I ever bought, the city was 120 miles away. It was worth every minute of driving time, every dime of gas, to make that monthly trek.)
Do try to set aside a regular "listening time" -- and actually listen to the music. Open your favorite beverage, kick back, listen to one CD. If you can do that several times a week ...
Do try to meet others who share your interest. It's always fun to get together with folks, talk music, share CDs, eat, drink, go to concerts, etc.
If you hear something that knocks your socks off, THEN consider buying. That involves a lot of decisions, and if you are on a finite budget, making those decisions requires thought and homework. But that's another post altogether.
And by the way, they don't all end the same. But when they don't end that way, it sounds weird.
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche