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Six mind-expanding music podcasts to try this spring

Love music, but need new inspiration? Escape the algorithm with six podcasts from BBC Radio 3 that will help you discover new sounds, build better playlists and generally see the world that little bit differently.

All of these podcasts are available to download and stream on BBC Sounds.

If you love music but have never got to grips with the gigantic slab of sound known as “classical”, then this is the podcast for you. Try before you buy with fully qualified classical chaperone Clemmie Burton-Hill, who’s on a mission to open more ears to the rich and varied world of classical music.

Every episode, Clemmie puts together a classical playlist for a special guest and we listen in as they react. Those responses aren’t always positive, by the way. There’s no airbrushing here, no right or wrong, and no homework.

Why do Hip Hop artists sample classical music so much?

Is it the drama? The gravitas? The recognisability factor? Clara Amfo has her theories.

Start with...

  • Bryony Gordon’s Classical Fix: The episode that established Classical Fix as a "safe space to have a big old messy cry". Have a box of tisses to hand as Clemmie and mental health campaigner Bryony explore music’s power to soothe the soul.
  • Bobby Friction’s Opera Fix: Clemmie went on her holidays and left international opera superstar Danielle de Niese in charge. Her challenge? To convert four classical newbies to the notoriously tricky genre of opera. Eeek.

Why are bass lines so good? How does video game music work? Can music be gendered? What is minimalism? And why is opera so ridiculous?

There is no musical query too obvious, too abstract or too weird for The Listening Service to consider. This weekly pod is hosted by powerhouse music journalist Tom Service (geddit?), who finds the answers to music’s big questions with the help of experts ranging from physicists and historians to marine biologists and ludomusicologists (they're a thing; look it up).

Why are we all addicted to bass?

Bass is everywhere, but why do we enjoy it? Join Tom Service on a journey of discovery.

Start with…

  • Why are Classical audiences so quiet? A surprising number of classical music lovers insist on absolute silence during concerts. What's that about? Tom investigates the case of a concert in Malmö where the rustling of a sweet wrapper caused an actual brawl.
  • Truck driver modulation: Join Tom as he, like Westlife, stands up for the key change. There isn't too much attention paid to the rules of harmony in this episode, which celebrates the emotional and dramatic impact of a none-too-subtle modulation.

Classical music is having a bit of a millennial moment, with interest in the genre spiking among younger listeners who use classical to focus, relax and energise. This new podcast, hosted by 20-year-old classical musician Jess Gillam, is a golden opportunity to escape streaming service algorithms and discover new sounds from across the musical spectrum.

The format is simple. In every episode, Jess invites another young pro musician to share the tracks that are currently riding high on their personal playlists. She plays a track, they play a track, they have a chat and we all hear some great music. Definitely one to share with the adventurous playlister in your life.

Ollie Howell's music for getting stuff done to

Film and TV composer Ollie explains why Steve Reich is his go-to composer for energy.

This podcast has only really just started – so make like an early adopter and start listening from S1 E1, featuring film and TV composer Ollie Howell. And you can learn more about Jess and her innovative approach to playlisting here.

Think back to your favourite holiday memory. Was it the evening you were serenaded at dinner by a talented busker? The time you stumbled across a breathtaking traditional dance display in a village square? Or was it that amazing folk band you chanced across in a tiny local bar?

Hearing a country’s traditional music is a short cut to getting to know its people, culture and history. This weekly podcast (made by the people behind Radio 3’s Music Planet) is dedicated to traditional music from around the world. Each episode is hosted by a local correspondent, giving you insider access to music and places you might never get the chance to visit IRL.

The revival of Shetland's rich fiddle tradition

The popularity of folk music means more young people than ever are taking up the fiddle.

Start with...

  • Road Trip to Shetland: Sometimes the most mindblowing holiday destinations are closer to home than you think. Fair Isle resident and musician Inge Thomson presents a toe-tapping, soul-nourishing episode of Road Trip.
  • Road Trip to Mexico’s narcocorrido music: Journalist Betto Arcos was our guide for this hard-hitting episode from Mexico, exploring its controversial and often graphic drug ballads.

Another vintage podcast from BBC Radio 3, Composer of the Week is THE one-stop shop for discovering everything, ever, about the history of classical music. Each episode represents the genius distillation of five hours of Radio 3’s Composer of the Week radio show into 60 action-packed minutes.

If there’s a more efficient way of learning about over 1,000 years of music, we haven’t found it. COTW host Donald Macleod’s knowledge of his subject(s) is unparalleled and, as a bonus, he has one of the most reassuring voices in radio.

Thelonious Monk

Donald Macleod celebrates the centenary of the jazz legend.

Start with...

  • Mozart: COTW has actually done Mozart several times, each time looking at a different aspect of his short life and career. This episode is an excellent place to start on your classical composers odyssey.
  • Leonard Bernstein: Donald enlists the help of world-renowned conductor Marin Alsop (who was mentored by Bernstein) for this episode on his turbulent life and music.

Michael Berkeley is our genial host in this music and celeb-heavy podcast, which sees guests from all walks of life talk about the influence music has had on their lives.

Michael’s background as a composer allows him to tease details from his guests via their musical tastes that you simply won't hear anywhere else. Music, after all, is the one thing that connects us through the biggest moments of our lives – from weddings and funerals to coming of age stories and bittersweet memories.

When Jane Birkin met Serge Gainsbourg for the first time...

A disastrous first dance, the nightclub Rasputin and a Parisian hotel.

Start with...

  • Jo Brand: The comedian tells us about the music in her life, from learning piano and violin as a child to the huge challenge of playing the organ of the Royal Albert Hall.
  • Steve Punt: The Radio 4 comedian remembers his first job in a music shop in Croydon; a situation that sounded ever so slightly like a sitcom...

All six of these podcasts are available right now to stream and download on BBC Sounds. Subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode.