Friday, November 3, 2017

Five Fun Ways to Teach Theme and Variations Form in Music Lessons

In preparation for my group lessons this week I've been rounding up some fun ideas to teach musical form to my students in a memorable way. I also made
  Variation Cards
for a "What Changed" Ear Training Game and am challenging them to change up their own pieces this week using Variation Cards so they can play a variation for me at their next lesson.

Simple Variations on a Circle Artwork -  I thought this would make a great attention-getting activity as students arrived. Students color circles to create various objects.  The circle is the common "Theme" and the fillings are the "Variations". Variations in music will look and sound different but they all keep a common element.

More Complex Twinkle Variations Artwork - One of the most famous Theme and Variations pieces is Mozart's Twelve Variations on "Ah, vous dirai - je maman" aka Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.    I chose creative names to represent the qualities in the music in each variation and will have students listen to the variation and draw their own representation of the variations in stars. This youtube video makes the melodic and harmonic style variations easier to spot. Then we will discuss different ways to create variations in music.

Mozart – Twelve Variations on Twinkle Twinkle
Time
#
Name
What Changed?
:00
Theme
Simple + Ornament
Ornament Ending
:51
1
Caterpillar
Disguise the melody by adding more notes
1:35
2
Busy Bass
Accompaniment style
2:20
3
Raspberry Triplets
Rhythm
3:09
4
Flipped Texture
Texture Flip (Moving Bass, Slow Treble)
3:58
5
Left Right Conversation
Alternate Hands
4:45
6
Racy vs Rests
Articulation (Staccato, Legato, Rests)
5:15
7
Scale Slopes
Scale Steps vs Leaps
5:43
8
Mysterious Minor
Mood or Key
6:32
9
Thin to Thick
Texture or Dynamics
7:20
10
Shimmer
Open Intervals
8:00
11
Adagio Relaxation
Tempo, Accented Notes
11:03
12
¾ Finale
Time Signature

This video has a more traditional performance modeling excellent expression/technique.Mozart, Ah! vous dirai je maman Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star KV 265

Bucket Rhythm Activity - This bucket activity uses the same simple rhythm throughout but changes the timbre (sound quality) or pitch.  Students play the "One Bucket Groove: Theme and Variations".  You can download it free here and/or watch this demo video
Bucket Rhythm Theme and Variations


Rhythm Cups Theme and Variations-  For a more complex variation including fun rhythm movements watch this cups rhythm theme.


Variation Cards Piano Teaching Theme and Variation GameWhat Changed? Game - Create cards that represent different ways you can vary a theme. For example:

Scrambled Eggs= Mix up the Melody
Ornament Ending= Add a trill turn or other embellishment to the end of the piece
Snail Cheetah= Change the tempo
Haunted House= Change the mood or key
Popcorn= Add some staccato notes
Bug to Beetle = Change up the Rhythm
Handstand Man= Flip the Melody to the bass line with accompaniment in the treble
Disguised Melody Man = Add more notes to the melody line but keep the same harmonic structure
LR Conversation = Alternate the melody between the Left and Right hands so it sounds like they are having a conversation.
Round 1: Students first play a matching game to match the pictures to their description cards to become familiar with variation options. Teacher or student plays an example when they find a match. 
Round 2:  Teacher plays short variation samples of a familiar tune and students race to slap the matching card. If you make multiple card sets, students can arrange 9 cards bingo style and cover the card they heard if you prefer a less physically competitive option.
Practice  Challenge: Choose one of your piano pieces as the "theme" and create a variation by picking one or more variation cards to change up the theme song.

Creating Simple Variations is a great way to start building students confidence and give them the tools to become successful with improvisation and composition. A few other fun resources I love to use in my studio to foster creativity and freedom of movement across the keys include:
Teach Piano Today Improv Activities
Pattern Play by Forrest Kinney
Pianimation Mystery Bag Improv
Pianimation Composing and Improv Activities
Fun Piano Studio Improv Tutorials
Tim Topham Beginning Improv
Jingle Bells Improv
Tune Train App


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