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.
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
What Changed?
Simple + Ornament
Ornament Ending
Disguise the melody by adding more notes
Busy Bass
Accompaniment style
Raspberry Triplets
Flipped Texture
Texture Flip (Moving Bass, Slow Treble)
Left Right Conversation
Alternate Hands
Racy vs Rests
Articulation (Staccato, Legato, Rests)
Scale Slopes
Scale Steps vs Leaps
Mysterious Minor
Mood or Key
Thin to Thick
Texture or Dynamics
Open Intervals
Adagio Relaxation
Tempo, Accented Notes
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 Game

What 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. The teacher or student plays an example when they find a match. 
Round 2:  The 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 they 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. 

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