Image Map

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Teaching Theme and Variations

I love teaching form. I didn't think much of it at the beginning of my teaching career, but it has become one of my favorite areas to explore with students because there are so many opportunities for creativity, and it's one of the easiest places to incorporate almost any genre of music. Today I want to share one of my favorite upper elementary lessons on Theme and Variations.

Within the topic of theme and variations, I want students to be able to aurally identify it, perform it, and create/ compose it. These lessons allow students to explore each of those areas.

I introduce the idea of theme and variations with this performance:

After we watch the video, I ask students to describe what happened, making sure they all notice that it is the same song different ways, and discussing which things you can change and which things you can't in order for the listener to identify it as a version of the same song rather than a new song entirely/ contrasting section. Once we've talked about the sorts of musical elements you can change and which you can't, I show them this:

For students that struggle initially to concretely identify what constitutes a variation on a theme and not a completely new piece, the visuals in this video seem to be very helpful. After watching this video, I introduce the term "theme and variations". 

Once students understand the concept of Theme and Variations and can identify it, I give students the task of creating their own variation on a given theme. There are a lot of ways to structure this task, but the basic idea is to take a short song (or part of a song) and have students create their own variation, usually in small groups. 

This is a great place to incorporate a song or genre that you don't normally use in your lessons, because you can pretty much take any section of any song for this project! I like to use the chorus from a current song (here are some hip-hop songs you could consider from various time periods) or a silly camp song. 

Start by learning the song together as a class. This could be done by singing a song with lyrics or you could also do a simple melody on instruments. Once students are comfortable with the song (it should be SHORT- no more than 4 lines), split them up into small groups and tell them to come up with their own variation- review the different musical elements that they previously identified could be changed or retained to create a variation, and have them start by coming up with a descriptor for their variation. They might choose a genre, like "country western version", or they could choose an adjective, like "peaceful version", "sad version", etc.

The important thing to remind students as they work is to keep coming back to their descriptor for their variation, reflecting on whether or not the musical choices they're making reflect that descriptor. They could certainly change their minds about which descriptor they use, but their variation needs to be cohesive.

Once each group has come up with their variation, all that's left is to put them all together to create a class performance in Theme and Variations form! I find it helpful to have groups physically sit in the order that they will perform their variation, then have the entire class perform the original "theme", followed by each group performing their variation in succession. 

There are so many ways to get creative with Theme and Variations form, and older students love the creative freedom it gives them when they create their own variations! This lesson is included in my 4th grade curriculum if you are interested in using the full sequence of lessons along with all the supporting visuals and materials. 

Have other ideas you love for teaching theme and variations? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

No comments :

Post a Comment