Since the topic this week is encouraging creativity in our students at Christmas time, I thought I’d re-post the “Theme and Variations” challenge that we completed in my studio last year.  It was great fun and there is still time to do a small version of this project in your studio for Christmas.  Here is the post from last year:

If you have heard the Composition for Kids lecture, you have heard about the Theme and Variations challenge that I have suggested to “encourage creativity.”  This last month, I challenged the students in my studio to create their own variation of Jingle Bells.  You can read the details of the project and how to do one yourself in this previous post.

My students have finally completed their variations, and I am happy to report that even the students who have never been interested in composition before now participated in this challenge!  Some students took off with this idea and knew exactly what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it.  But with most students, I employed a procedure to help them get started which I have detailed under the video.

Though the video is long, I thought it important to keep everyone’s variation together for a true Theme and Variations form.  In future posts, I will be commenting on how I coached these students and how I might further coach them provided we had the time.  The performances aren’t perfect, but encouraging creativity that was most important.  There are 10 variations to Jingle Bells and the student represent a variety of levels from beginning to late intermediate.  Enjoy!

Here is how I helped some of the students develop their variation:

1.  Pick a mood.  You can see the list of moods here.
2.  I asked them what kind of things you could do on the piano to create that mood.  I would ask them questions about:

  • Location of melody (fragile sounds were obviously higher, dark sounds were lower)
  • Tempo
  • Modality
  • Harmony (Many students chose to use harmonies that were in pieces they were currently studying.   This was a wonderful sign that their vocabulary of possible sounds expands with the repertoire that they study.)
  • Meter (Several had really enjoyed previous waltzes they had studied, so we experimented with how to change Jingle Bells to a 3 beat meter.)
  • Texture (though I didn’t name it, we talked about lonely sounds, unison sounds, chords, ostinatos, etc.)

3.  After they had a list of possibilities, I sent them home to create their variation.  With some students, we were able to tweek the variation in subsequent lessons.  With others, we “accepted” their variation because of a lack of time to tweek.