Theme & Variation


This week in Music+STEM we learned what a Theme & Variation is.  dc7j9jMGi

Then we created one. Like a composer.

After listening to an example, students logged into Noteflight.  This is great web-based notation software that anyone can use for free. If you get a subscription you can create classes where students log into your “site”.  With this feature, the teacher can see all their work.

This was the first time my students used Noteflight, so part of this assignment was set up to teach them how to use it.  They started by transcribing the first four measures of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I limited it to the first four measures to keep the task manageable.  I walked them through entering the pitches and assigning rhythms as they worked on chromebooks and I projected my screen.  Some students caught on very quickly while others needed a bit more guidance. Many students were able to offer help to others – a great way to reinforce their learning.

After creating their “theme”, students created two variations. One in which they doubled the value of each note and another where they cut the value of each note in half.  Again, this was prescribed so students could learn to use the features of the software.  If they completed these tasks, they were able to create their own variation.

One of the great features of using Noteflight is that students can immediately hear what they are composing. I noticed that several students found mistakes in their notation first by listening, then went back and found the incorrect note.  Below you will see that one student even figured out the rest of the song on her own – just by listening to the notes as she entered them.

A note to teachers who might think they need to teach students note names and rhythms before using this – some of my students knew these but most did not.  Many, however, learned note values (and some pitch names) by the time we were done. What better way to learn the difference between a quarter note, half note, whole note, and eighth notes than by using them and immediately hearing them?  As my grad school professor continually preached, create a context and a need to know and students will learn.  This is the perfect example of that strategy.

So here are some of the results…

The basic assignment (with a not so basic title)

The basic assignment (with a not so basic title)

This student changed the register of hers by changing instruments

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.36.21 PM

This student added some extra elements to hers …

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.34.52 PM

This student not only changed the register but added a reprise

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.40.12 PM

This student harmonized AND figured out the rest of the song on her own

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 6.37.59 PM

I’m excited to continue to use this as a composing tool for students – their work the first time around was impressive!

Finally, we finished up the week with some bucket drumming. Students created a variation to a rhythm pattern and we did some fun ensemble playing.

Here’s a peak …

And what do you do in the last few minutes of Music+STEM? See if you can stack the buckets to the ceiling of course 🙂


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