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Age Range: Elementary, Middle School

Learning Objective: Students will learn the definition of theme and variation and identify it in several listening examples.

ENGAGE students

SAY. “Composers sometimes like to take a familiar tune - that is, a theme or melody - and create variations, or different versions, of that melody.”

EXPLORE sounds

SAY. “A composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a famous theme and variations piece. Let’s listen to the first minute and see if you recognize it! Rather than say the name out loud, tap your head, so I know if you recognize the music.”

LISTEN. Listen to 30-60 seconds of music, and when most students recognize the piece, pause to announce the name. Then, continue on with one of the two listening options below.

12 Variations on Ah, vous dirai-je, maman, K. 265 - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Francesco Nicolosi, piano

EXPLORE (Option 1). For younger children or those who need a movement break, listen to the theme and each variation and use movement or a prop (scarf, ribbon, etc.) to move along with what you hear.

EXPLORE (Option 2). For older children, follow along with the listening map below. Most of the variations are about a minute long. In the box underneath each variation, there is a description of some of the sound. Ask students if they would add anything to the description. Alternatively, students could draw their own 3x13 listening grid and draw pictures under each theme instead of words.

Theme map
Katie Condon/MPR
Theme map
Katie Condon/MPR

EXTEND learning

Choose one or more of the following activities to extend learning.

CREATE. Create your own set of themes and variations. Select a short, simple and familiar melody, such as "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or "Happy Birthday."

LISTEN. Listen to one or more theme and variation pieces.

Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a - Johannes Brahms
Brussels Philharmonic; Ali Rahbari, conductor
Variations on America - Charles Ives (orch. W. Schuman)
Seattle Symphony; Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Variations on a Korean Folk Song - John Barnes Chance
United States Army Field Band; William E. Clark, conductor

Related Lesson Plans

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Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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