I’m going to start teaching some composition during a violin teacher’s Suzuki Group Class, and I thought I’d share the activities as part of a series of posts.  I may also post reflections on how they went with the group of students once we do them, as I’ll be starting these 15 to 20 minute mini-lessons in December.  They’re geared towards mid/late elementary and early middle school students who can play, read, and converse about music fairly comfortably.  The goal is to do these plans as a way to energize the kids about composition, and generate a weekly group class in composition for the studio where I teach (Sound Crossing Studio).

Please feel free to steal these ideas and innovate them; they’re always open to changes and sharing.

Happy composing and teaching,


Activity A: Theme and Variations

Time: 15 to 20 minutes

Specific materials: Print handouts explaining the topics discussed, with blank treble clef staves below them (quarter or half page of explanation, three quarters or half page of staves)

Explain Theme and Variation form for them:

Explain a theme: a musical idea that can represent a piece, section, mood, character, or anything else.

Explain variations: a different way of saying the theme musically, usually by applying one or more technique(s) to it.

Explain sample techniques: tempo change, attack change, mood change, phrasing change, meter change, key change, etc.  Ask them for ways they could change a theme (to generate more techniques).

Ask the students why they think a composer would want to write variations on a theme.

Explain which composers did a lot of this (classical, romantic, turn of 20th century).

Have them write a variation:

Take a piece they are learning in group class, and have them pick out a theme (can be any theme; doesn’t have to be the main one).  Ask them to pick a technique they want to use, and have them write a variation using that technique.  They can play it for the class if they feel comfortable doing that (encourage it).