First, a history lesson:
Long before “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” was the song we know today, it was a French folk song titled “Ah, vous dirai-ji, Maman.” And – we’ll save you the trip to Google Translate – it had nothing to do with stars.
No one really knows who wrote this melody, but we do know who made it famous: none other than the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
In about 1780, when Mozart was in his mid-twenties, he wrote twelve variations on the tune, most likely as learning exercises for his piano students.
What is a “Theme & Variation”?
A Theme & Variation is a common format that composers may choose to follow when writing a piece of music. The composer chooses a theme: a basic melody, like “Twinkle.” Then, he or she writes one or more variations on that theme. A variation is a version of a melody in which something has been changed: the rhythm might be simplified or made more intricate, it might add, remove, or change the harmony, it may be in a different meter, it may be in major or minor, and so on.
Mozart’s Theme & Variations
Due to the piece’s popularity, there are many recordings out there. Our personal favorite is this one, because you and your child can also enjoy a visualization of what is being played. It also has subtitles, to help you, grownups, follow along and help guide your child in the activity that follows:
Get the crayons ready!
As you listen to this recording with your child, work together to notice every time a new variation starts. Make a game out of it! When you hear a new variation, raise your hand, jump in the air, touch your toes – something physical to really cement what your brain is doing.
By adding this physical component, your child is HEARING the music, SEEING the visualization on the screen (if you choose), and MOVING in response – a powerful multi-sensory experience.
For children who are old enough to wield a crayon, let’s take this sensory experience one step farther.
Before listening again, print off a copy of these stars. Every time your child hears a new variation, he or she can color a new star. There are thirteen stars – one for the melody and each of the twelve variations. As soon as your child hears a new iteration of the melody start, it’s time to pick a new star and color it!
(This activity is one that our Kindermusik for the Young Child class recently enjoyed partaking in both in class and at home)