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Music Theory 2312

Composition Assignment:  Theme & Variations

Twinkle Variations

Compose a set of Theme and Variations 

In addition to your theme, compose 5 variations. 

Strive to make each variation distinctly different and musically interesting. 

See the Theme & Variations Rubric for grading criteria.

Print the Theme & Variations Checklist before turning in your composition.




Choose a theme.  The melody should be a well-known tune (like "Pop Goes the Weasel"), at least 8 measures long.  Do not choose a complicated  or a long song.  Simple songs lend themselves better to variation.   It is to your advantage to choose a song I know.  If you happen to change your song, clear the title with me before proceeding!


Plan and list your "Variation strategy" - how you will handle each element in the 6 sections of your piece (including the statement of the theme).  Elements will include harmonic progressions, mode, melody, rhythm, meter, accompaniment patterns, style, etc.


Score your theme with its accompaniment first.  Make sure that your theme can stand alone as a reasonable composition, but that it is straight-forward.  End your theme with a double bar (not a final double bar). 


Use patterns for accompaniments and countermelodies.  Think in a linear direction, as well as vertically.  Play these parts separately and make sure they don't sound "random."  This can happen when your only concern is consonant harmony.


Don't forget to double-check voice-leading, part-writing, and harmonic progressions.  Print out the Checklist and check off your requirements.


Rename your Finale file:  YourNameVariations.musx


DO NOT turn in your composition in more than one Finale File.  Part of your grade is based upon the formatting of your composition.  Check the Finale page for instructions.




Do not write your piece in the key of "C" or in A minor.


The theme of your composition does not have to be stripped down and boring in order to vary it.  It just has to be straight-forward so variations of it will be obvious.  It must have its own accompaniment.  Each segment (your theme and then 5 more variations) should be able to stand alone as its own "mini" composition.


Make sure you supply sufficient harmonic material in every variation.  Variations that can be played with 2 fingers probably need more work.  Do not use 2-part counterpoint for one of your variations. Any variation that has any part cut and pasted from another needs to be revised.


Avoid closed harmony in the bass clef when more than an octave below the melody line in treble clef.


One variation should contain chromatic harmonies (refer back to your notes from the first half of the semester).  Label that variation as chromatic and provide a harmonic analysis (Roman numerals) of ALL chords in that variation only.  Inserting a few random accidentals does not constitute a chromatic variation.  Use one of each of the following: secondary chord, augmented 6th chord, borrowed chord, Neapolitan 6th chord, altered dominant chord.


One variation should be written in a Classical style.  Label that variation as Classical.  For many examples, listen to the Mozart variations linked here:  Mozart, 12 Variations in C major on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" (Twinkle Variations)


One variation should be written in a recognizable style of your choosing (Baroque, country, blues, jazz, rock, Barbershop, Celtic, Calypso, atonal, Impressionistic, bebop, salsa, or any other style that is recognizable)


Correct voice-leading and part-writing rules must be observed in appropriate styles (e.g., no parallel  chords, doubled leading tones within a chord, etc.) 


Arrange your variations in program order for the highest level of contrast and end with your best one



The entire composition must be notated on Finale (no exceptions).  Part of your grade will be based on the appearance of your score.


Include a title, yourself as composer, tempo indication, and dynamics


Begin each of your variations on a new line.  Go to the Finale page for instructions on how to start a new line for each variation.


Label your theme as "Theme" and each variation as "Variation 1", "Variation 2", etc.  Label the required variations as Variation 2 (or whatever number): Chromatic Harmony or Variation 3: Classical, etc.






For inspiration, listen to the audio files provided below:


Mozart, 12 Variations in C major on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" (Twinkle Variations)

Beethoven, 7 Variations in C major on "God Save the King"

Beethoven, 6 Easy Variations in G


Variation Techniques


Change the rhythm.  Make some notes longer and some shorter.


Change the mode.  If in minor, change to major; if in major, change to minor.  However, do not just flat the 3rd scale degree and use your exact theme material.  Make it sound different in other ways as well.


Change the meter.  4/4 could be changed to 3/4 or 6/8, for example.  You can even consider 5/4 or 7/8 for contrast.


If there are skips in the tune, fill them in with passing tones or other decorative pitches.  Give it an improvisatory feel.

If a variation sounds light, make the next one heavy; if one sounds calm, make the next one frantic.


Add a countermelody.


Change the harmonic progression.


Make the music sound as if it comes from a different place.  For example, adding a drone might make it sound Scottish or Indian, using a pentatonic scale can sound like the far east.


Add an ostinato or a riff.

Treat the melody contrapuntally or like a round.

Change styles.  For example, make your variation sound like a march or a  waltz.


Theme and Variations Rubric

Information below the letter grades describes compositions which will receive that grade.







Assignment requirements

(see course outline)

All requirements met

Minor assignment infractions

Several assignment infractions

Major assignment infractions

Unacceptable adherence to assignment requirements

Creative elements

Variations distinctly different and multiple variation techniques are utilized proficiently

Several variation techniques utilized to distinguish each variation from theme

A few techniques utilized to distinguish each variation from theme

Variations similar to theme with only minor changes

Variations sound very similar to theme or its derivation from theme is imperceptible

Voice-leading and part-writing

Correct voice-leading and part-writing or other mechanics associated with chosen style

Minimal voice-leading and/or part-writing errors or other mechanics associated with chosen style

Several voice-leading and/or part-writing errors or other mechanics associated with chosen style

Multiple voice-leading and/or part-writing errors or other mechanics associated with chosen style

Total lack of attention to voice-leading and/or part-writing or other mechanics associated with chosen style


Appropriate and accurate harmonic material

Minimal errors in harmonic material

Multiple errors in harmonic material

Dissonant or nonfunctional harmony consistently used inappropriately

No attention to harmonic element

Finale formatting

Correct and complete formatting

A minimum of formatting errors

Some formatting errors

Many formatting errors

Unacceptable formatting





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