Film Friday – Teaching Theme and Variation with Chopsticks!
This fantastic video uses an old favorite, the Chopsticks song, to teach theme and variation! If I were to incorporate this video in a full lesson about theme and variation, I would probably start by teaching students how to play “Chopsticks” or at least ensure that they already know the tune. If you want to incorporate some playing into the first half of this lesson, think about teaching kids to play it on classroom instruments. There are several Orff arrangement books out there that give some options for teaching chopsticks on barred percussion instruments with theme and variations. If you don’t have a book to help you along, you could always figure out how to play a basic “chopsticks” starting on F and G on a xylophone or metallophone. It’s not that difficult to figure out once you get going.
My main objective when using this video is to teach kids about theme and variation. In my district, theme and variation is something that we try and teach all our students when we talk about form. Lots of kids know the song “Chopsticks” but I play the basic version anyway and talk about how many people learn that as their first (or sometimes only) song on the piano. It’s an easy and fun song to play. I show them how some people hunt and peck the few notes using only their index fingers (this sets them up for a funny part of the video later) and poke out those two notes at a time. Even if I think they all know the melody I play the basic version a couple times anyway because you have to really know the theme to understand the variation.
Then we watch the video and spend some time talking through it. If the players start a new variation where the melody is hard to pick out from the harmonies/other material, I might sing along a little bit to help students hear the melody. The video is pretty fun to watch and sometimes the kids just like to see the pianists’ hands. I do too! A fun moment happens about half-way through when the players use literal chopsticks to peck out notes on the keyboard.
There are a lot of reasons to love this video from a teaching standpoint. In the video, the two women playing together on this piece start off sitting on the “wrong end of the piano bench.” This becomes apparent right away because they have to reach over one another to get to the right spot on the piano. This gives you a chance to talk about a keyboard going high and love (easy to relate that to an Orff instrument set up with high and low bars) and allows you to talk about sharing instruments. It’s especially good for my kids because we don’t always have enough Orff instruments to get one kid on an instrument, so many times we “double up” on an instrument. With this video we can talk about how you act when you share an instrument and how to stay in your own space.
Here is another fun video showing Tom Hanks and Saundra Bullock playing chopsticks for a British talk show on a big piano like the FAO Schwarz piano. Just for fun or to really get kids familiar with the chopsticks theme!