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The unit begins by exploring basic ways to vary an existing theme using the elements of music and simple musical devices in terms of changing: pitch (octave), timbre and sonority, articulation, tempo, dynamics, rhythm and adding: pedal, drone, ostinato, rhythm, decoration (passing notes). 

This is then developed by progressively exploring and using more complex variation techniques including: augmentation, diminution (revision of note values), canon/round and adding a counter melody, before pupils learn how to vary a theme using changes in tonality and investigate how inversion, retrograde and retrograde inversion can be applied to a theme as more advanced variation techniques. 

Three themes are given (merely as suggestions): two traditionally used themes when exploring variations: Frère Jacques (single line melody) and Twinkle, Twinkle (single line melody with chord markings) and for something more ‘modern’, the theme from Faded by Alan Walker (2-part melody and accompaniment).

The unit ends with optional lesson pathways of an ‘Extended Theme and Variations Project’ (continuing work towards a completed and refined set of theme and variations or by exploring another of the themes or using a more complex theme from the media and using skills, knowledge and understanding of variation techniques from the unit, using this theme to create a refined set of variations) or by exploring Ground Bass Variations. 

Variations - Scheme of Work and Lesson Pathways

Variations - Scheme of Work and Lesson Pathways

Includes Scheme of Work Overview, Unit Learning Objectives, Learning Outcomes and Lesson Pathways.

Variations - Plenary Review Activities

A series of lesson reviews where pupils review their learning and understanding and a range of WWW/EBI tasks featuring actual classroom recordings of Frère Jacques Variations and Pachelbel’s Canon.

Variations - DOITNOW (Starters) and Plenary Activities

Variations - “DOITNOW” Presentation


Cutting down on printables, file storage and media files, the “new look” Musical Contexts “DOITNOW” Variations lesson openers Presentation contains  a wealth (only two samples shown here), of effective “DOITNOW’s” when delivering the Variations unit in just one place - all audio and video files are embedded and there’s accompanying Teacher’s Notes in the “slide comments” section. 

Variations - Cover and Homework Activities

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Variations - Variation Techniques Progressive Case Studies Resources

These themes can be worked through progressively over a number of lessons or ‘mixed and matched’ to provide variety when exploring different variation techniques.

Variations - Media Theme and Variations Extended Project Resources

Variations - Critical Engagement (Listening and Appraising) Resources

Variations - Ground Bass Variations Resources

Key Words, Concepts and Musical Knowledge

Melody, Theme, Variation, Variation Form, Augmentation, Diminution, Canon/Round, Ground Bass, Inversion, Retrograde, Retrograde Inversion, Pedal (Pedal Note, Pedal Point), Drone, Melodic Decoration, Ostinato, Tonality, Major, Minor.

Music Theory

Note Values - Augmentation and Diminution

Major and Minor

Links to GCSE Music

Western Classical Tradition 1650-1910

Instrumental Music 1700-1820

Musical Forms and Devices



Variations Key Words Word Search

The answer to questions on variation techniques are contained within a word search grid.

Contains answers. 

Can be done without using ICT.

Variations Key Words


The answer to the questions/clues on variation techniques all fit into the crossword grid. 

Contains answers. 

Can be done without using ICT.


Frère Jacques Theme

(single line melody - C Major)

Theme from ‘Faded’ - Alan Walker

(2-part Melody & Accompaniment—

E minor)

Twinkle, Twinkle Theme

(single line melody & chord I, IV & V markings - F Major)

Stage 1: Changing & Adding

Changing: pitch (octave), timbre and sonority, articulation, tempo, dynamics, rhythm

Adding: pedal, drone, ostinato, rhythm, decoration (passing notes)





Stage 2: Augmentation, Diminution, Canon/Round and Counter Melody




Stage 3: Changes in Tonality

Major -> minor


Tones and Semitones





Stage 4: Advanced Variation Techniques

Retrograde, Inversion and Retrograde Inversion.






“Go Compare” Theme and Variations

2-part arrangement of the “Go Compare” TV advert theme for pupils to produce one or more musical variations which could be used for a new “Go Compare” TV advert in a different place, time or context.

“The Simpsons” Theme and Variations

Single line melody of “The Simpsons” TV theme for pupils to produce one or more musical variations which could be used for a new episode of “The Simpsons” in a different place, time or context.






Pachelbel’s “Canon”

One Ground Bass: A Canon, and Three Popular Songs

Extracts from:

“Canon in D” - Pachelbel

“C U When U Get There” - Coolio

“Altogether Now” - The Farm

“Go West” - The Pet Shop Boys

One Ground Bass: A Canon, and Three Popular Songs

Performing/singing arrangements of:

“Canon in D” - Pachelbel

“C U When U Get There” - Coolio

“Altogether Now” - The Farm

“Go West” - The Pet Shop Boys

all in C Major. 

Performing Pachelbel’s Canon

4-page performing pack containing Ground Bass, Counter Melodies in progressive difficulty, Coolio, The Farm and The Pet Shop Boys vocal/instrumental Counter Melodies, Chords, “Smooth Chords” and an opportunity for pupils to create their own 8-bar Counter Melody based on notes of the chords and including the use of Passing Notes.  

An Eye for Optical Theory (Michael Nyman)

(300 MB)


Listening to Theme and Variations and Ground Bass Listening Pack

A range of Critical Engagement (Listening and Appraising) audio and video activities from a range of music based on Theme and Variation and Ground Bass Forms.  Contains answers.

Variations Audio 1 - Adagio (Funeral March) from Third Movement of Symphony No.1 (Mahler)                            Variations Video 1 - 10 Variations on Happy Birthday for Solo Violin

Variations Audio 2 - Variations on ‘America’ (Charles Ives)                      Variations Audio 3 - Theme and 4 Variations on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (Mozart)

Variations Audio 4 - Theme and Variation 1 from ‘The Trout Quintet’ (Schubert)                    Variations Video 2 - Theme and Variations on ‘Frere Jacques’ (The Motor City Brass Quintet)

Variations Audio 5 - Chaconne from Suite No.1 in E flat for Wind Band (Holst)