I am always looking for engaging ways to get students to listen to classical music with the same excitement I see when they listen to popular music samples in class! Thanks to the folks at the NYU Music Experience Lab (MusEDLab), there's a website called Variation Playground that can help create an authentic engagement with classical music with a little technology.
Download Songs researches and designs new technologies and experiences for music making, creative learning and engagement with students, educators, non-profit and industry partners. If you haven't heard of this group, you might have heard of another project they created called Groove Pizza. For more ideas on how to use this free tech tool, check out this previous blog post.
MusEDLab’s Variation Playground is an interactive platform designed to coordinate with the New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Each playground gives students the opportunity to interact with different elements and explore their own musical ideas based on 3 well-known artists and songs:
Benjamin Britten A Young Man's Guide to the Orchestra
Felix Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream: Music of Two Worlds
Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony
As soon as you go to the site, time seems to disappear. There are so many options and so many things to try! All are free of course!
I also love that each playground can be shared back with the teacher once the students have finished creating. Student composers can share their creations locked, meaning everyone they link to gets a new copy, or unlocked, meaning the link can be updated. They can also add a description that appears when someone else opens the link, explaining their choices, thinking, or any other information you might want them to include.
Three ways to use variation pitches in your music classroom
Variation pitches can be intentionally added to your lesson plans, not only to engage students in classical music, but also to support the goals you are already teaching in your music classroom! Here are three natural connections and places this website would be a perfect fit to incorporate into your lesson plans.
A variation playground would be a great addition to any work you do to learn about new composers and get to know them in your classroom. For example, the life and travels of the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. Once students learn about him, they can use the website to create their own "journey" by sequencing themes from his most famous work, including the 2nd movement - Largo, better known as Goin' Home, inspired by his trip to America.
Need more ideas on how to incorporate Dvořák's New World Symphony into your classroom? Check out the New York Philharmonic's Curriculum Guide.
Teaching musical elements
All three pitches would also lend themselves to any work you do with students to introduce them to the elements of music, particularly form, tempo, dynamics and texture. For example, as you move the puck around the screen, students can control elements of a melody Mendelssohn wrote based on where they move it.