Music Teacher's Helper Blog

A Holiday Project to Wrap Up the Season

Based on a Novel Idea by Wendy Stevens.

In her recent website newsletter, Wendy Stevens described a holiday project she designed. She asked her piano students to learn the theme of the “Jingle Bell” chorus and create a variation. Each arranger was filmed debuting his/her arrangement and made into a lovely video.

Fortunately, Wendy shares her marvelous teaching ideas and inspirations on her unique website Subscribing to her free newsletter provides me with numerous ideas and resources. I must give full credit to her for the subject of this blog and am so thankful to find her as a continual resource of inspiration.

The Plot

When preparing for the upcoming holiday recital, lesson time can be zapped by ironing out wrinkles in performance pieces or drilling the performance etiquette routine. Little time is left for covering new concepts or new pieces. This calls for an assignment that captures the students’ attention, challenges their creativity and that can be accomplished in a short amount of time.

 The Production

The following steps were taken to prepare students:

1) A lead sheet featuring the melody and chord symbols was reviewed. Early level students were provided with a simple LH version.

2)  For inspiration, students were asked to listen to Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” and follow along with the score. Next they watched the youtube video of Wendy’s students. (As I offer 30-minute lessons with a 30-minute lab time, this was assigned during the lab time and did not take away from lesson time.)

3) A checklist of composition devices was given to charge up the creative juices. About 5 minutes of lesson time was taken to prod students’ idea bank. We looked over a list of various moods that sparked the imagination engines. Most were inspired to borrow ideas from their current pieces which boosted their confidence as they were not starting with a blank slate. Additional ideas included varying the melody with neighbor tones, repeated notes, rhythmic changes and using standard LH patterns they encounter on a regular basis. Students were encouraged to keep it simple. However, they know I am a huge fan of intros and outros (codas), so most added them to please the teacher 🙂

4) Pianists (arrangers) were asked to return to the next lesson with a completed variation.


The following week was like Christmas as each student “unwrapped” his/her variation for me. Some were perfected and camera-ready, some even had more than one variation, while others needed last-minute tweaking to work out rhythm or harmony issues.

Recording each student usually took more than one “take” but they did seem relieved to know that only their hands would be filmed. They were all reminded to use their best hand position but  some were quite surprised with what they saw while watching their own video. (Note to self: pull out this camera more often–a picture can say so much more than words!)


After accumulating the clips, they all headed to the editing table (iMovie). Every student who participated was included in the final cut, however there were so many that a ‘sequel’ was needed.

The Editor’s cut features the top twelve variations (yes, it was hard to choose!). It was just added to my Music Teachers Helper website, a great way to showcase the latest studio activities.

This is the first of MANY similar projects. It offered an opportunity to cover theory topics like the theme and variation form, primary chords, secondary chords, modality, composition techniques…the list goes on. The students enjoyed the creativity and seeing their names and hands “up in lights”–watch out Hollywood!

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  1. Kylie

    Hi, I’m a piano teacher and I love your video! Your students were so creative 🙂 I thought about doing this with my students this year after seeing Wendy’s video. Now that i’ve seen yours as well, I’m definitely inspired to do it next year! 🙂

  2. Shelly

    I love Wendy’s blog and website too!! My studio did this project this year and we all enjoyed learning and applying theory concepts while expressing some creativity. I agree with you that students were grateful to not start from scratch and borrowed motives from their teaching pieces.

    I like your idea of an editor’s cut to trim the video down. I couldnt bring myself to leave anyone out of our video but it ended up being over 20 minutes!! At least I broke it down into 3 parts on my website with a listing of students in each part. I invited the students to send the link to their families over the holidays….maybe the parts made it easier for them to find their performance.

    Great job, teacher!!

  3. Leila Viss

    Yes, it was tough to edit. All my students made the first cut (first movie and the sequel) but I made an editor’s cut for the blog.
    It was such a fun project, can’t wait to do it again (or a variation of it!)

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