You don’t have to be an expert in Russian Romantic composers to give your students an appreciation of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. With a few helpful resources, you can introduce Tchaikovky’s life and greatest musical contributions. Studying Tchaikovsky is certainly a worthwhile investment, as many of his works are cultural staples, and he is credited with bringing Russian music onto the international scene.
The fact that many of Tchaikovsky’s most famous pieces were written for ballets also makes them great choices for younger children to study. These programmatic works convey distinctive senses of mood, time, and place, and can be connected with the stories of the ballets. Playing clips or even full recording of some of Tchaikovsky’s most appealing pieces may be a great way to pique students’ interest as you begin your study. Selections from the Nutcracker, such as Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy, Trepak, or Arabian Dance would all work nicely, and recordings can be found on YouTube. Students could be asked to draw images that the music makes them picture, write or describe a story inspired by the song, move to the music, or simply share observations and feelings about the music.
Once students have been drawn in by the music, the study can begin with an overview of the composer’s life. This accessible yet thorough one-page free Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Printable Biography introduces the composer. To review the facts from the biography, use the Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky | Word Search and the Meet the Composer Job Application Worksheet. The word search asks students to return to the biography text and determine possible keywords to look for in the word search, which requires higher level critical thinking. The job application is a practical way to synthesize the composer’s life experiences and accomplishments. A visual element can also be incorporated with the Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky Coloring Page, allowing students to put a face with the name.
Depending on how in-depth you want students to study Tchaikovsky’s life and context, further research can be assigned, with findings presented in writing, electronic presentation, or speech. However, if a more general study is your goal, your students should have enough of a foundation to move on.
An introduction to Tchaikovsky must include an introduction to the Nutcracker. The Nutcracker FunLib™ Story and Worksheet is a fun way to teach and review the basics of the Nutcracker’s plot. One page provides a succinct summary of the story, and the second page provides a synopsis with blanks where keywords should be. The second page could be used to create a silly story by having students choose words to fill in the blanks without seeing the context. After you read the nonsense story, students could guess what some of the real answers might be as a pre-reading exercise for the real story. The FunLib could even be used again for review after the real story has been read.
Then, to study the music of the Nutcracker, use the Nutcracker Venn Diagram (Tchaikovsky) Worksheet. You can select any two pieces from the Nutcracker Suite: Arabian Dance (“Coffee”), Chinese Dance (“Tea”), Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, March, Russian Dance (“Trepak”), Dance of the Reed Flutes, or Waltz Of The Flowers. Depending on students’ ages and musical background knowledge, you could leave the comparison and contrast open-ended, allowing them to observe any similarities and differences they think of. If they need guidance, you could instruct them to listen for dynamics (volume), speed (tempo), instrumentation (which instruments are playing), the mood and feelings the music creates, or articulation (slurred, tongued, staccato, legato) to get them started.
To listen to an individual piece more critically, try Tchaikovsky Listening Glyphs available on Teachers Pay Teachers. These allow students to represent with colors what they are hearing the music. Glyphs give students specific musical elements to listen for and provide two choices for them to decide between. These simple listening activities help increase students’ musical vocabulary and observation skills.
For additional types of listening activities, consider the Composer of the Month: Peter Tchaikovsky Bundle, also available on Teachers Pay Teachers. Also included in the bundle is a biography slide show, worksheets, interesting facts, and visual aids.
For review or culminating assignment, options abound. Students could write or present on almost any aspect of Tchaikovsky that interest them. This might include comparing and contrasting his life and/or work with another composer they have studied, reviewing or comparing different performances of his works, analyzing one or more of his works in greater depth, or researching his life and contributions further. For a more creative project, students could create artistic products or performances inspired by Tchaikovsky’s works. These could be collages or other art products, original music compositions, dances, dramas, or creative writing. Attending an orchestral or ballet performance live and writing a critical review makes for a memorable experience, but the same can also be done with a video performance.
Students whose imaginations are captured by Tchaikovsky’s music may wish to play some of his works in their own piano studies. There are Tchaikovsky arrangements at all skill levels below.
Swan Lake (Solo) for Easy/Level 1 Piano Solo by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Swan Lake (Duet) Easy/Level 1 Piano Duet by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Beriozka (The Birch Tree) for Easy/Level 2 Piano Solo | 4th Symphony Theme
March Slav for Easy/Level 2 Piano Solo
Trepak (Nutcracker) for Easy/Level 2 Piano Solo
Arabian Dance (Nutcracker) for Intermediate/Level 3 Piano Solo
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Nutcracker) for Intermediate/Level 3 Piano
Romeo and Juliet (Love Theme) for Intermediate/Level 3 Piano Solo
Chinese Dance (Nutcracker) for Intermediate/Level 5 Piano Solo
Dance of the Reeds (Nutcracker) for Intermediate/Level 5 Piano Solo
Swan Lake (Theme) for Intermediate/Level 5 Piano Solo by Tchaikovsky
Theme from 1812 Overture for Intermediate/Level 5 Piano Solo
March (Nutcracker) for Intermediate/Level 5 Piano Solo
Waltz of the Flowers (Nutcracker) for Intermediate/Level 5 Piano Solo
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