Spark Students' Interpretative Skills Through "Contrast"

By Cynthia Pace
Für Elise Flash Mob—Lesson Plan

Flash Mobs involve unexpectedness. In Für Elise Flash Mob, Beethoven’s theme barely begins when, out of the blue, a swing bass breaks in and leads us into improvising.

Für Elise Flash Mob guides students to take off on Für Elise in a style very different from that of Beethoven’s “classic.” The contrast that results can be used as an opportunity for students to learn more about dynamics, touch, timing, listening and imagination—basic elements of contrast, and, ultimately, interpretation.

Here is a lesson plan for helping students use contrast to explore interpretation and expression. The plan asks students to experience the music first, and from this, develop a conceptual understanding.


1. Engage Students: 

"Class, see if you recognize some of this music." Teacher: Play Parts 1 and 2 of Für Elise Flash Mob, observing expression markings.

    • Make the opening Für Elise phrase (Part 1) graceful and flowing, 
    • Suddenly ritard to a “bated-breath” pause, and…after a judicious wait…
    • Pick up unexpectedly with the swing bass (Part 2). 
    • Bounce the bass along with indicated staccatos and slurs, and give it some groove by anticipating or delaying beats to taste. 


      2. What Did We Hear?


      Q: “Can anyone play the starting melody? Can anyone name it?” 
      Q: “What happened to that melody?"
      Q: “Did you notice differences, that is, 'contrast,' between Für Elise and the interrupting swing bass?" 

      With questions such as the above, help students focus on these points: The starting melody was the Für Elise theme, it was interrupted by some very different music, and this created contrast. 


      3. Hear Again, Listening for Contrast:

        Next, ask students to listen for contrast as the theme and bass are played again. 

        Draw attention to differences. For instance, playfully over-dramatize the theme’s elegance and the bass’s "coolness." Or, ask two students to play these parts, “hamming up” their rendition of dynamic markings. 

        4. Analyze:

          Explore the qualities and effects of this contrast: 

          Q: “Was the change after the first notes of Für Elise somewhat surprising?”

          Q: “What things make the bass line so different from Beethoven’s melody?"  

          Encourage students to describe with words, or by examples that they play, qualities like expressive feel, register, touch, rhythm, timing, accentuation, contour. 


          5. Apply Observations: 

            Through leading questions like those above, students now consciously recognize that it’s a bit surprising when the peppy bass cuts in on the smooth Für Elise melody. They also can see that degree of contrast can influence degree of surprise—The more graceful the gracefulness, and bouncier the bounciness, the greater the contrast—and the bigger, and more fun, the surprise!

            Thwarting expectation with sudden, unanticipated contrast intrigues students. 

            Heightening contrast to create a bigger effect 
            can become a game that inspires students to figure out:

            Q: “How do we make the feel of Beethoven's Fur Elise melody stand apart from the Flash Mob bass?”

            Q: "How do we get the melody to flow?”  

            Q: “How do we drive the bass?”

            In this exercise, students reflect, listen, imagine, experiment and adjust their responses in order to bring out a musical effect—part of the art of interpretation. 


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