Mozart’s Magic on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star: the 12 variations for piano, with guest pianist Kim Yim

Lisa Ruping Cheng

What is your first experience on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? You may have heard it from your childrens’ singing or from the kids TV shows, or you may have heard it since you were very young but you can not pinpoint exactly where and when and how. That is the magic of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It has so ingrained in our culture and tradition. Like a traditional Christmas song Silent Night, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is part of our life and as we all are passing by the world, the song will stay for generations to come.

We have talked about the story behind Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in the previous blog post and have known that the German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote twelve variations on this French childrens’ folk tune, making it world famous. What magic did Mozart do to make Twinkle Twinkle Little Star such an iconic tune that is still loved and known by almost everyone today?

Mozart wrote the twelve variations on the French children’s song Ah ! Vous dirai-je Maman for piano, not for violin or other instruments. And he wrote it for solo piano performance. Wouldn’t you wonder what the variations sound like? As a pianist I am excited to take a listen to it and learn more about it.

This week WowoSpot Kids Podcast had the pleasure to interview our guest pianist Kim Yim to talk about her personal experience on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Kim is a very accomplished pianist and a very experienced piano teacher. Not only did she share her insight with us she also had played a couple of the variations in the podcast episode! (The live interview can be heard on WowoSpot Kids Podcast on August 16)

The excerpt of the discussion is as follows:


What is your earliest experience or memory about the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?


Like what you have pointed out, it is hard to pinpoint exactly where or when you have heard it. As I did some thinking, I think I must have first heard it when I was learning the alphabet song. You know it sounds like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I never realized that until I was about a teenager. I also rememeber Peter, my piano teacher would always tell me to remember the interval of perfect fifth by remembering the tune of this song, which is very useful for preparing for the exams.


I love that. Isn’t it the solfege pitches do-do-so-so in the beginning of the song that tells us what a perfect fifth sounds like? For me, I think I learned to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when I was young in the kindergarten in Taiwan and I am sure it was before I started piano. And of course I learned the Chinese version, not knowing it actually came from an English folk song. And I believe I was able to play this song on the piano once I started learning the piano because had learned to sing it.


I am sure all are curious about how Mozart made the magic to make this tune famous by writing 12 variations about it. Will you be sharing us a couple of the variations?


Sure, I will be happy to play the variation eight or variation eleven. A lot of the variations are very interesting. Some are more classical with alberti bass or running scales that dance around the main theme. Variation eight is the only minor one. In it the theme passes through different ranges, making it almost polyphonic. The variation eleven is really nice with some octaves, and chromatic movement, giving it some romantic characteristics. It is really special because Mozart does not compose a lot for minor keys.


Great point about minor keys. We all have the impression about Mozart being very passionate about life and being very positive. The darker mood of minor keys is indeed very special in his work.


What is the difficulty level of this piece and what is your experience in teaching Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to your students? What are the benefits for young children to learning this piece?


The difficulty of this piece is hard to say. A lot of Mozart’s tunes are very accessible. It’s not overly difficult to read. But it is very tricky to play with the right sound. In a way you can say Mozart is easy but musically it can be very difficult. Extra study of Mozart is like a good workout for your brain and your ears to shape the phrases and repeated notes. Teaching easier versions to younger students is much easier because kids love to play pieces that they know. That helps them to explore and be more musical. They learn much faster.


I can’t agree with you more. Based on my own experience, I learned Twinkle Twinkle Little Star quickly because I already knew this song. For kids it is just very natural and they get excited too.

Lisa: As a pianist myself I will be happy to play the theme and the variation one for our podcast listeners too! The theme is the original Twinkle Twinkle Little Star melody, and the variation one will be the very first magic Mozart did. One can almost sing the opening theme with the variation one. It can be easily observed that the 16th notes run on the right hand side creates “sparkling” effect, by which we can visualize the stars flashing like many little eyes in the sky.

To listen to the full interview and the demonstration of selected variations by Kim Yim and Lisa Cheng please stream WowoSpot Kids Podcast on major podcast platforms including Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and more. The episode will be released on Monday, August 16.

There are numerous arrangements of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star you can find in the internet. The beauty of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is that it is so accessible, regardless your playing levels, all can enjoy playing it. There is no age limit. It is versatile, universal and MAGICAL!

For further interests, below are selected Twinkle Twinkle Little Star music scores for young children to try:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star level one (F major, melody with accompaniment)

Twinkle Variations Beginners (sinlge melody played by both hands)

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Beginners (fun variations in wider range)

Wowospot Kids will continue to explore more about Mozart’s 12 piano variations on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with our readers and listeners. Please follow us, and subscribe our blog!

Published by Wowospot

Produce and publish quality kids content for fun, creative learning and education.

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