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Overture from the Nutcracker Ballet

Updated on October 23, 2014

The Nutcracker Ballet's Overture by Tchaikovsky

Let's use our imaginations! I want you to think of the holidays ~ see the beautiful decorations, smell the fresh cut pine, feel the busy shoppers bustling around, taste the warm baked cookies, and hear the sweet music everywhere. What would December be like without all those special pieces of music we traditionally hear each year? Some of the music that is most famous and treasured at Christmas time is The Nutcracker Suite Ballet by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Come enjoy the opening musical piece from the ballet. What is an overture anyway, and what can we learn about music from it? Whether you are a musician or not, this easy music lesson plan (which is part of an entire Nutcracker Unit)  will take you through this incredible piece of music step by step to learn about the orchestra, note values, rhythms, written music, articulations, sounds, and conductors.


An overture is the opening

or beginning piece of music

that starts out an

opera, musicial, or ballet.

It sets the tone

for the story which will follow.

Nutcracker Lapbook & Notebook Materials

These materials were created for my children and students and are free for anyone to use simply because of my love of music education! All I ask is that you could leave me a message to know how you used the materials and / or what I could add or change to make them more helpful to others. If you would like to post a picture of your lapbook or notebook that you create, just contact me and I will happily do so to one of the pages of the unit. :D

The notebook and lapbook materials are stored at my blog, Joyful Songs (Update: November 14, 2013 - Since I first entered these worksheets at my blog, the blog format has changed several times (beyond my control). I will be reloading the free worksheets for you in a different format soon, so please check back soon. Thanks for understanding!) Two stars and the number of the suggested mini will be placed at each section in order to know which one to use. i.e. **3

Joyful Songs presents The Nutcracker Ballet Unit!

  1. Nutcracker Music Vocabulary Cards - print out on tagboard for extra durability.
  2. Conducting Patterns and Conductor Mini Books
  3. Vocabulary Pocket
  4. Vocabulary Notebook Page
  5. Nutcracker Theme Music 'Lyrics" for the Overture & The Sugar Plum Fairy

    Celeste Mini Book

  6. Accent and Staccato Mini Books
  7. Note Values Mini
  8. Note Values Mini Answers
  9. Count the Beats Game Cards A - Easier patterns.

    Count the Beats Game Cards B - Harder patterns.

    Count the Beats Game Cards C - Blank to add your own.

    Count the Beats Game Pocket - to hold cards.

    Count the Beats Game Board - This can be attached to a lapbook or file folder.

  10. Time Signature, Measure, Bar Line, Double Bar
  11. Note Durations Hierarchy Mini Book

Presenting the Overture ...

Listening to the Overture of the Ballet

Define overture to your students. An overture is an opening or beginning piece of music which starts out an opera, musical, or ballet. It sets the tone for the story which will follow. Students may write the definition on their vocabulary cards if you desire. Tell students they will be listening to the overture of the great ballet, The Nutcracker by Peter Tchaikovsky. I like to have younger children color pictures while they are listening to help them sit still and keep their hands busy!

**1 Vocabulary

overture ~ noun

1. an introductory proposal or offer; indication of willingness to negotiate

2. a musical introduction to an opera or other large musical work

3. an independent orchestral composition of varying form

4. any introductory section

Definitions from

Nutcracker Ballet Coloring Book (Dover Holiday Coloring Book)
Nutcracker Ballet Coloring Book (Dover Holiday Coloring Book)

Tell the classic story through illustrations that you may personalize with your artistic talents!


Nutcracker Coloring Pages - Visual Arts

Any or all of these would make wonderful covers or dividers in a class or individual book, notebook, or lapbook!

Ballet & Orchestra

Ballet, Orchestra, Conductor, & Vocabulary

Define and discuss ballet. What do the dancers do? How do they tell the story? Do they speak or sing? What do they wear? Begin a more thorough study of ballet if you wish. Resources, notebook pages, lapbook minis, and links to ballet units are listed at the main Nutcracker page.

What does the orchestra do? How do they help tell the story? What types of instruments make up the orchestra? What are the families of instruments in an orchestra? This Orchestra Lapbook Unit has a wide variety of resources for children to learn about the orchestra.

Who leads the orchestra? The Conductor

Read the article at Conductor 101 to learn about conducting patterns. Try your hand (or actually, arm) at conducting a two-beat beat pattern. The overture uses what musicians call 4/4 time signature. (We'll talk more about this later.) The time signature simply tells the musicians to count to four repeatedly in order to play the correct rhythms and to be able to play together at the same time. The conductor helps the group stay together by silently counting with the conducting patterns. A strong down on beat one always lets the players know when a new measure has started. If they get lost for a second, all they have to do is look at the conductor to know where they are.

**1 - 4 Vocabulary, Conductor, Patterns ~ Definitions may be written on the vocabulary cards or a notebook page. Use the conductor and conducting patterns mini books to notate and draw this information.

Music Vocabulary

Definitions from

ballet ~ noun

1. an artistic dance form based on an elaborate formal technique, characterized by gestures and movements of grace, precision, and fluidity

2. a theatrical presentation of ballet dancing performed to music and presenting a story, idea, or mood, usually with costumes and scenery ~ the music for such a presentation

3. a company of dancers of ballet

conductor ~ noun

1. a person who conducts; leader; guide; manager

2. the director of an orchestra, choir, etc.

dance ~ verb or noun

1. to move the body and feet in rhythm, ordinarily to music

2. to take part in or perform (a dance)

3. to cause to move lightly, bob up and down, etc.

4. rhythmic movement of the body and feet, ordinarily to music

5. a particular kind of dance, as the waltz, tango, etc.

6. the art of dancing, esp. as performed in ballet or modern dance

7. a party to which people come to dance ~ one round of dancing at such a party

8. a piece of music for dancing

9. rapid, lively movement

orchestra ~ noun

1. in ancient Greek theaters, the semicircular space in front of the stage, used by the chorus

2. in modern theaters, the space in front of and below the stage, where the musicians sit in full orchestra pit

3. the section of seats on the main floor of a theater, esp. the front section ~ the main floor of a theater

4. a usually large group of musicians playing together; often, specifically a symphony orchestra

5. the instruments of such a group

The Nutcracker for Piano!

Nutcracker Suite * Masterpiece Edition
Nutcracker Suite * Masterpiece Edition

Alexander Cole has arranged eight pieces from the Nutcracker Ballet by Peter Tchaikovsky for intermediate piano including the Overture, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, March, Chinese Dance, Arabian Dance, Russian Dance, Dance of the Reed Flutes, and Waltz of the Flowers.


Identify the Overture Theme

Overture & Melody

Listen to the Overture (many repetitions make the music more familiar and likable) and listen for the main theme that occurs frequently in the piece. The main theme or tune of a piece that people recognize the most is called the melody. You will notice that the melody flows from one instrument part to another, from high to low and back. There are variations or slight changes in it at times, but it is always there. Without the recording, hum the melody together, then teach the words to the Overture theme. {No, of course Tchaikovsky did not write the words. These are just silly ones I made up to help the kids remember the concepts I wanted to teach them!}

Listen to the Overture again, find the recurring theme, and sing with it every time. I know it is silly, but it does help people remember details. My teenage child first learned this when she was a preschooler ~ to this day if you ask her who wrote the Nutcracker, she will sing the answer to you in the overture theme!

** 1,3,4 Vocabulary

** 5 Overture 'Lyrics'

Ballet, the Nutcracker was written by Tchaikovsky.

This is the Overture it starts the ballet off just right! (Repeat)

Definitions from

melody ~ noun

1. pleasing sounds or arrangement of sounds in sequence

2. musical quality, as in the arrangement of words

3. a sequence of single tones, usually in the same key or mode, to produce a rhythmic whole; often, a tune, air, or song

4. the element of form having to do with the arrangement of single tones in sequence

5. the leading part, or voice, in a harmonic composition; the air

The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker

Different than the version of the Nutcracker that most people will recognize from the ballet, this edition is closer to the Hoffman version of "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice". It reveals more of the bitter fight between the Nutcracker the rodent king. The accompanying CD contains both the Hoffman's story and exerpts of Tchaikovsky's masterpieces.


The Story of the Nutcracker

Literature, Arts, & Dance

Read a version or two of the story of the Nutcracker. E.T.A. Hoffman wrote the original story entitled "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King". Alexander Dumas wrote a revision of it in French. Then Peter Tchaikovsky made his version in which we are familiar. Several variations are available on the net, libraries, and book stores. You will notice that some have a different name for the lead character along with other slight changes, but they all contain the basic themes though. If you want to learn more about Hoffman and Tchaikovsky, please check the Nutcracker Ballet Unit Introduction page where you will find several lessons and materials for study.

Discuss the artwork and illustrations of the book version you choose. What types of costumes or clothing are they wearing? What would be needed in the scenery, etc. to perform this story on a stage? Play the music softly in the background while you read the story.

If you read more that one version, you may want to compare and contrast the versions. Blank notebook pages are found at the "introduction page" if you would like students to take notes or write a comparison.

The New York City Ballet has a very delightful storybook version of the story featuring their dancers that you may want to view!

Fun for the Children!

The Nutcracker Ballet: A Book, Theater, and Paper Doll Fold-out Play Set (Foldout Play Set) (Christmas, Activity Book)
The Nutcracker Ballet: A Book, Theater, and Paper Doll Fold-out Play Set (Foldout Play Set) (Christmas, Activity Book)

Children will have fun acting out the story of the Nutcracker while playing with a paper 3-stage theater and 35 character doll set!

Kurt Adler Wooden Nutcracker Ornament Set
Kurt Adler Wooden Nutcracker Ornament Set

An adorable half dozen set of 5 inch tall nutcrackers will warm your home this year!

Nutcracker Ballet Sticker Picture (Sticker Picture Books)
Nutcracker Ballet Sticker Picture (Sticker Picture Books)

Use beautiful stickers to create two fun scenes from the story!

Wooden Toy - Nutcracker with Sabre (Red)
Wooden Toy - Nutcracker with Sabre (Red)

Well, come on! Every Nutcracker fan must have one of these!


Articulation Markings

Staccato & Accents

On the next lesson, review overture theme and terms. Kids do not like to sit still and listen to classical music over and over again at first. I like to introduce a piece one day, and then review it over several lessons adding new concepts. Sometimes I introduce a new musical piece on the same lesson. Hearing a piece repeatedly over a longer span makes the piece more familiar each time. It becomes like a well-known friend! We like to listen to our piece of the week / month while we are drawing, riding in the car, or even doing household chores - just imagine the kids dancing pirouettes on their toes around the living room while putting away toys and dusting. It definitely is more fun that way!

Define staccato and accent. Identify them in a copy of sheet music. (I listed several sites where you can find sheet music below.) Hum or sing the main theme without staccato notes, then with staccato notes. How does it change the piece? Does it give a different feeling?

Listen to the overture again and add a drum part on the accents. Anything can serve as a homemade drum - oatmeal containers, coffee cans, boxes - whatever you can find to tap on! Have fun being creative. You will find many ideas on how to create homemade percussion instruments on the Percussion Lapbook Unit.

** 1,3,4 Vocabulary

** 6 Accent and Staccato Mini Books

Definitions from

staccato ~ adjective

1. Musical Direction with distinct breaks between successive tones: usually indicated by a dot (staccato mark) placed over or under each note to be so produced

2. made up of abrupt, distinct elements or sounds a staccato outburst of gunfire

3. to play or move in a detached or separate manner

accent ~ noun

1. the emphasis (by stress, pitch, or both) given to a particular syllable or word when it is spoken

2. in music ~ an emphasis or stress on a note or chord

3. a mark or sign showing this

4. rhythmic stress or beat

5. to mark with an accent

6. to emphasize

Rhythm ~ Reading Music

Meter, Time Signature, & Note Values

Define meter. Listen to the stressed notes. Songs are broken up into small bites called measures. Each measure contains a certain amount of beats. 2, 3, and 4 are the most common number of beats in a measure, but there are other possibilities also. Beat one of every measure is usually played a little louder than other beats.

While listening to the Overture, listen for the stressed beats and count number one on each. Count the other beats. | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | ~ The Overture is in 4/4 time signature. Count 1 2 3 4 for each measure while listening. Tap hands on knees on beat one, and clap lightly on beats 2, 3, and 4 while speaking all four numbers. Review how a conductor would direct a piece with four beats in a measure. Check the pattern from your conducting mini book and conduct along with the music.

At the beginning of most sheet music you will find two numbers on top of each other on the top left staff. They look sort of like a fraction, but are not. These two numbers are called the time signature and tell musicians what the meter of the song is. The time signature helps musicians in many ways. It assists in counting the values or lengths of each note, and it helps to keep musicians together as a group.

The top number tells how many beats are in each measure. Notice I did not say how many notes in a measure, but how many beats in a measure. Notes that look different have different durations to play. There are many possible combinations to add up to 4. These combinations may include notes or rests (silence).

~ Whole notes look like circles or ovals ~ they are played for the count of 4 beats.

~ Half notes look like circles with little stems or lines going either up or down on one side ~ they are played for the count of 2 beats.

~ Dotted half notes look like a half note with a tiny dot located after them~ they are played for the count of 3 beats.

~ Quarter notes look like the half notes, but the inside of the circle is filled in ~ they are played for the count of 1 beat.

~ Whole rests look like a line with a small box underneath - 4 beats of resting or silence.

~ Half rests look like a line with a small box on top (like a top hat) - 2 beats of rest.

~ Quarter rests look like a little wiggly line almost the same size of the staff vertically - 1 beat of rest.

4 = the number of beats per measure

4 = every quarter note is played for one beat

4 measure | measure | measure | measure | measure | measure ||


| = bar lines = separate each measure into the required amount of beats

|| = double bar line = the end of the piece

measure = the space between bar lines containing the required beats composed of notes and rests

Another lesson and explanation on time signature and note values is found in the Mozart Lapbook Unit Scroll down to the section entitled "Math". Three related lapbook components are found by clicking "Mozart Unit Lapbook Components B" at the top of the page. Pages 31 - 33 in the PDF.

** 7 Note Values Mini

** 8 Note Values Mini Answers

Fill in the Note Values mini for the lapbook. There are two versions for you to use for your child depending on their age and previous knowledge of note reading.

**9 Count the Beats Game - Board, Cards, and Storage Pocket

Play "Count the Beats Game" to work on note values, music math, and time signatures.

More Music Terms

Definitions from

meter ~ noun

1. rhythm in verse; measured, patterned arrangement of syllables, primarily according to stress or length

2. the basic pattern of beats in successive measures of a piece of music: it is usually indicated in the time signature

time signature

Music: a sign consisting of one number over another, esp. after the key signature, indicating the unit of measurement and the number of beats in the following measure or measures (Ex.: 3/4 means three quarter-note beats); also, a nonnumerical sign used in this way (Ex.: C is often used instead of 4/4)

staff ~ noun

Music: the horizontal lines on and between which notes are written or printed: the placement of a note on the staff indicates its pitch

measure ~ noun

1. a form of measuring

2. the notes or rests, or both, contained between two vertical lines on the staff

bar line

The lines which divide a staff into measure used to assist in rhythmic counting

double bar

Two lines after the last measure of a piece of sheet music to designate the end of the piece

For more information, lessons, and resources about learning how to read music, please visit the Reading Music webpage.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the first movement of the beautiful Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky!

Please leave a note to let me know what you think of the unit and how I may better serve you and your music students. (You do not have to be a member of squidoo to leave a comment.) I truly want to spread my love of music to anyone who wants to learn. Thanks for stopping by!! :D

Nutcracker Ballet Overture

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    • Rangoon House profile image


      6 years ago from Australia

      I have returned to enjoy my favourite composer again and to leave blessings which I couldn't do on my original visit.

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 

      6 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Nutcracker is a classic for Christmas season but it is great piece in every time of the year.

    • jadehorseshoe profile image


      7 years ago

      Totally EXCELLENT Lens!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @blessedmomto7: It's been over two years since I wrote this page, so I forgot about some of the silly answers I created! Thanks for reminding me about it! =D

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      7 years ago

      hahahaha, love your other choices in the quiz! Another fabulous lens. Just saw this one for the first time.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @anonymous: Thanks for stopping by. I hope some of my lessons plans will make your lessons fun and easy, too! If you stop by again, please leave a link so I may connect with another music educator. =D

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I teach a weekly program at the Cleveland Children's Museum called "Great Composers." It's only a 15-minute program, so I'm only able to use a few bits and pieces of all this wonderful information! Thank you for ideas, direction, and resources!

    • AngelDey profile image


      7 years ago

      This is absolutely wonderful. So very thorough. Thank you for this wonderful lens. The Nutcracker Ballet is one of my favorites, and I've taken my son to see it every year, but this will add so much more to our (yes our) understanding of it.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Barb McCoy: Thank you so much! I hope this will be helpful to your readers. =D

    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 

      8 years ago have I not seen this lens before? It has so much musical information gathered into one place. It is useful even for other ballets although this is one of my favorites. I will be referring to this as I share music appreciation information with readers of my blog and in my ebooks. Thank you so much!

      I am adding to my favorites, lensrolling, and blessing.

      ***Blessed by an Angel***

    • BrickHouseFabrics profile image


      8 years ago

      Christmas would not be complete without the Nutcracker!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Ereinion: Thank you! I wish you a wonderful holiday season, also! =D

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image


      8 years ago

      Wonderful lens. My daughter was in The Nutcracker this season and I just love the music.

      Wanted to let you know, though, the YouTube Overture Video is not working :(

    • Ereinion profile image


      8 years ago

      Beautiful lens indeed! I like The Nutcracker very much and I play piano by hear. But I still need to learn how to read music, and this lens is perfect for that. Many thanks for this great work and I wish you Happy Holidays!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Cari Kay 11: Thank you! I bet you daughter had a wonderful time performing in the Nutcracker! =D ~ I'll search for a video replacement for the one that does not work. Thanks for letting me know.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @mbgphoto: Thank you, Mary Beth! =D

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      8 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Beautifully done...blessed and added to my December Blessings

    • imolaK profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a very nice lens. I enjoyed taking your quiz.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      6th try is the charm

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      fantastic! i so look up to people who trully love what they are doing :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent and one of my favorite pieces of music ever!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @RhondaAlbom: Thanks for catching my silly mistake on the quiz, Rhonda. Your grade is officially changed to an A+!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 

      8 years ago from New Zealand

      Fantastic. I love how you took the Tchaikovsky nuctcracker overture and turned it into a lesson. Check your quiz answer to q5 - I got it wrong, but I thought it was correct.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I really love the Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky! Growing up in a classically trained family of ballerinas and musicians instilled in me the deepest appreciation for this fine music. Awesome lens my dear.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Mihaela Vrban: Thank you, Michelle!

    • ZenandChic profile image


      9 years ago

      This is lovely! I got a 50% on your quiz. Blessed by an angel!

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      9 years ago from Croatia

      Excellently built unity study! This will be helpful to so many teachers and home-schoolers! Blessed by an Angel!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Heather426: Thank you, Heather!

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @ZenandChic: Thank you, Patricia!

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      9 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      This is a great lens! Blessed by a squid angel.

    • kerbev profile image


      9 years ago from Upstate, NY

      What a great music lesson plan!


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