rain of leaves

Lesson: Rain of Leaves

Last week Joan Eckroth-Riley and Wendy van Gent told us about Music Learning Theory and how MLT and Orff-Inspired teaching can work together. This week they have prepared a fall lesson that combines the philosophies beautifully.

Objectives for Rain of Leaves:

I can-

-Sing create melodies in la hexatonic

-Perform rhythms accurately and independently with appropriate playing technique

-Play a melodic ostinato with a steady beat

Essential Questions:

How do musicians make creative decisions? (Create)

-How do musicians improve the quality of their creative work and performance? (Create/Perform)

-When is a creative work ready to share? (Create)

-How does understanding the structure of the music inform the performance or response? (Perform/Respond)

-How do performers interpret musical works? (Perform) and discern expressive intent? (Respond)

-When is a performance or creative work ready to share? (Create/Perform)


1. Teacher leads the class in tonal Learning Sequence Activities (LSAs) focusing on la hexatonic or incomplete minor.

  • LSAs should include call and response of 2-4 tones that outline the i chord and the V chord. I suggest having a pattern that compliments the song melody. Mix your LSAs with the whole class and individuals echoing your patterns.o La-do-mi
    o Mi-re-ti-so

    o La-do-la
  • Once they are successful echoing your patterns, pick a pattern that you can use and have the students improvise a different one using the same pitches.

2. Ask students share about the colors of autumn, the special sounds of autumn, and any special movement that happens with leaves in the autumn. Create a list of words on the board using their ideas.

3. Sing the song for them. Teacher leads rhythmic LSAs in the same meter of the song using rhythmic solfege (du-de system preferred).

  • Rhythmic LSAs should begin with call and response of the same patterns, and then move to
  • Call and response where the students change what the teacher calls. This way the students are already audiating and creating new rhythms to use later.

4. Sing the song again asking them to listen for any of the words from their list that appeared in the song, and where they occurred. Sing again, having students listen for any words that would indicate a shape, or a movement direction. On the third listening, students create the shapes (big, small etc) and use locomotor movement to indicate the direction of the leaves, ending in a low shape on the floor.

5. Check for audiation of tonal center by singing the song again, stopping at various spots where the students respond by singing ‘la’ on the correct pitch.

6. Have a brief discussion with the students regarding the tonal center of the piece, and how the movement will indicate the minor tonality and mood of the piece. Repeat the movement exploration, taking note to point out students that are using different levels, pathways, freezing on their shapes, and exploring different directions with the direction of the melody.

7. Ask students to snap on the rhyming words (fall, small, brown, down) while you sing. Add snaps on the remaining bold text. Ask students what the order of the colors are in the song, then have them sing the entire song while snapping.

It raining big it’s raining small,

it’s raining autumn leaves in fall,

it’s raining gold and red and brown,

as autumn leaves come tumbling down.

8. Transfer the snaps to unpitched instruments of the students’ choosing, then sing and play in the appropriate places. Analyze the melody-which portion of the melody ends on the tonal center of la? Where does most of the melody stay? What direction is the melody moving? Is it moving by skips or mostly steps? (This step will help them not only sing the melody better, but will help them create their own melodies later in the lesson)

9. At mallet instruments in F hexatonic (DEFGA CD) students identify the tonal center of low la on the instrument (D). Add a tremolo on D while singing the melody and playing the finger cymbal part on their chosen instrument.

10. Sing and model the AX part in the air while they mirror you above their instruments. Have students identify how many times the ostinato is played the same, and what happens at the end. Hold a discussion about why they think that may be (to create a complete cadence.)

11. Using the original list of autumn words, allow the class to create a word chain of 8 beats. Clap the word chain twice. Transfer the rhythm to A, with the repeat on either D.

12. When students are ready, explore moving up and down the scale in the direction that leaves might fall, tumble, or swirl when carried by a wind, beginning the improvisation on A so that they have the possibility to go either direction. Hold a discussion about where the tonal center of the piece is, and where the improvisation should end. (NOTE: this has already been established by all the previous activities that focus on the tonal center).

Explore options of using repeated pitches, and different melodic contours demonstrating falling leaves. Hold a discussion regarding the fact that in hexatonic, ti & re are best if used as “passing tones.” Allow more time for creating melodies, encouraging them to create their own rhythms as well if they are ready. (many of my students forget the original word chain so end up improvising anyway 😊 )

13. Share improvisations with a shoulder-partner, encouraging them to say what they noticed about their neighbor’s piece. Ex: “I noticed you went up and down mostly by steps and ended on D.” Have them share with the class what they noticed in an example they heard that created an interesting melody. (This should be things like repeated sections, a surprise leap, the melody moving stepwise in both directions etc.) Repeat the process; have the neighbor share what they noticed about how the melody has changed or evolved. (Hint: Some students may be able to verbalize to their partner WHY they made the change-when this happens, I know the students are thinking musically and engaging in the process with higher order musical thinking, rather than just playing randomly)


Allow the class to create a final performance using all the experiences from the lesson:

  • Movement
  • Speech
  • Unpitched instruments to create sound effects
  • Improvisations
  • Original melody with accompaniment


Introduction: unpitched percussion to create a sound carpet with leaf movement while Bass Metallophone plays a tremolo on D

A- Song with accompaniment

B- Improvisations of a few students (could be chosen by timbre of instrument-glocks, metallophones, xylophones etc)

A- Song with accompaniment

C- Improvisations

A-  Song with accompaniment

Coda: Tremolo on BM with movement

Click here to download a pdf of this lesson.

Joan Eckroth-Riley Wendy van Gent

For over 35 years Joan Eckroth-Riley has been sharing her passion for music education with students ranging in age from kindergarten through college. She currently shares the joy of making music with students at Murray State University in KY as Coordinator of music education. Joan is the author of “Everyday Improvisation; Interactive Lessons for the General Music Classroom” & “Everyday Composition; Interactive Lessons for the General Music Classroom” published by Alfred, and a contributing author to “Kaleidescope,” lessons on the new Core Music Standards sponsored by NAfME. In addition to her teaching duties, Joan is a frequent workshop presenter on Standards and assessments for elementary music, is a certified recorder and movement instructor for Orff Schulwerk courses, and serves as a clinician for JW Pepper & Alfred Music companies. Joan holds an MA in Music Education with an emphasis in Orff Schulwerk from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. She is the president of the newly formed Quad State Orff Chapter, a Past-President of the North Dakota Music Educator’s Association and Prairie Winds Orff, and was honored to be named the 2016 ND Music Educator of the Year. •••• Dr. Wendy van Gent is Associate Professor of Music Education at Northern State University, in Aberdeen, SD where she teaches Music Education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervises student teachers, and conducts the vocal jazz ensemble. She is a vocal educator with extensive experience in choral music, vocal jazz, private vocal instruction, and musical theater. Dr. van Gent’s research interest is focused mainly on music student teachers as they transition into the first few years in the classroom and scaffolding current music teachers to become master music educators. Dr. van Gent earned her PhD from Oakland University (Educational Leadership), a Master of Music Education from Michigan State University (Choral Conducting), and a Bachelor of Music degree (music education, music theory, musical theater) from Western Michigan University. For 16 years, Dr. van Gent was the Choral Director and Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Frank W. Cox High School in Virginia Beach, VA, and an active member of VMEA. She is the current NAfME Collegiate Chapter Advisor at NSU and the research representative and New Music Teachers Mentorships Chair on the Board of Directors of the South Dakota Music Education Association (SDMEA).


  1. Becky Bongard on November 8, 2019 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for sharing this lesson. For what grade level would you recommend this lesson?

    • Joan Eckroth-Riley on December 27, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Becky-Sorry-I didn’t notice your reply. I have done this with Grades 2-4: hope that helps!

  2. Russell N. on October 4, 2023 at 4:21 am

    This would also be super with the melody tweaked to be in re pentatonic on D! Thanks a lot for these ideas!

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