Winter Weather

Winter Weather

Creative Processes for Donald Slagel’s “Fast Dance,” an American Volumes Classic

Our winter weather has been strange this year for sure! Scott Roether uses a classic selection from the American Volumes to explore the crazy experience of winter driving! You can teach the whole lesson to older students or any one part of the process to any grade if time is short. You might even spiral this lesson by adding a step each winter with a variety of grade levels! I know you and your tiny musicians will have fun navigating the wintery terrain!

Click here for a copy of Scott’s slides.

Lesson Process:

Opening (Day One)

The teacher leads students in a conversation about favorite winter activities and discusses things to do in the winter weather. The teacher mentions one activity that can be a bit dangerous, but very adventuresome: driving in the winter (icy and snowy conditions, snowdrifts, additional types of vehicles on the roadways– snowplows, etc.). Introduce anecdote about traveling for the winter holidays or on the way to school when the superintendent hasn’t called for a much needed snow day: ‘My parents would always prepare us for our winter journeys in saying…(see the below lyrics/rhythmic content)”

Presentation (Day One)

The teacher leads students in the rote transfer of lyrics/ rhythmic content:

“Winter Weather’s on its way, 
Icicles and snowflakes, 
Winter Weather’s on its way, 
Watch out for snow!” 

(T Claps on “Watch out for snow” Ss discover which words to add BP to). Ss recite rhyme alongside teacher and add clap on “watch out for snow.”


  1. T suggests we take our own cars out in the winter weather [Leading question: (What type of vehicle? What can we use to make our vehicles look more realistic? Is there an instrument or prop in our classroom that looks like it might be useful in a car? (leads to hand drums from student suggestion)]
  2. T models how one might use a hand drum to drive around their space, taking various S suggestions about the type of car to drive (T models different sizes of vehicles, etc.)
  3. Ss move through space as different pathways to avoid the various winter obstacles (snowdrifts, ice patches, etc.). Each S uses their own pathway, creating their own road. T and Ss recite two times, with Ss playing hand drums on watch out for snow. Ss freeze at stoplight after two times through.
  4. As students are moving, eventually incorporating the melody, Ss learn by gradual assimilation and by rote.
  5. After moving, groups or individuals will create a 4 measure phrase (to be played twice) of known rhythms including quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes, quarter rests, and the new rhythm, “syncopa.”
  6. Each measure will begin with/be formatted with the “Watch out for…”/syncopa rhythmic motif–Ss will fill in the blanks for the final two beats of each measure. 
  7. T will lead Ss in rhythmic practice with iconic and traditional notation in a PowerPoint presentation. 
  8. If preference for scaffolding improvisation, rather than breaking into small groups Ss might explore choosing whichever rhythmic building bricks on the screen in an undetermined order. Preparing for more thoughtful improvisation. 
  9. (T passes the notecards with rhythmic building brick ideas, with various syllabic and rhythmic options (Ss deduce how many can fit into each measure of music and may also use other winter-themed building brick ideas). Options include: icicles (ta-di ta), snowdrifts (ta-ta), sinking potholes (ta-di ta-di), snow (ta), and ice patches (ta ta-di)— ask Ss what the different rhythmic building bricks might be named– have many winter options ready.)**
  10. Ss create their 8-measure patterns in small groups and prepare to perform in class)**
  11. Ask Ss for suggestions for performance– ideally will be performed in a way that represents a form featured in Ohio State Elementary Music Standards (might be something similar to ABACA or rondo form, with A as “Winter Weather” and B and C, etc. reserved for the groups to share). T and students will play accompaniment interlude in between each section of the form to allow for students to switch to hand drums and back to barred instruments. 

    ** I typically don’t use 9 and 10 in the class, but can be a nice opportunity for group work

Transferring speech and melody to Barred Instruments

  1. After movement/hand drums, T leads in body percussion to show melodic contour/ rote transfer of melody and body percussion for transfer to bars. 
  2. Ss set up instruments to accommodate melody removing burgers
  3. T leads Ss in the discovery of melody on the barred instruments. (displays barred instrument diagram on board). 
  4. One group of students could remain as movers from the day prior, while another discovers the melody as it relates to the contoured body percussion (see below) and sung melody. 

Body Percussion to show melodic contour:  

  • Use directional body percussion sound gestures when modeling for students (left to right/ high to low from teacher perspective and right to left/high to low from student perspective). I describe the falling snaps as “snowflakes.”
  1. Ss remove B bars (“One hand on top, one hand below, gently lift and there you go!”– credited to Brian Hiller and Don Dupont, as learned from Katie Settleberry)
  1. Students transfer/discover melody placement on the barred instrument. Work alone or with partner.
  2. Play melody, add ostinato on D-A– “winter is coming, yes winter is coming”
  3. Experiment with form, incorporating improvisations based on earlier explorations of syncopa and building bricks. Play on hand drums or incorporate barred instrument improvisation if working with more experienced barred instrument players/improvisers.

Curriculum Goal or Standard: Syncopa    , improvisation, composition with rhythmic building bricks         

Grade Level: Modifiable for Third-Fifth Grade

Lesson Outcome(s): Students will utilize body percussion, movement, voice, and barred instruments to explore a new rhythmic concept, syncopa .

Musical Materials: “Fast Dance” by Donald Slagel (MFC American Edition, Vol. 2, p. 166)

Equipment: Barred Instruments, Hand Drums, Slideshow

Scott Roether

Scott Roether teaches music and movement at University School in Cleveland, Ohio where he works with boys ages four through ten. Prior to his work at University School, he worked as an arts integration specialist and public school teacher. He has completed Levels training and Curriculum Development, as well as a number of Master Classes and the International Summer Course at the Orff-Institut. In addition to his previous training in Orff Schulwerk, Scott recently completed his coursework for a Master’s degree in Music Education with a concentration in Orff Schulwerk from the University of St. Thomas. He currently serves the Greater Cleveland Chapter as Vice President and Program Chair.

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  1. Drue Bullington on February 8, 2023 at 12:41 pm

    Bravo, Scott! A wonderful lesson! Thank you for sharing!

    • Scott Roether on March 7, 2023 at 9:18 am

      Thank you so much, Drue! I’m so glad I got to share!

  2. Katy Wells on February 9, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    Great job, Scott!

    • Scott Roether on March 7, 2023 at 9:19 am

      Thanks, Katy! I hope you enjoy it with your students– up there, the winter weather probably doesn’t stop at the winter!


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