Why Jazz Education?

Jazz is the highest form of American Art music and therefore has a significant place in our public school music curriculum. Growing-up learning to perform jazz music was not a regular part of my public school music education. In those days, most public school music programs emphasized the importance of developing note-reading skills and the skill of improvisation was rarely explored. It wasn't until college that I began to learn the language of jazz and the fundamentals of improvisation. As a result, I have made it my personal mission to ensure students have access to a quality jazz program so they may benefit from the life-long joy of learning about jazz. I hope the Jazz Band Toolbox section of this website is helpful to all those who wish to share the joy of jazz music making with their students!


Jazz Ensemble Basics

As a middle school music educator, I believe the middle school/junior high school years provide an excellent opportunity to begin to introduce kids to jazz performance. Here are a few jazz ensemble basics that are not usually taught and sometimes forgotten. 

 

Jazz Band Auditions

I audition members for the jazz ensemble because there are usually more applicants than available positions in the ensemble. Secondly, I want the best sounding band possible.

The audition consists of the following:

  1. Bb, Eb, Ab Concert Scales for accuracy, technique and range
  2. A prepared excerpt from a jazz ensemble arrangement (typically used in the first concert) to demonstrate how well a student performs after some time practicing 
  3. A sight-reading excerpt to demonstrate how well the student performs without practice
  4. Drum Set players are asked to play three grooves (e.g. Eighth Note Rock, Jazz Swing, and a Slow Samba)
  5. Students are asked to verbally answer 1-2 questions before they leave the audition room

I recommend having a panel consisting of at least 2 teachers to help audition the students. In the past, I have had music colleagues from other schools, the school's vocal music teacher, the music supervisor or the school's vice principal assist with the auditions. 

Resources:


Jazz Band Set-Up

The traditional jazz ensemble set-up has the saxophones in the front. Behind the saxophones is the trombone section and behind the trombones is the trumpet section. The baritone saxophone and bass trombone should be on the opposite side of the string bass for balance. The rhythm section is on the band’s left. The rhythm section should be set-up so all students within the section have eye contact with each other. In each of the horn sections the lead or first player is in the middle, putting the lead trombone and trumpet directly behind the lead alto sax. 

The solo parts (2nd trumpet and 1st tenor sax) are placed closest to the rhythm section (so they can hear the changes). The drum set is in the center of the rhythm section and is surrounded by the bass, piano, and guitar as if the bass were at the end of the trumpet section and the guitar at the end of the saxophone section. Having each section sitting close together will make it easier for students to hear each other and play together.


Jazz Band Rehearsals

Why Jazz Education?

Jazz is the highest form of American Art music and therefore has a significant place in our public school music curriculum. Growing-up learning to perform jazz music was not a regular part of my public school music education. In those days, most public school music programs emphasized the importance of developing note-reading skills and the skill of improvisation was rarely explored. It wasn't until college that I began to learn the language of jazz and the fundamentals of improvisation. As a result, I have made it my personal mission to ensure students have access to a quality jazz program so they may benefit from the life-long joy of learning about jazz. I hope the Jazz Band Toolbox section of this website is helpful to all those who wish to share the joy of jazz music making with their students! 

My jazz band typically rehearses 2 days a week for 2 hours after school. The first rehearsal day is for sectional rehearsals. The second rehearsal day is for the full ensemble. On sectional rehearsal days the students work on learning/correcting notes, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations. Full ensemble rehearsals days are where the students bring the elements they learned in their sectional to the full ensemble.

Sectional rehearsals begin with a warm-up and review of the the sections of music that need work (30-40 minutes). The students are then divided into sections based on instrumentation (Saxophone, Upper Brass, Low Brass, Rhythm Section) and separated into different classrooms.

Sectional rehearsals provide students with an opportunity to learn to lead as well as follow. The goal of the sectional rehearsal is to have students work out the problem sections of their music (notes, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations). Sectional rehearsals also provide students with the experience of learning how to help each other improve (peer mentoring) the quality of the performance of their section. 

The role of the music teacher at sectional rehearsals is to rotate between each sectional group to help model and to provide direction concerning how to rehearse; how to manage the section and how to moderate conflicts within the section in a way that will help promote a sense of growth and well-being among the students in the ensmeble.       

Resource: Whitener, J. L. (2014). Using the elements of cooperative learning in school and classes in the United States. International Journal of Music Education, 32, 1-15. doi:10 .1177/0255761414541865