Back to School Tips for Your Jazz Program
By Bob Sinicrope President, JEN Music Educator
No matter how strong your jazz program is there is always room for growth. Teaching and learning is a never-ending process. The ideas below have greatly enhanced my program and some of them might be beneficial to yours.
- Perform as much as possible – There are many skills that students can only acquire through performing. Playing for others requires a different mindset and often accelerates the learning process. Have students perform for nursing homes, youth clubs, for other classes, at shopping malls etc. You can’t replace performance experience.
- It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing – Groove is one of the most important musical qualities to the listener. Strive to make the music feel good. To do this help students feel the underlying rhythmic feel of the style. Having them tap out steady stream eighth note triplets (swing), eighth notes (latin or rock) or sixteenth note (funk) when not playing will deepen their connection to the groove. This will help students “play the rests” and keep the music buoyant. Have students sing their parts to help them internalize the music.
- Be an equal opportunity teacher – Teach all of your students as “diamonds in the rough”. Some of the least talented and least experienced students have the most satisfying experiences. Give as many students as possible a chance to participate. If you can, create a “B” band, a “C” band and a “D” band.
- Have fun – Don’t lose sight of music making being fun. Encourage and inspire rather than bully and discourage. Vary your rehearsal routines by practicing in different spaces.
- Follow your bliss – This expression was often used by legendary jazz educator John LaPorta. Be true to yourself. Do what you love and love what you do. Think from your heart and love from your head.
- Recruit pro musicians – Invite local musicians or more accomplished players to play with and work with your groups. This could inspire your students and offer them ideas and approaches for how one could speak the jazz language.
- Present concerts that have a theme – When appropriate, have a theme for your concert. You might play a tribute to Duke Ellington or Miles Davis. Have a swing music concert. How about music having to do with a specific time period such as the 1950s or a geographic region such as New Orleans? Having a theme provides a focus and is more fun and educational for the students and audience.
- Play recordings for your students – The reason we are attracted to jazz is because of the music by its masters. Let your students learn from them directly. iTunes and other downloadable mp3 websites make this process much easier.
- Leave campus – Take a tour if possible, visit other schools, play for civic events. Even a short performance away from school offers different learning opportunities. Having an exchange concert with a nearby school is fun and gets students to want to do their best.
- Get parents and school administrators involved – Parents want to invest in their child’s development and can be a terrific resource. Get administrators to be on your team. Generate publicity for your program.
- Know your audience – Plan performances with your audience in mind. Do your best to have your student’s performance well received.
- Feature students – Feature individuals or small groups of students. Spread the wealth by giving as many students as possible opportunities to be spotlighted. Sometimes asking a student with less skill to be featured motivates that student to go above and beyond.
- Use your performances to outreach and connect – Have social time with your audience. Perform for audiences that might not otherwise hear your style of music. Play benefit concerts for worthy causes. Have your students jam with other students. Have home stays when you travel to better connect with your audience.
- Go for mastery – It’s better to do a few things well than overwhelm students with too many concepts. Build confidence. Love is in the details.
- Keep learning – There is always more to learn. Being a student helps us be better teachers. Inspire your students by your example of commitment and willingness to risk.
- Have students help other students – Students learning from other students is a win-win opportunity. Often they listen more to their peers than their teachers. A student teaching other students or leading a sectional rehearsal helps the teaching student think about what they are doing and helps them take greater ownership of the ensemble.