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Why Teach

jazz education

     Research has found that many band directors are hesitant or fearful of teaching jazz band. Many instrumental music educators do not feel that their undergraduate programs adequately prepared them to teach jazz (Brumbach). Many educators have never taken a jazz pedagogy course or performed in a jazz ensemble. Many directors that do have jazz performance experience gained it by performing in a high school or college ensemble (Brumbach). Instrumental educators who do not play a traditional jazz instrument may have had few or no opportunities to participate in a jazz ensemble.


     Music educators are often tasked with teaching the jazz ensemble as part of their duties. One study, however, found that band directors reported low confidence in teaching jazz compared to concert or marching band (Koch, 80). In fact, only 27.5% of band directors in Oklahoma reported taking a jazz methods course while in college (Koch, 80). Because of this lack of experience, many educators feel uncomfortable and insecure about teaching jazz.


     The director with little to no jazz experience should not let this lack of experience be a stumbling block to jazz pedagogy. Research shows that one’s ability to teach jazz is more related to overall musicianship than ability to play jazz (Teaching School Jazz p. 1).



“Jazz education reaches its full potential only when improvisation is a central emphasis of instruction” (p. 3 Teaching Improvisation).


“The National Standards for Music Education recognize the need to include improvisation in comprehensive music education” (p. 9 Teaching Improvisation).


Improvisation is in the national standards and vital to a holistic music education, but it is rarely taught in traditional concert bands. Jazz Band presents the ideal environment for teaching improvisation, but this aspect of jazz is what frightens many directors away from teaching jazz. 


Before these directors take on the challenge, it is important to outline some of the reasons why the task of jazz instruction is worth the challenge.


Now that we have discussed why many educators are hesitant to teach jazz, we should examine why the music educator should embrace the challenge and teach jazz.


Jazz offers many opportunities that are not inherently found in traditional concert music taught in schools. The jazz ensemble generally teaches part independence, having only one player on each part. With this arrangement, each student is a “soloist” and an integral part of the ensemble sound. Jazz is also a truly American art form. It provides an opportunity for students to discover the good and bad of our history, and explore actions for


Perhaps the most prominent reason for jazz education, and the biggest stumbling block to successful jazz pedagogy, is the art of improvisation. JAZZ IS IMPROVISATION…RESOURCE?

Improvisation is included in the National Music Standards (PUT STANDARD).


Despite the lack of class curriculum and     Secondary jazz education continues to grow, even without a formal curriculum available. This is likely because “functionally, the charts are the curriculum” (Poulter, 2008, p. 39). Using the solely the charts as curriculum may prove challenging for the director with little jazz or improvisation experience. One reason for this lack of curriculum might be because of the way jazz has traditionally been learned and taught, aurally and through experience. Some individuals even believe that jazz should not be formally taught (Improvising Jazz, 1964, p. vii, Coker) but instead only learned through experience.



“There have been many books written about how to play jazz, but jazz is truly an aural tradition. This simply put means that if you really want to learn to teach and play jazz, you have to listen to it. Wynton Marsalis states:

            The only way to learn jazz is by playing, and listening to those who can play.” (15, teaching music through performance)


“Jazz is primarily an aural kind of music; its written score represents but a skeleton of actually what takes place during a performance” (15, teaching music through performance)


These quotes help articulate the importance of listening. Any director teaching a jazz ensemble should begin with this step, both for themselves and with their students. While it is true that jazz is an aural tradition and one cannot bypass the importance of listening and learning through experience, the need for formal jazz instruction is needed in today’s growing jazz education environment.



There are, in fact, endless resources by the ABC’s of jazz education (Aebersold, Baker, Coker) and many more. (Article in email) ,but there seems to be a lack of readily available lesson plans and curriculum.


There is no shortage of jazz pedagogy books or resources, but there seems to be a lack of readily available lesson plans and curriculum. (rephrased, take out)



     Most improvisation books are designed for individual use, not class instruction. A comparison completed in 2017 examined the instructional content of five current jazz method books. The analysis found that rehearsal techniques comprised only 10% of the instructional material, and only 3% of the content was devoted to improvisation (Watson, Comparative Analysis). Given that these are areas that educators feel timid teaching, this resource is intended to provide supplemental material in these areas for the educator with limited jazz experience.  



For the music director with little to no jazz experience, jazz pedagogy can be intimidating and the lack of experience a deterrent to developing a jazz program. This curriculum presents a starting point for the hesitant jazz educator. It is not all-inclusive, and there is much left for the director to learn, but by having access to a few simple lesson plans and resources, directors have a place to begin.


In order to find success in jazz education, the teacher must have a desire to learn the art at least at a basic level for oneself. This begins with listening. Listening to jazz must be a priority, both for the teacher and for the student. Jazz is an aural art form and listening is vital for successful educational outcomes.


and the only way to learn jazz is by listening (Teaching Music Through Performance in Jazz, 15). (rephrased, take out)


The jazz educator should also strive to develop basic improvisation skills. This may sound intimidating for some, but it should not cause the prospective jazz educator to give up hope. Improvisation does not need to be difficult, and it should be enjoyable!

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