Developing a Jazz Program: Strategies and Solutions

My experience as a high school band director and clinician has shown me that teachers often avoid topics such as jazz style, improvisation, song selection, and even jazz ensemble setup for fear of being perceived as unfamiliar with common practices. 

I often get asked about a good way to introduce jazz style and articulation to students with no jazz experience. Here’s a method that I feel works really well:

Teaching Style: Establish a ‘Default’

The most common errors in jazz style are due to doing too much. Contemporary jazz style (post-swing era) involves much less in the way of dotted feel, scoops, heavy vibrato etc. Young jazz musician’s natural tendencies are based in their classical wind band training; unfortunately, these tendencies are typically the exact opposite of what is needed.

Articulation: I find that the general error here is that students tongue way too much!! Here are a few ways I address this problem:

  1. Have students play the line completely slurred (they will resist this—make them do it!)
  2. Once you have them slurring everything, add in tonguing only the 1st and last note of a phrase (or just tongue stop). This is a good general rule for all of your swing repertoire.

Inflections: Once again, I find that the most common problem here is that students do way too much!! I’ve always referred to my method of correcting this as ‘Sterilizing the Sound’. Here’s how it works:

  1. Have students completely cease the use of any scoops.
  2. Have students completely cease the use of any vibrato. (Students will resist these the same way they will having to slur everything)

These two things, combined with the above articulation guidelines, will achieve a very ‘safe’ and idiomatically correct contemporary jazz style. What little jazz music most students have listened to makes them feel as if every note must be scooped and every long tone must have heavy vibrato. The major issue with this is that the students don’t know how to do a correct scoop and they use a classical style vibrato.

This article was submitted as part of our TMEA 2016 Clinic Preview Series by Mark DeHertogh, assistant  band director & director of the jazz ensemble at Paschal High School where his ensembles have garnered numerous awards and honors including 2015 European tour and performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival.  

Related Reading:
Implementing Change in Your Program
Music Mentors Can Make a Difference
8 Ways to Retain Great Private Lesson Teachers

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