Unlocking Elementary Music Skills through Jazz: Fun and Educational

Picture a lively music class where students embark on a rhythmic adventure, guided by the playful notes of the jazz era. It's not just about learning notes; it's about creating a vibrant symphony of skills that will stay with them for a lifetime. Using jazz music to introduce these musical skills brings a bit of lively fun to your lessons. Because the musical elements that make jazz music so fun are also present in many other genres of music, once students have a grasp on the concept, it will be easy to transfer the skill to a different style of music. 

Here's your guide to fostering essential music skills with a jazz twist, tailored for our budding maestros.

1. Syncopation - Adding a Dash of Surprise: Introduce syncopation as the spice that adds flair to the rhythm. By emphasizing off-beats, students not only develop a sense of timing but also a groove that'll get their classmates tapping their feet. Syncopation is the secret ingredient that turns a simple rhythm into a musical adventure. For an introduction to syncopation, consider listening to Harlem Stride Style Piano music, contrasting the left and right hand parts. You can find a complete lesson that includes a Syncopation Chant here: The Great "Jazz" Migration and Harlem Stride Style Pianists

2. Improvisation - Let the Creativity Flow: Jazz is the perfect playground for unleashing creativity. Encourage your young musicians to explore their own musical ideas. Picture the joy on their faces as they compose their melodies, even if it starts with just a few musical doodles. One simple way to encourage improvisation is to choose a very familiar melody, and then sing the melody using neutral syllables such as "bah." Finally, improvise new rhythms for the melody. 

3. Scat Singing - Vocal Jazz Magic: Invite your students to discover the joy of scat singing, where words take a backseat, and voices become instruments. It's like a musical conversation where they get to express themselves freely. Jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald would be proud! One of the earliest jazz musicians to use scat singing was Louis Armstrong. Learn more about Louis and early New Orleans Jazz, including a scat singing practice activity here: Louis Armstrong and New Orleans Jazz

4. Listening Skills - Tuning into Musical Stories - In the magical world of jazz, listening isn't just hearing; it's like following a musical story. Encourage your young ears to pick up on the different instruments playing in harmony. It's a bit like solving a musical mystery – can they identify the saxophone's smooth whispers or the lively conversation between the drums and piano? As their listening skills grow, so does their ability to appreciate the rich tales woven by jazz musicians. Swing music and big bands go hand in hand. Learn more about swing, the instruments of a big jazz band, the Harlem Renaissance, and Duke Ellington here: Harlem Renaissance Musicians: Duke Ellington & Bennie Goodman

Instrument Exploration - Discovering Jazz's Sound Palette: Transform your classroom into a mini jazz club by introducing the concepts of a jam session and collective improvisation. Let the kids get hands-on with simple percussion instruments or even makeshift ones. This hands-on exploration not only sharpens their listening skills but also deepens their appreciation for the diverse sounds of jazz. 

One of my favorite lessons in 4th & 5th grades used "found sounds" like cardboard boxes and shakers made from soda cans or plastic water bottles. Following listening examples and discussion of complementary rhythms and leaving space for others to play, we jammed. We created a groove. Of course, our early efforts fell apart quickly. After a short discussion about what sounded good and what went wrong, we tried again. Each attempt at creating a groove was a little better. I did not assign any parts, the students were improvising on their own and making corrections as a group. It was awesome! The same activity would work using classroom percussion instruments. I encourage you to try it!

5. Jazz Lingo - Adding Some Swing to the Vocabulary: Infuse your music lessons with a touch of jazz slang just for fun! Introduce terms like "ax" for instruments, "chops" for musical skills, and "gig" for a performance opportunity. It's a playful way to teach music while also immersing your students in the vibrant culture of jazz. Imagine their smiles as they confidently say, "Let's jam, teach!"

With these added words, your classroom becomes a linguistic jazz haven, making every lesson a delightful blend of education and entertainment. Need some inspiration? Try out this Jazz Terms Word Wall & Write the Room.

Done-ForYou Jazz Lessons
Planning time is always at a premium, right? I have prepared five done-for-you lessons on Early Jazz & Blues that will keep your students engaged. Each lesson includes some jazz history, biography info on an influential musician, listening examples, and at least one activity to get your students to make music using one of the jazz elements. The bundle also includes printable exits, an Easel quiz activity, and an Easel assessment. 

Take my jazz resources for a test drive! Learn more about my free resource, in this post: 
Bringing The Swingin' Big Apple Dance Craze Of 1937 To Your Music Classroom.

Grooving into Musical Mastery:
Now, let's groove into the heart of our elementary music classroom. In a survey conducted with elementary music teachers, 90% reported positive changes in students' musical engagement after incorporating jazz elements. 

With these five key elements, your elementary music class is set to swing and sway with the delightful rhythms of jazz.  So, fellow music mentors, let's embrace the spirit of jazz in our classrooms. It's not just about teaching music; it's about nurturing a love for it that will echo in their hearts for years to come.

Musically yours,



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