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Jazz Month and International Jazz Day: Part Three - Jazz Solos on Orff

In my final 2014 International Jazz Day post, I want to share a way to get your students participating in jazz instead of only consuming jazz.  Jazz is truly a participation sport and its only when people start allowing jazz to pulse through them that they start to appreciate and enjoy jazz music.

There is no better way to internalize jazz music than through improvisation.  At the heart beat of jazz, improvisation is the way individuals take ownership of the music and start making it "their own" (sorry for the overly used cliche).  Many people are intimidated by improvisation but with the right tools, improv can be fun and liberating.  Surprisingly, even very young students can be successful improvising!

Improvising on Orff with the Blues Scale

I got a new set of Orff instruments at the beginning of the school year and am absolutely in love!  For Jazz month, I have set up the instruments in the E Blues Scale, which is the key that works best on the Orff instruments.

Lesson Progression for Improvising a Jazz Solo:

  • Before we ever go to the instruments, we echo-sing short jazz rhythms using swing eighths - I use the ascribe to the Gordon rhythm syllable system so I use

"du-de du-de du-de du" 
and "du-de…de du-de du." 
I make sure that I sing them in swing-eighth style with the first eighth longer than the second, almost as if it were a dotted-eighth-sixteenth figure.  You could do the same if you use the Kodaly ta-ti-ti method
  • Next, I spend some time discussing the Blues scale with my students and listening to and playing the notes in the scale. 
  • Send students to instruments or set students at instruments depending on the number of instruments you have (rotations and pairs are great when you have more students than instruments).  Echo-sing/play rhythm patterns - teacher sings and students play after (echo).  For younger kids, I have them echo on whatever they pitch they want in the E Blues scale but they have to play my rhythm.  For older students, you could make it more challenging by singing pitch names that they have to echo on their instrument with correct rhythm and pitches.  For example, using the first rhythm above, sing "E D E G A G E" and the students play it back to you.  We do this to give the students the melodic and rhythmic building blocks to use in their own improvised solos later.  This step is essential to having successful improvisation.  
  • Using an E Blues backing track, like this one or this one, demonstrate improvising a solo on the E Blues scale for 12 bars.  
  • Divide students into small groups (it works best with 2-4 students).  Each small group gets one 12-Bar progression to improvise a solo.  This is beneficial for students to have time to experiment and experience without the pressure of playing alone.  Students feel more free to play when they are not isolated. 
  • Allow all students to have a chance to play in small groups.  
  • Repeat the improvisation 12-bar progression activity but with volunteer solos.  As the end of the 12-bars draws near, students raise hand and the next volunteer is chosen.  I never make anyone perform a solo.  If you allow it to be voluntary, eventually all students will want a chance to improvise alone.  Making someone solo at the elementary level who is not comfortable with it could cause irreversible anxiety in the future!!!
Here's what the final product could look like. 

NOTE: These are 5th grade students who worked on this lesson for a total of about 20 minutes before this video was shot.  You can see how little time it takes and how quickly students feel comfortable and successful with this activity.  I have done this activity with as young as 1st graders although I do not have any video evidence of it!  (Mental note, video 1st graders!!)

This is Part Three of a Three-Part Series.  Here are the other articles in this series:
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Jazz Month and International Jazz Day: Part Two - 12-Bar Blues Progression

Yesterday I posted some resources, including the Chuck Vanderchuck PBSKids website, for teaching Jazz at the elementary level.  Jazz is truly an American art form and although it is a world-wide phenomenon now, it started here in the Southern United States.  I am proud to be an American and as an American music teacher, I owe it to my students to expose them to jazz, as it is the grandfather of most current American music (country, rock and roll, pop, etc.).

Jazz is by nature a participatory art so I like to get my students interacting and making music as much as I can.  One of my favorite ways of getting students to participate in making jazz is playing the 12-Bar Blues progression.

12-Bar Blues

I know that technically the 12-bar blues is from "the blues" but the progression is also used in a lot of jazz tunes as well.  It is a great way to get kids participating in jazz without knowing so much of the music theory required to play good jazz.  You can choose any piece that uses the standard 12-Bar Blues Progression for this (I use "Good Mornin' Blues" or "ABC Blues" from the Silver-Burdett Making Music Textbook Series from the 2nd Grade and Kindergarten books respectively.  I've also used Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode" recording)

We start by counting the boxes in the graphic below and discuss that each box represents one "bar" or measure in music.  The black hashes represent the 4 beats in each measure.  Then we discuss roman numerals and what I, IV, and V mean in roman numerals (1, 4, and 5).  We practice saying the chord numbers as we pat the beat for each bar (1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1….4, 4, 4, 4, 1, 1, 1… you get the idea).

Then we discuss that each roman numeral represents a chord in music.  We define chords as 3 or more notes played at the same time and that each chord has different notes in it and each chord sounds unique.  

I typically use only the keys of F and C to talk about the 12-Bar Blues because that is most accessible for my instruments.  The two graphics above are colored with Boomwhacker colors - the key of C uses only diatonic Boomwhackers; the key of F one uses chromatic Boomwhackers (if you have only diatonic Boomwhackers, just leave the B-flats out - you still get the same chordal effect without them).  
I pass out Boomwhackers and then build each chord - only the students who have the corresponding color can play in each chord.  

Then we play the 12-Bar Blues Progression with the song we sung earlier (like "Good Mornin' Blues" or "ABC Blues") as we sing along.  The Boomwhackers play 4 sounds per bar when their color appears.  The kids love this and really get into it.  Even my littlest Kindergarten friends are relatively successful with this and have so much fun.  We usually allow enough time to switch Boomwhacker colors at least once so that no one gets stuck only playing 4 times in the whole progression (sorry 3rd scale degree friends!!).  
I have also played the progression with students on resonator bellshand bells, and even Orff instruments.  You can adapt that charts above to color code as you need them or simply do B&W with note names for Orff instruments.

This is Part Two of a Three-Part Series.  Here are the other articles in this series:
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Jazz Month and International Jazz Day: Part One

Happy National Jazz Month 2014.  I know I am super late to the party this year but I thought its better late than never.  I have some awesome jazz resources I want to share for National Jazz Month and best of all, they're F R E E ! ! !

Just in case you didn't know about National Jazz Month, it happens every year during April and is sponsored by National Association for Music Educators (NAME), the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and a plethora of other jazz partners.

Here are some links and resources to check out:

Smithsonian Jazz at the National Museum of American History

Jazz April 2014 - A project of the Jazz Journalists Association

International Jazz Day - April 30

Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns (PBS)

Jazz Corner: A Great Resource for Jazz Musicians

PBS Kids used to have a great Kids Jazz club that they discontinued.  I was terribly disappointed when I discovered this.  However, they replaced it with a new series that is pretty ok, not great, but not bad.  It is flash-based, so I cannot use it on my iPad lab but it works ok as a class activity on the Interactive Whiteboard.

CHUCK VANDERCHUCK at www.pbskids.org/chuck

He actually covers many styles and genres of music.  You can choose which style and there are games and activities to explore that genre.  Here are some screenshots so you can see what how accessible it is to kids.

I like the "Lyrical Solarium" and the "What Sounds Like What" activities.  They are good experiential and listening tasks for kids in large-group type settings.  Or if you have access to classroom computers or a computer lab, it could be a great whole-group computer lab or center activity.

I have tons more resources coming down the pike.  Stay tuned for the rest of this series….And keep it jazzy, my friends!!

This is Part One of a Three-Part Series.  Here are the other articles in this series:

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Royalty-Free, Public Domain Clip Art

Clipart created using CLKER and PicCollage
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!  As my gift to you, I wanted to share with you two of my favorite source for graphics and clipart that I use for my printables and products.


from Clker.com

is a royalty-free, public domain source for clip art.  What is so cool about this site is that the images are created by the users using vector designs.  You could actually create your own vector illustrations using this site to share with others!

The sheer volume of clipart available on this site is pretty incredible.  It is the first place I always go when creating my products, maybe because I am cheap, maybe because I am resourceful, maybe because I am lazy!  I'm not sure what is true but I do know that I love this site!!!


I also love the free app for iPhone, iPad, and Android called PicCollage.  Its also free and its great for creating your own images.  I use this app more for things like above, for "catch" images.  Its a great app.  Check it out!!

Created Using PicCollage

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