All That Jazz with Strings Attached

Are your string students attached to jazz? April is Jazz Appreciation Month and it could not be a better time to incorporate jazz into the curriculum. Why? The study of jazz not only addresses the National Standard on improvisation but also is a means for teaching a genre that is deeply rooted in America’s musical history and that your students deserve to learn. Here are some tips from two MENC members on how to incorporate jazz into your curriculum:

  • Schedule class time each week to let your students improvise.
  • Sight-read jazz arrangements on a regular basis.
  • Listen to jazz recordings and discuss the similarities and differences between jazz and traditional phrasing, rhythms, and performance techniques.
  • Have students research the great jazz artists and styles and give brief reports to the class.

Steven Chetcuti started a Jazz Club, which includes winds, brass, percussion (mallets), vocals, and strings . . . and we’re not just talking about the upright bass! For cello players, Chetcuti uses a guitar octave pedal and a cello bridge pickup to bring the instrument down an octave. The group meets after school and students learn tunes and improvisation licks, set up small and large combos, and ultimately perform for school and community events. From violin to viola, from cello to bass, string players are always involved.

Dean Sorenson believes that jazz instruction need not displace other important parts of the string and orchestra curriculum. “The technical and listening skills that students must learn in order to play jazz will cross over into any kind of music they play. To come full circle, learning about performing jazz music makes students better overall musicians. What could be more valuable than that?” Sorenson says.

April is the month to get your string students attached to jazz.

Jazz Appreciation Month

Jazz Appreciation Month Lesson Plans

Jazz Forum

Music Education Week in Washington Jazz Academy

MENC member Steven Chetcuti is a music teacher at Somers Middle School in Somers, NY. MENC member Dean Sorenson is Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus.

— Nicole M. Springer, April 6, 2010, © National Association for Music Education