Building on What You Know, Part 2

“School is on the bandstand.” —Hal Galper, jazz pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, and writer

“I was 19 years old when I heard these five words uttered by Hal Galper at a master class given by the Phil Woods quintet, of which Galper was a member,” says MENC member John Barron.“These words have helped guide me through my experiences as a musician and educator.”

Borrowing on ideas developed by Jackie Wiggins in her book Teaching for Musical Understanding, Barron adapted them to create a 6-point approach to teaching jazz. Two weeks ago, thefirst three were presented in this space. Here are the final three:

4) Students should take an active role in their own learning. Develop teaching methods that rely less on large-group, teacher-directed instruction. Jazz instruction is often reduced to teaching watered-down big band arrangements rehearsed in much the same way as concert band. While the big band sound has its place, it should only be one of many genres for students to listen to, perform, and create. Opportunities for students to initiate and carry out original ideas are more likely to occur in smaller ensembles.

5) Give students space to work on their own and with their peers. The very essence of jazz is interactive and communal. Learning to listen to and interact spontaneously with other musicians is a vital component of jazz performance. Novice students need opportunities to test the waters and try out new ideas with their peers—with teacher support when necessary. However, time alone to practice and develop their ideas is also essential.

6) Allow students to assume ownership in the classroom. By giving them this freedom, teachers create a need to know in their students that will help them see the relationships between what they’re experiencing and what they already know. Elementary students able to construct an understanding of jazz after improvising a few variations of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the recorder will be well on their way to becoming independent musical learners.

Adapted from “Lessons from the Bandstand: Using Jazz as a Model for a Constructivist Approach to Music Education” by John Barron, originally published in the November 2007 issue ofMusic Educators Journal (read the entire article — MENC member log-in required)

John Barron is the music teacher at Ottawa Elementary School in Clinton Township, Michigan.

—Nick Webb, October 21, 2010 © National Association for Music Education