Call and Response: Teaching Jazz Improvisation

Call and Response

Teaching Jazz Improvisation

By NAfME Members Bob Habersat and Paul Levy


Teaching improvisation in a school setting is often the biggest challenge for a jazz band director. Rehearsal time is taken up working with the ensemble, and it is difficult to find time to foster the oral (and aural) element of the music. We at have put together a series of videos that can be used in and outside of the rehearsal to help address this common problem. Our videos gradually increase in difficulty and are designed to give students tools to create successful solos.


Single Note Call and Response

Our first video uses one pitch and focuses only on rhythm and style. Students are introduced to the concept of call and response while learning how to use style and articulation on a single note. Even the most advanced players use this concept in their solos.

Centerpiece Play-A-Long

Our second activity is a play-a-long that teaches the melody to the jazz standard Centerpiece by Harry “Sweets” Edison and Jon Hendricks. It is an easy melody that uses the notes of a major pentatonic scale with a lowered third. Not only are students learning a head that they can play on a blues, they are learning a set of notes that sound great on a solo.


Centerpiece Call and Response

This video uses the notes from the melody of Centerpiece as solo material. They are played in different combinations with varying rhythms to create licks that are common in the jazz lexicon.


Blues Lick Call and Response

Our next video adds new notes and more challenging rhythms that are common to blues language. The expanded pitch range and use of accidentals challenges students’ ears.


3-7 Resolution Ear Training

One of the biggest obstacles for beginning improvisers is learning how to hear the difference between the I, IV, and V chords in the blues. This video trains students to sing the note that changes between the third of the I chord and the seventh of the IV and V chords.


3-7 Resolution Call and Response

The last video applies the ability to hear the changes between the I, IV, and V chords. A lick is played over the I chord that uses the third, and the student has to alter that pitch to fit the new chord. After the first two choruses, a lick is introduced in the first bar and the student has to alter it throughout the whole form.



Teachers are the best and most important resource for students, and these videos should be used as a supplement to director led call and response sessions. With enough practice, confident students can lead call and response practice in and outside of rehearsal. Encourage students to listen to recordings of jazz masters and have them play along with their solos. Call and response exercises are the gateway to transcription. In order to create success, we have create a method of guided transcription which can be accessed here. mustafahacalaki


We are currently expanding our call and response library to include ii-v licks and turnarounds. Join our mailing list and keep an eye out for new content by following us on Facebook and Twitter. We are always looking for suggestions for improvement from other musicians and educators. Send us an email if you have any ideas!

See you in The Shed!


About the authors:


NAfME members Bob Habersat (R) and Paul Levy (L) are both high school music teachers in Oak Lawn, IL. They are also the creators of, a free and open source website providing resources for the modern musician.

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