Jazz and the Music Ed Major

A brief informal survey of MENC Collegiate members indicated that college music education students have varied levels of experience with jazz. While some students feel ready to teach this American musical tradition, others are graduating with little to no jazz pedagogy skills.

Requirements vs. Electives

Students who didn’t have a jazz requirement in their program felt the gap. “This is one of the complaints about our music department,” said Concordia University student Megan Glass. “I think we’ll be changing things around in the future to better incorporate [jazz] into the curriculum.”

Students who took a jazz class reaped the benefits, even if they only had time to take a one-semester requirement. “I’ve been given many resources that I know will be helpful to me in the future,” says Alyssa Panitch, a University of Hartford senior. Rob Couture noted that the jazz pedagogy course required for music ed majors at McGill University in Montreal “covers everything a jazzer needs to know.”

Others like Meg Hannan of Nazareth College and Stephanie Prather of Kentucky Christian University enjoyed taking jazz as an elective to broaden their horizons. “I feel it is beneficial to expose myself to as many different types of music as possible,” said Prather. Hannan said she wanted to learn music history that “was not exclusively about European music.”

No Flutes Allowed

Busy schedules and not meeting the entrance requirements were two top reasons Collegiates hadn’t played in a jazz ensemble. “I don’t play an instrument that is allowed into the ensemble,” said flutist Megan Glass. Both she and Cynthia Roberson, a California State University, East Bay student, cited their lack of experience with the saxophone as a major reason they didn’t—or weren’t allowed—to participate in a campus jazz ensemble. Rob Couture said that the ensembles at McGill “are only offered to jazz concentrations.”

Unprepared to Teach?

Collegiates who have participated in jazz classes and ensembles feel better prepared to teach jazz. Others, like Cynthia Roberson, “would feel very unprepared — the least prepared out of all the other ‘ensemble types’ out there.” Meg Hannan added that though her experience with jazz in high school would be helpful, “Based on my college experience, I would have to say I am not very prepared to teach jazz.”

Does your music education program have a jazz requirement? If not, should it? Chime in on the Jazz forum to discuss this topic.


Rob Couture is in his fifth and final year of McGill University’s concurrent Bachelor’s in Music/Bachelor’s in Education program in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His concentration is in voice.

Megan Glass attends Concordia University in Chicago and is a junior Bachelor of music education student with a dual emphasis in instrumental and choral music.

Meg Hannan is a senior music education major at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York.

Alyssa Panitch is a senior at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut. Her major is music education with an instrumental emphasis.

Stephanie Prather is a sophomore music education major at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.

Cynthia Roberson is a music education major at California State University, East Bay.

–Anne Wagener, January 27, 2009, © National Association for Music Education