Unexpected Outcomes of Jazz Education

Using the Student Learning Outcomes (Objectives) to your advantage

By NAfME Member Glen Brumbach


You just finished a great performance with your jazz band; the group has really improved this year, and a majority of the students were able to express themselves with their instruments through improvised solos. The rhythm section was interacting with the soloists throughout the varied styles of music you presented. After the concert, many parents and some fellow academic teachers approach you to tell you how much they enjoyed the performance–and how lucky you are to have such a talented group of students.

While we are all fortunate with the type of students we have the opportunity to work with, many parents and fellow educators do not see all of the hard work it took by everyone to go from the first rehearsal to that final performance. Attention to detail with subtle nuances of style and technique did not just emerge with the talent of the students. The rehearsal process before the performance included listening lessons as well as performance techniques. Historical and contextual connections were explored as students connected through the musical compositional genius of Thad Jones, Sammy Nestico, Duke Ellington, and Hank Levy, just to name a few.

Jazz education has become an important and relevant aspect of our current music education curriculum.

One way of establishing the importance of jazz education as well as validating evidence of the hard work you and your students have demonstrated is the construction of Student Learning Outcomes (SLO)s currently used in many states.

Student Learning Outcomes: Demonstrating Student Growth

When President Obama released his “Race to the Top” education program, one major component was the recruitment and retention of effective teachers (White House, 2009). As a result of this new initiative, many states have revamped their method of evaluating teachers. Many evaluation models today have an observation component as before, but now have added student growth measurement as another component of the teacher’s evaluation. Student Learning Objectives or Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are one way of measuring the growth by students in a particular teacher’s class.

SLOs usually consist of a pre-test and a post-test of student achievement with a report on the growth that student has accomplished within the structure of the particular SLO. Models and templates of various SLOs are provided for school districts and teachers on which to base their individual SLO assessments. Essentially, most SLOs use a pretest and a posttest in order to show growth. These SLOs can illuminate the hard work you and your students do in order to present those “talented” performances. This is your chance to show your administration, parents, and school board the learning processes you engage in with your students.

The SLO I will be using in this blog post will be based on the Pennsylvania SLO template. This demonstration was presented at the Pennsylvania Music Educator Association’s (PMEA) annual conference this past spring. I am sure many aspects of this model can be adapted to your own state’s SLO templates.

The SLO Model Template

High School Jazz band grades 9 – 12, 25 students. The ensemble rehearses one 50-minute period every other day.

The Goal statement is considered the “big idea” of the SLO. The example I used for Jazz band is taken from an example provided to PMEA by O. David Dietz, Pennsylvania Department of Education Liaison. “Students will demonstrate the ability to independently create, recreate, rehearse and perform improvisation in a variety of jazz styles and explain why this is important.” The next step is aligning the goals with your state standards. NAfME core music standards 1 (Creating), 2 (Performing) 3 (Responding) and 4 (Connecting) are all addressed through the goal. When a student is explaining why this is important they are making contextual and historical connections when creating and performing their improvisations. You will need to provide a rationale for these standard alignments with the goals.

Performance Measures:
Again, let’s use two examples provided by the PMEA demonstration example. The first one is: “12 Bar Blues Improvisation: To measure a student’s ability to perform an improvisation while applying the concepts of melodic phrasing, balance, tempo, stylistic elements, and the given harmonic progression of a 12-Bar Blues progression (only 3 chord changes to interpret).” The 12 bar blues progression is one of the staples of jazz form and one of the most commonly used to facilitate improvisation . A scaffold method of constructing and implementing an improvised solo would be the following steps:

  • Melodic ornamentation – starting with the written melody. My good friend Chris Vadala at the University of Maryland uses this as a starting point with improvisation. He states “The melody is never wrong.”
  • Scales – Pentatonic, blues, or modal scales such as Dorian can aid in note selection throughout a blues passage.
  • I IV V7 Chord changes–incorporating three chord changes at different times.
  • Licks and Tricks–Listening to recordings by jazz artists playing improvised solos on the same tune, and transcribing either aurally or on paper the solos or portions of the solos and incorporating them into their own creation.
  • Quotes – incorporating other tunes or musical motives that can establish a connection with the audience.

A great tune to use for the blues is “Straight No Chaser” by Thelonius Monk. Listen and watch the following recording and think how you could incorporate it into students’ improvisation construction.


jazz 1


Another example of a performance measure would be a non-blues structured tune to improvise over. Let’s look at the Duke Ellington Classic, “Caravan.”

• A A B A form
• A Section – Latin modal sounding, possible Phrygian use
• B section Swing style many more chord changes

Once you have established your curriculum you will need to construct a measure of what your students do or what the SLO identifies as performance indicators.


jazz education


Performance Indicators:

Equipment you will need to perform both assessments:

  1. Recorders: either a video camera or the student’s own smart phone are great ways to record the pretest (initial improvisation) and post-test (final improvisation).
  2. A rubric should be utilized when grading the pretest and posttest improvisation. The students’ explanation for choices can be either written or aural as long as you can quantify the results to measure growth. Writing prompts with rubrics that will address whether key topics are mentioned when describing their choices when improvising could provide the basis for growth measurement.

Writing Prompt example: “Please elaborate on your improvisational choices you made for the solo you just recorded. Consider musical influences you used when constructing the solo as well as considerations regarding harmonic and melodic choices. Give a good description of how you constructed the solo and why you made those choices.”

When evaluating the above prompt create a rubric in which the student can express themselves through writing on the choices they made for example “ I adapted a little two bar melody I heard Miles Davis Play in a “All Blues” which I adapted for the blues tune we were playing. Credit would be given for using a musical influence. The student demonstrated connecting Miles creativity in the blues with the blues the student was currently improvising with.

Once you have gathered your data and graded them with your rubrics you will need to transform it into a rating to determine how what percentage of students have achieved the four different possible ratings.


The numbers determined by the performance indicators will help to determine the percentage of your students on the SLO, which will place them in one of four categories:
Failing, Needs Improvement, Proficient, or Distinguished.


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  1. Teacher Expectations
    5a. Level Failing
    0% to ___ % of students will meet the PI targets. Needs Improvement
    ___% to ___% of students will meet the PI targets. Proficient
    ___% to ___% of students will meet the PI targets. Distinguished
    ___% to 100% of students will meet the PI targets.

The Unexpected Outcomes

The rubrics of the improvisation performance provide you with enough information to determine a creative and performance standard based score for your student . The written or oral prompt, in which your students describe the process in which they “put the musical pieces together” and connected different aspects of their musical learning, may provide the most enlightening and inspiring outcomes.

Consider the YouTube examples previously listed in this blog. Music from all cultures and ethnicities synthesized into one harmonious art form we call Jazz. I was interested on current Jazz band directors perspectives on this cultural and historical synthesis in the art of jazz music so I decided to do an inquiry to gain some more insight.

Director Outcomes

I conducted a survey of jazz band directors from the Mid-Atlantic States in order to determine their criteria for selecting repertoire. Forty-five percent responded to the questionnaire. Directors were asked on a scale of 1 to 5 how important different criteria of repertoire was to their selection. A rating of 1 indicated not at all important while a rating of 5 indicated very important. The graph below shows the six different categories of criteria that were asked. From left to right they are (1) cost of the arrangement (2) students familiarality with the work (3) Literature requirements for competitive events (4) availability of a recording of the arrangement (5) Historical significance of the work and finally the style or genre i.e. swing, ballad latin etc.

Not only did they indicate that they put a high priority on historical significance, style and genre, they also had the following to say about the outcomes jazz education had for their students:

jazz 5


  • “They are exposed to another style of music, and have to learn great responsibility as the only person who plays their part.”
  • “Students gain a deeper understanding of American culture and its (relationship to music.”
  • Increased understanding of stylistic nuances specific to each style/genre; an understanding of the breadth of the music encompassed by the term “jazz”; increased literacy with reading syncopated rhythms; enjoyment and enrichment through the performance and exploration of a large body of cultural history.”
  • “They’ve begun to explore the American art form of Jazz in a meaningful way, with multiple performance opportunities and chances to build musical bonds with peers in our school and across our region.

Student Outcomes

jazz education


Students from my jazz band would also exhibit some interesting outcomes that would just not fit into a “quantified” format but are very profound these could be considered “unexpected outcomes”, nonetheless:

  • “I learned what opportunities were, and when to take them. I learned that standing up in front of a crowd and playing a solo was not as scary as I thought it was and I learned how to be a team player and how to peacefully solve conflicts.”
  • “I remember sitting in opera rehearsal and thinking back to the times in high school when I nervously sat in the sax section waiting my turn to improvise eight bars of “Song for my Father”. Although I hated it back then, I realize now that that “going down the line/put me on the spot” exercise really aided me when I was learning my role in the opera. When rehearsing my da capo arias, I was able to stand up and present my musical ideas with confidence while some of my other colleagues struggled to hear possible ornamentation in their heads.”
  • “Being in Jazz band gave me a better sense of not just the music, but the emotion, struggle, and culture of the musicians who created it.”
  • “Jazz band pushed me outside of my comfort zone and challenged me to be an individual player because you couldn’t simply rely on the rest of the band … or to have the director hold your hand through your music.”

These profound thoughts by the students demonstrate a deeper understanding of what jazz improvisation provides in the development of their identity both as a musician and as a person. Most of the comments seem to center on being sensitive to and appreciate of other people and cultures. All the students seemed to gain a deeper insight in to music and how it relates to their lives.

A Few Final Thoughts: A Cultural Outcome

The above statements by educators and students certainly show that jazz education can impact different people in various different ways, provided it is delivered in a historical and culturally appropriate contextual methodology. Jazz music’s rise in popularity coincided with widespread usage of a new listening medium called the radio. Louis Armstrong’s trumpet translated better over the radio’s tiny speakers better than a major symphony orchestra. More significant for that time, however, was the fact that you couldn’t see who was making the music. Today, the media resources we have such as YouTube, television and film, allow us to see who created the music as well as how it developed, which is important to broadening our appreciation and respect for all cultures and ethnicities, students and audiences. The study of this art form in a culturally responsive approach can result in outcomes that measure students’ abilities to make connections.




Dietz, O. D. (2013). Pa. Dept. of Ed. Information. Retrieved April 10, 2014, from Pennsylvania Music Educator’s: http://www.pmea.net/resources/pennsylvania-dept-of-education-information/
Murphy, Daniel K. “Jazz Studies in American Schools and Colleges: a brief history.” Jazz Educator’s Journal 26, no. 3 (1994): 34 – 38.
PA Department of education. (2014). Student Learning Objectives for Teachers. Retrieved Aprl 10, 2015, from Pennsylvania Department of Education:
Prouty, Ken. “The history of jazz education: a critical reassessment.” Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, April 2005: 79 – 100.
Reimer, B. (2009). Seeking the significance of music education. Plymouth, UK: Rowan and LIttlefield Education.


About the author:

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Glen A Brumbach, NAfME Eastern Division Band Council representative, recently retired after 34 years of teaching in th e public schools of Pennsylvania. He has been director of bands at Boyertown for 8 years having also taught in the Reading, Muhlenberg and Muncy School Districts. He is a past District 10 President of the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association as well as a former officer and committee member of the Cavalcade of Bands Association. After creating the Berks county All-Star Jazz band in conjunction with the Berks Jazz fest he served as the first Jazz Vice President for the Music educators of Berks County. While teaching at Reading and Boyertown his bands won Cavalcade of Bands Pennsylvania State Championships four times and Winchester Apple blossom festival Sweepstakes awards Ten times taking top overall honors in marching, concert and jazz band. His ensembles have performed all over the United States, Canada and Europe.

Glen is a past member of the Reading Buccaneers Drum and Bugle Corps, where he served as performer, Drum Major, Brass Instructor and Brass Arranger as well as a Hall of Fame member. Glen has written musical arrangements for Marching Bands and Drum Corps in the United States and Europe. He has also given clinics and assisted bands with show construction and coordination. He currently is in demand as an adjudicator with Jazz Festival Adjudications, US Bands and the Cavalcade of Bands organizations.

Glen Brumbach’s jazz ensembles have received awards all across the United States and have also performed in Europe. He and his bands have collaborated with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, the Count Basie Band, Maynard Ferguson, Terrell Stafford, Chris Vadala, Mike Vax and the Stan Kenton Alumni Band, Randy Brecker, Al Chez, Jim Snidero and many others. His was honored as being selected as Band Director of the Year and Jazz Band director of the year of the Cavalcade of Bands association. He was recently awarded the Frankie Scott Award by the Berks Arts Council for contributions to Jazz in Berks County, Pennsylvania. He is currently a Teaching Assistant at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith School of Music where he is also pursuing his Ph.D. in Music Education. Glen resides in Greenbelt, Maryland with his wife, Andrea, Director of Choral Music at Arundel High School and his son, Wil, a professional jazz/classical/rock guitarist and music educator in the Prince George’s County School system.


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