Improvising is one of the National Standards, but teachers often balk at the prospect. Where can you go for lesson plans and ideas? MENC’s lesson plan library, My Music Class®, has ready-to-use plans:
Strategies for Teaching K–4 General Music Standard 3A — Students improvise rhythm answers, first with body percussion then on timpani or hand drums, in response to rhythm questions played by a teacher or classmate.
Strategies for Teaching K–4 General Music Standard 3C — Students improvise scat singing over a familiar song (“The Cat Came Back”). While the class sings the bass line, the teacher improvises 4-bar questions and picks students to give 4-bar answers.
Strategies for Teaching K–4 General Music Standard 3D — Students improvise an accompaniment pattern with a partner using nontraditional sounds. Then, using a 32-beat rhythm composition learned earlier, pairs of students take turns improvising 8-beat solos (called “trading” in jazz), while the class plays the accompaniment.
Strategies for Teaching Middle-Level General Music Standard 3B — Students improvise 4-measure melodic variations on a given melodic phrase in a major key. Using xylophones and an AABA form, the teacher guides students in analyzing the form and asks them to make new melodies for the B phrase.
Improvising Original Melodies — Students improvise original melodies, vocally or instrumentally, in a variety of styles over given chord progressions, each in a consistent style, meter, and tonality. Uses a computer accompaniment program, such as Band-in-a-Box.
Strategies for Teaching Middle-Level and High School Standard 3A — Students improvise a chord-based accompaniment for a given melody, demonstrating an understanding of how the underlying chords relate to the melody and incorporating borrowed chords.
Improvising a Chaconne — Using a decorated-third approach, students improvise original melodies on instruments in a variety of styles over given chord progressions, each in a consistent style, meter, and tonality.
Teaching Improvisation in Stages — Improvisation is easier to tackle when it’s broken down. Begin with rhythmic improvisation, and then move on to pentatonic improvisation, then key-center improvisation. Next is chordal improvisation (progressions and chordal solos), then transcription; figuring out where to add solos comes last.
Find these and other lessons on teaching improvisation in the MENC lesson plan library, My Music Class. Use as is, or tweak them for your own use. Choose your search criteria and use “improvise” as the keyword.
—Linda C. Brown, February 2, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)