Some Improvisation Ideas for Strings

April is Jazz Appreciation Month—a great time to teach your ensemble some jazz or improvisation skills.

Using both voices and instruments, have your ensemble echo some simple rhythm patterns in a call-and-response manner. (With a little prepping, a skilled student can lead a short rehearsal segment like this.)

On the MENC website, members can find ideas for teaching string groups how to improvise. Two MENC members offer some ideas for incorporating jazz into your curriculum:

  • Schedule class time each week to let your students improvise.
  • Sight-read jazz on a regular basis.
  • With your ensemble, listen to jazz recordings, and discuss the similarities and differences between jazz and traditional phrasing, rhythms, and performance techniques.
  • Have students research great jazz artists and styles and give brief reports to the class.

Check out My Music Class for lesson plans for students at various levels on topics such as improvisation, jazz techniques, fiddling skills, and creating variations on traditional tunes. (You’ll need your NAfME ID number to access these lesson and tips.)
Ideas for this article were adapted from “Incorporating Jazz in the String Curriculum” by Nicole Springer on MENC’s My Music Class section of Contributors to the original article were MENC members Steven Chetcuti, a music teacher at Somers Middle School in Somers, New York, and Dean Sorenson, director of jazz studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus, Minneapolis.

–Ella Wilcox, April 6, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (