Swingin' in General Music

As the association’s Council for Jazz Education committee member Kimberly McCord showed in the “Swingin’ in General Music” session she led at Music Education Week this June, teaching jazz to young students is all about making the music accessible.

During her session, McCord led participants through an activity that teaches swing feel, improvisation, and ensemble communication:

  • Students practice swing bass patterns using phrases about bubble gum, such as “Chew-ing chew-ing bu-bble gum yum!” This helps them internalize the rhythm in an easy-to-remember way.
  • Students practice scat singing by improvising on one note, two notes, then three notes (root, third, and fifth). The teacher (or a recording) sings or plays a phrase, and the students respond by varying the phrase however they choose.
  • After that, students put the “bubble gum” rhythms they learned earlier to use on Orff instruments. Starting with a rhythm section of bass xylophone, glockenspiels, an alto xylophone, and a ride cymbal, students soloing on soprano xylophone and a brief scat solo join in. Then, students rotate so that everyone tries out each role.

If you stick with just a few notes and make children feel safe, their creativity can soar. The emphasis always is you can’t do anything wrong.

When introducing young students to jazz, “It is essential to play lots of jazz so they get used to hearing it. Developmentally children are not ready to find 2 and 4 swing feel until they have mastered showing steady beat through movement,” says McCord.

Kimberly McCord is the central division chair of the association’s Council for Jazz Education. She is associate professor of music and coordinator of undergraduate music education at Illinois State University.

-Anne Wagener, August 12, 2009 © National Association for Music Education