Taking the Spotlight: New Jazz Book Teaches Improvisation Skills

Kids who have no problem acting out a movie scene in the cafeteria or doing a monologue for friends on the school bus often freeze up when called upon to improvise a jazz solo in a music class ensemble.

Zachary B. Poulter

Middle school band teacher Zachary B. Poulter, director of Bands at Syracuse (Utah) Junior High School knows that dilemma well. He has written a new book designed to help music educators teach their students fundamentals that make improvisation easier.

“Students always feel a little shy when they begin to solo for the first time. It can be a little overwhelming for them. The more they practice improvisation, though, the more their confidence builds,” Poulter said in an interview.

MENC and Rowman & Littlefield Education copublished Teaching Improv in Your Jazz Ensemble: A Complete Guide for Music Educators, which combines scholarly research, professional performance techniques, and nuts-and-bolts rehearsal strategies, all of which will help teachers bring the joy of improvisation more fully into the jazz ensemble class.

Now in his eighth year of teaching, Poulter said the book sprang from a master’s thesis he wrote at the University of Utah.

“I started to look for a book that would help to work with students and jazz, and didn’t find anything that was very helpful,” Poulter explained.

Through his research and his work with students, Poulter said he discovered one key is taking the music “one step at a time,” and giving students a good music foundation, such as learning slow harmonic progressions which helps them feel comfortable with the concept of improvisation.

The book also includes more than 180 arrangements of jazz standards that are indexed to correlate with the sequence of improvisation study. He said music educators could use this resource to design an effective sequence for teaching improvisation, and then reinforce it with correlating jazz ensemble charts. The book also helps teachers learn the philosophy and history of educational jazz ensemble.

Teaching Improv in Your Jazz Ensemble: A Complete Guide for Music Educators is available in paperback for $34.95 and clothbound for $80.00. MENC members receive a discount of 25% off the publisher’s price.

To order or for more information, call 800-462-6420 or visit Rowman & Littlefield Education.

 This article originally appeared in Teaching Music, Volume 16, Number 1 (August 2008)

Roz Fehr, August 6, 2008. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education