Teaching Jazz Is Teaching Culture

Teaching jazz offers you the chance to explore literature, culture, and art. That’s why when MENC member Stephen Rudd teaches shuffle rhythm to his students, he uses poetry from the Harlem Renaissance like “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes.

Rudd tells his class how blues music inspired artists and writers like Hughes. “You might say this was a marriage of music and poetry,” he says in his lesson, “The Blues, Langston Hughes, and Poetry,” available on My Music Class.

Shuffle Rhythm, Blues, and Poetry

To show students firsthand the relationship between music and language, Rudd uses a recording of jazz musician Charles Mingus playing blues while Langston Hughes recites his poem. One half of the class claps the shuffle rhythm while the other half recites the poem with the recording.

As an extension, students write their own poetry using shuffle or other rhythms. “The students’ reactions were that of appreciation for the creative outlet offered by ‘The Blues,’” says Rudd. “They were able to write lyrics and perform them for the class.”

Historical and Cultural Connections

Rudd notes that jazz is a uniquely American expression: “The Harlem Renaissance was a time in American history when the human spirit rose above hard times through writing, singing, and playing the blues and jazz.” He was originally inspired to write this lesson when his wife, an English teacher, shared with him her interest in several Harlem Renaissance works, including Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred.”

Jazz and the National Standards

“I am always looking at connections between music and other disciplines,” Rudd says. Sharing these connections with students is the aim of several of the National Standards for Music Education, specifically standards 8 and 9. Jazz improvisation and composition also fulfill standards 3 and 4.

Read the full lesson here. For other jazz lessons, visit My Music Class and search using the keyword “jazz.”

For further exploration of rhythm, including comparing classical and jazz rhythms, check out this lesson.

Stephen Rudd is an adjunct faculty member at the college level and is an itinerant instrumental music teacher for grades 5 and 6. He teaches music Appreciation at Chaffey College, is a faculty member for the Multiple Intelligence Certificate Program at the University of California, Riverside Education Extension, and is one of the directors of the Elementary Band Program for the Upland Unified School District in Upland, California.

His experience includes teaching music at the elementary, middle, high school, and college levels. The above lesson was originally designed for an enrichment workshop for Upland Unified School District’s Gifted and Talented Education program.

–Anne Wagener, January 13, 2009, ©  National Association for Music Education