Ten Steps to a Great Vocal Jazz Rehearsal, Part 2

Tips 1–5

MENC Chorus Mentor Kriston Feldpausch shares 5 more tips on making every vocal jazz rehearsal efficient and fun.

6. Make Your Music Move

Spend time talking about and practicing the use of dynamics to create a sensation of movement in the musical line. In addition to talking about the “swing” of jazz, the movement makes the music more exciting. Phrasing is all important—if your singers aren’t singing the shape of the phrase, stop and work on it.

7. Teach Correct Microphone Technique

Take the time to teach your singers how to use a microphone. Students think they learn by watching TV, not realizing that what they’re seeing isn’t a live performance. Microphone technique is an art that will help your students share their art with their audience. If possible, use a variety of equipment to teach this lesson. Jazz vocalists will encounter handheld microphones, microphone stands, wireless lavalieres, and headsets. They need to know how to use them all.

8. Make Time for Jam Sessions

Improvisation can be a scary concept for beginning jazz musicians. It’s good to start with pre-written improv for your singers, but take some time during each rehearsal for them to try their own improvisations. Creating an environment where your singers feel comfortable to experiment with improvisation will build great jazz musicians. Make sure this time is free—don’t get bogged down in what’s on the page. Give your singers room to explore. If you don’t have an in-house band, you’ll need to play a simple blues pattern on the piano. You can even play back a simple jazz track.

9. Record Every Rehearsal

A multi-track recording of your vocalists does more than give them instant feedback—it can also help you as the director to isolate problems in your harmonies. Recording is essential. It’s also important that the students hear the recording. These are informal sessions, so don’t worry if every setting isn’t perfect. The students will hear with fresh ears.

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Jump Right in and Swing!

Everyone fears that which they don’t understand. Don’t be afraid of jazz. The more you expose your students to it, the more comfortable you’ll get with it. Jazz will open the genres of swing, blues, and gospel in ways that you can’t simply describe in an octavo. You and your students will have a great time!

Got a question about vocal jazz? Visit the Jazz forum to connect with other educators and mentors.

Kriston Feldpausch is the director of choral activities at Powhatan Junior High School in Powhatan, Virginia. She has taught in Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia at all levels from preschool through college. She teaches 7th and 8th grade chorus and directs Powhatan’s extracurricular vocal jazz ensemble, the Swing Singers. She is also co-advisor for the Powhatan Tri-M chapter, and presented a session at the 2009 Music Education Week in Washington.

– Anne Wagener, November 10, 2010 ©  National Association for Music Education