MENC Chorus Mentor Kriston Feldpausch recommends the following ways to get the most out of any vocal jazz rehearsal.
Start every jazz rehearsal with a listening example. There are a lot of great vocal jazz groups out there. Listening to good jazz is a great way for your students to learn how it’s done. Make sure you listen to a wide variety of jazz, from a variety of eras. Don’t get bogged down on Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald—there are lots of great examples for your students to hear.
2. Include a Variety of Musical Selections
Just like with the listening, program a variety of music. Give students a chance to try out several different jazz styles and experiment with making them their own. Don’t neglect something because of voicing. Music can always be arranged to suit your ensemble, or your instrumental accompaniment can pick up the missing parts.
3. Rehearse Vocal Harmonies Carefully
Vocal harmonies in jazz are often tight, with a lot of dissonance. Rehearse these slowly and vertically to ensure good intonation. Listening to these harmonies will also help your singers to hear them more clearly.
4. Keep Steady Time
Keeping steady time is the foundation of good jazz. It sounds simplistic, but taking the time to make certain that everyone has a solid, steady time will assist in keeping the improvisation and harmonies together. If you are rehearsing with an instrumental jazz group, make sure that your singers know who is keeping time. Make sure that you also spend some time rehearsing apart from the rhythm section so that your singers develop their own sense of time and are not simply relying on the drummer and bass player.
5. Learn the Vocabulary
Besides scat, there are lots of musical terms specific to jazz. Especially when working with instrumentalists, it’s important to know the language. Use warm-ups and examples to demonstrate what all these new and interesting terms mean.
Visit My Music Class for a jazz glossary and a jazz primer lesson (member login required).
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