Tips for New and Future Jazz Teachers

The Status of Jazz in College Music Ed Programs, Part 4

Whether or not you studied jazz during your teacher preparation, you might feel unsure if asked to teach jazz during your career. If you’re a future music educator and aren’t enrolled in a jazz course or ensemble, you may wonder how to learn jazz when your schedule is already packed.

MENC mentor Christine Nowmos took initiative to learn jazz skills: “I spent time learning independently how to read a lead sheet and improvise over chord changes on the piano, through observing and asking questions of jazz musicians,” including her jazz musician husband and his friends. She and other MENC members on the forum suggest the following do-it-yourself approaches:

  • Take workshops at state conferences on improvisation and related topics.
  • Find age-appropriate books on jazz musicians to use with students.
  • E-mail or meet a jazz band instructor either through the district, from a hometown school, a friend, or otherwise (some states have a jazz directory). Observe the instructor’s class and ask questions.
  • Ask your principal about taking a professional development day.
  • Search the Internet for renowned jazz musicians.
  • Listen to learn the different styles and techniques of different musicians. Get jazz albums from the local library and consider how you would describe to students how to play those patterns and in those grooves.

If you’ve been asked to teach jazz and feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Use the resources listed below and visit MENC’s Jazz Network and forum, where jazz mentors can help. You can also attend the Jazz Academy at Music Education Week in Washington this summer.

If you’re a future music educator, see the NewsLink article “Expand Your Horizons with Jazz” for tips from an MENC Collegiate student on how to fit learning jazz into a busy schedule.


MENC Jazz Publications

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Christine Nowmos teaches general/vocal music to grades pre-K through 4 at the Mary S. Shoemaker School in Woodstown, N.J.

–Anne Wagener, March 10, 2009, ©  National Association for Music Education