Warm Up with a Cool Vocal Jazz Exercise

If you’re working with adolescent students, MENC member Patrick Freer recommends the following “Jazz Circles” warm-up:

Introduce the activity by singing a melodic ostinato pattern within the G to E range (the composite unison range of an adolescent ensemble). Ask students to suggest variations. Assist them by providing specific scat syllables or rhythm patterns. Ask your students for several more variations and then practice them. Choose a small group of students to maintain the ostinato pattern while others experiment with variations. Have students decide how to begin and end the “piece.”

Divide the class into several groups that will work in different locations around the room for five minutes. Each group will be tasked with

  • creating a vocal improvisation over the specified ostinato
  • maintaining the ostinato part with at least one group member
  • involving all group members in a vocal, improvised performance
  • planning and performing a beginning and an ending.

Have the groups perform for each other. Follow with focused questions, such as

  • Which group changed the key?
  • Which groups had a coda?
  • Which group used ABA form?

Depending on your instructions to the students, this activity can be simple or complex. The 12-bar blues form works well, but the range of the ostinato (the traditional bass line) is often not possible for young adolescents.

In that case, play the 12-bar blues chords (key of B-flat) on the piano while students improvise around accompaniment. You could even use this as a concert piece. Begin by explaining the process to the audience, have them watch the students perform the improvisation, and then ask the audience to join in!

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This article has been adapted from the article, “Choral Warm-Ups for Changing Adolescent Voices” by Patrick K. Freer. The article was originally published in the March 2009 issue of Music Educators Journal.

Patrick K. Freer is associate professor of music education at Georgia State University. He is a leading expert on working with adolescent choirs.

–Anne Wagener, January 13, 2010 © National Association for Music Education