Rhapsody

14th September 2007 at 01:00
Pupils will be doing more than just tapping their feet and clicking their fingers when you introduce them to jazz. Josephine Rose explains My Year 9 pupils had already encountered blues, improvisation and experimenting with chord sequences and so they had some useful experience when we embarked on our 10-lesson scheme about jazz.

They listened to a snatch of Take 5, by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, then I got them to brainstorm about jazz. Some mentioned syncopation, but most thought it was basically improvising with melody.

We discussed the different types of jazz through the decades, such as swing, bebop and smooth jazz, and they did some research on Wikipedia. Then we focused on early jazz ragtime. I asked them if they recognised a very famous piece, The Entertainer by Scott Joplin, and most of them did. It was time for them to learn to play it (using New Music Matters 1 as a resource). It's quite a simple piece, and I got the pupils to perform it on keyboards in pairs, in a question-and-answer sequence. Then, when they gained confidence, they learned to play the entire melody alone, and I encouraged them to add left hand notes where possible.

My colleague James Bryant and I came up with jazz arrangements of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star using "swung" rhythms, where the first note in a pair is lengthened and the second shortened, differentiated for four levels of ability.

The lowest had a few blue notes (seventh, or minor third notes against major chords), the next up (average) had a simple one-note left hand part, the above average had left hand chords, while the top level added embellishments to the melody. Pupils chose one level to learn and many moved up in ability during these two lessons.

In the next lesson, we discussed improvisation as an important feature of jazz, using Miles Davis as an example. In groups of three or four, they improvised with any instrument they liked, over a simple chord sequence. For the lower-ability players, I found it best to start in the key of C major, as this avoids sharp or flat notes. A minor is good for that too.

The higher ability groups had more chords in their sequence. With one person to a layer eg melody, chords, rhythm they experimented with jazz instruments and sounds

Josephine Rose is director of music at Royal Alexandra and Albert School, Reigate, Surrey

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