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This is Jazz Educator's Guide: Episode 1

A resource for educators covering elements of jazz, time and more


Subject: Music


Level: Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary

By: Joel Chua

Episode 1: How to listen, like really, really listen to jazz

This educator's guide is part of a series of guides for music educators looking to explore the basics of jazz with their students. Created alongside the 3-episode This is Jazz video series, each guide contains suggested activities and handouts that teachers can use for classroom teaching and learning. 

In this guide: Learning objectives

1. Students will be able to identify the elements of jazz (swing, blues and improvisation) in jazz as well as in popular music.

2. Students will be able to emphasize different beats in a bar of 4/4 time.

3. Students will be able to continue to sing a melody over an instrumental solo.


Before going into the various suggested activities, download, print and hand out This is Jazz Episode 1: Student Handout to your students. 

Screen the video below to your class or assign it as a pre-class task. Students to complete the handout after watching the video. The student handout has been designed to be self-guided and contain information that your students can go through on their own.

Episode 1: How to listen, like really, really listen to jazz

Activity 1: Is this jazz?

1. Click on the videos below (song list) to play a snippet of each song – approx. 15-20 seconds. The links start the music from an ideal listening point, but you can exercise your own discretion and start or stop at any point.

2. After playing each snippet, ask students if they thought the music they heard was “jazz” or not.

3. If yes, get students to articulate WHY the song is a jazz song, preferably with a focus on the elements taught from the video, Episode 1: How to Listen, Like Really, Really Listen to Jazz, such as swing rhythm, blues and improvisation. e.g. sing the ride cymbal pattern: “ting, ting, tuh-ting”, imitate a walking bass: “bom, bom, bom...”, miming a trumpet/saxophone playing many notes in an improvised solo.

4. If no, invite students to identify elements of jazz that are present in the song, if any e.g. blues melodies or influences in the instrumental or sung melodies.

Teachers can refer to Educator's Note provided in the download section for the suggested answers. 

Song list

Activity 2: Time for time

It is important for the teacher to understand the swing rhythm is in triplets and NOT semiquavers before going through this exercise with students. It is recommended to perform these activities with a metronome or some form of time-keeping aid.

Teaching the basics of swing

1. Teach students to count triplets based on counting “1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 4-2-3” or “tri-pl-et, tri-pl-et...”

2. Do the same, leaving out the “2” in the middle and count “1, and, 2 and, 3 and, 4 and”.

3. This is how we achieve a basic swing rhythm. You may also choose to relate 1, 2 and 3 as “ting, ting tuh-ting”!

4. Finally, remind students that swing is a rhythmic attitude and the foundation of jazz so the goal should be to FEEL the swing rhythm, not just knowing and understanding it in theory!

Playing in time and with time

1. Project the image on basic swing rhythm onto a screen (provided above) or by drawing it out onto a board.

2. Explain to students that jazz gets its rhythmic push and pull from accents.

3. Show an example by circling or ticking below “2+” and “4+”. 

4. Get students to count 1,2,3,4 while you clap on the swung “2+” and “4+”.

5. This implies a push/propulsion – be careful not to rush the tempo when doing this!

6. Invite students to choose any two beats to accent – indicate this by circling or drawing a tick below.

7. Divide the class into half, half counting the base rhythm of 1,2,3,4 and the other half clapping or verbalising the accents.

8. Explore with the class, whether accents on those beats feel more like a push or a pull.

9. Invite the class to draw comparisons to feelings/sensations e.g. a rhythmic push feels like sitting on a rocket taking off, accents on 2+ and 4+ feel like hiccups etc.

Activity 3: Hang onto your head

1. Choose one of the jazz standards below and teach students to sing the melody. These have been chosen for their simplicity. The sheet music for the three songs can be found in the download section below. 

2. Play the song from the start and tell students to sing along with the Head (melody) and stop the track once the Head is done. Repeat this a few times to ensure students are familiar. 

3. Play the song from the start again, this time, continue singing the head while the instrumental solos are going on.

4. Tell the students, the next round, whoever you point at has to sing along to the melody INCLUDING during the instrumental solos. Encourage students to continue singing the melody in their heads during the instrumental solos.

5. Point to a new student every 4 or 8 bars in the song, to continue singing the melody during the instrumental solos

6. If students get lost in between, sing a part of the melody for them to latch on to and try to continue.

7. Explain that this idea of “singing the melody in our head” is the same thing jazz musicians do when taking solos. 

Jazz standards

Contributed by:

Joel Chua

Joel Chua is a Singapore-based keyboardist who has performed at various international Music and Improv Festivals. A versatile musician, he is associated with a wide-range of acts including Litmus Jazz Ensemble, The TENG Ensemble, Raghajazz and Nathan Hartono.

Keep up with Joel and the Litmus Jazz Ensemble @litmusjazz

This is Jazz Educator's Guide
This is Jazz Educator's Guide is a series of guides for music educators interested in discovering the basics of jazz with their students. Created alongside the 3-episode This is Jazz video series, each guide contains suggested activities, resources and handouts that teachers can use for classroom teaching and learning.