Starting with basic jazz techniques and moving up through jazz improvisation techniques, as a music educator, you need to be able to teach it all to your jazz ensemble students. But teaching the passion and feel of jazz isn’t easy, because truly, the magic of jazz can’t be written down and taught via books. So, what is involved in the art of teaching jazz technique?

While you’ll, of course, have your own methods and style of teaching jazz, there are some key approaches that will help your students master the genre and delight their audiences.


Michael D'Angelo, Grammy-nominated drummer and jazz faculty member at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, noted, “The best resource for any musician is the music itself. The more you listen to the music you want to create, the more it will become a part of you … By recognizing the qualities that make the music successful, it will be easier to incorporate those qualities into your own playing.

Encourage your students to listen to as much jazz as possible – both live and recorded, video and audio. Have them focus on the instruments played together as well as the soloists. Make sure they take notice of the balance, blend, and intonation. Listen for precision, alignment, execution, interpretation, phrasing and expression. These are elements your students won’t ‘hear’ in a book.

Other elements your students should pay attention to when listening to jazz include: the ratio between the lengths of adjacent notes; the accent of specific notes; the articulation of adjacent notes; and, the precise placement of notes in relation to the time


Teach your students the culture and history of jazz. It’s critical for them to understand what makes jazz so special: how and where jazz was born, why it’s a uniquely American genre, the evolution of the music and the importance of the legendary artists as well as modern performers. All of this background will give your students a better understanding of the feel of jazz.


All music educators will stress the importance of practice to their students and all teachers will have their own methods and strategies to get their students to keep up with it. But it’s always good to remind students why it’s so important to practice and some core strategies to keep in mind.

- The advice that never gets old: be consistent
- Let students know that is more important than Average players just play the music in front of them. Outstanding players listen, play and adjust their sound.
- Advise students to loop their exercises by stopping and starting again after each repetition to give the mind and the hands time to relax and recharge.
- Tell your students to really FOCUS. Be aware, notice and pay attention to the details of your craft.
- Practice slowly. Rushing the process will frustrate young musicians and they won’t see as much progress as they’d like.


As students move from basic jazz techniques and start to learn jazz improvisation, it will be helpful for you and them to have a clear vision of your goals. In the beginning, the goal can be as simple as: develop solid fundamentals through practice. As they progress, goals you should assign to your students include:

- Listen to jazz every single day. Learn in, enjoy it and develop a true passion for the music.
- Tell students that they should eventually be able to learn and study jazz straight from recordings rather than reading from sheet music. This will develop their listening and improvisation skills.
- All students should eventually be able to transcribe from recordings.
- They should understand chords, chord progressions, and chord-tones from a theoretical and aural basis. They should comprehend how chords are built and why and where each chord is placed in a piece of music. They should grasp how and why each chord progresses to the next. They should be able to recognize chords aurally, not just by reading the music.
- Give your students a long term, ‘reach for the stars’ goal, too, such as: transcribing their first solo. This will allow them to imitate the language and concepts from the soloist of their choosing, and learn how to integrate those techniques into their own playing.

Tying it all together
To really impart the magic of jazz to your students, you need to take a holistic approach to teaching jazz technique. Your jazz ensemble will grow and develop their skills by attending concerts, listening to classic and modern jazz, taking additional lessons, watching videos, studying jazz history, and playing with their fellow students. Jazz was not born from books and you won’t be able to teach it simply via books – and that’s what makes jazz so special.