Jazz it Up! Ideas for Jazz Appreciation Month

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Classroom Application
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What type of music is your favorite is your students’ favorite? Jazz probably isn’t the first genre that comes to mind, but April is a great time to explore all it has to offer. Jazz is an immensely popular and uniquely American form of music. Originating in New Orleans late in the 19th century, jazz has deep ties to West African and European music.

Each April, Jazz Appreciation Month takes the time to celebrate and encourage people of all ages to discover the world of jazz. In addition to enjoying the music, it’s a time to reflect upon and discover jazz’s deep history and heritage. 

Jazz took off during and is strongly associated with the Roaring Twenties, but its popularity remains strong through the influence of young artists and different subgenres, including Latin jazz, smooth jazz, and jazz funk. 

Many educators include calming music during student work periods or as a gentle way to begin class. Search YouTube to find many options for relaxing jazz playlists to introduce this music style to your students. They may be pleasantly surprised to see familiar tunes from surprising places, such as Disney movies and artists like Norah Jones and John Legend.

Other online resources offer many opportunities for introducing students to jazz through a variety of methods:

  • Wonderopolis (reviewed here) – This excellent resource introduces students to jazz music. This Wonder of the Day installment guides students through understanding the basics of jazz with a video and a short article. The article includes correlations to Common Core Standards and shares a few additional resources and activities for extending learning. Wonderopolis is also a partner on Flipgrid (reviewed here) and offers several topics for engaging students in video discussions. This topic extends learning beyond the Wonder of the Day and asks students to share their experience (or lack thereof) with jazz music and to think about a topic they would write a song about. 
  • MathScienceMusic (reviewed here) – This site shares many resources that integrate math and science into music and offers hands-on activities for students of all ages. One of the more exciting activities is Scratch Music (previously known as Scratch Jazz). Scratch Music uses Scratch (reviewed here) programming to teach students coding within a jazz-themed environment. In addition, this program includes a tutorial that helps users become familiar with basic coding before working in the Design Studio.
  • PBS Learn About Jazz (reviewed here) – The highlight of this site is an interactive map that explores the cities and scenes that made jazz. Follow the map by starting in New Orleans and traveling to Chicago, Harlem, and Kansas City. The map is part of a series of activities based on Ken Burns’ film Jazz.
  • 18 Multicultural Children’s Books About Jazz – Use this great booklist to create a reading center with books that introduce jazz and jazz musicians to young readers. For older readers, browse through this reading list from Goodreads to find many fiction and nonfiction titles related to the Roaring Twenties, jazz musicians, and music and dance.
  • Jazz – BrainPop (reviewed here) – This lesson includes a video with related activities and other resources, including quizzes, audio from primary sources, and a helpful graphic organizer. Make sure you visit the related topics at the bottom of the page to find additional supporting lessons about the Harlem Renaissance, blues, and Louis Armstrong. 

Jazz Appreciation Month provides an opportunity for students to learn about American history in a new way—through its musicians and their musical heritage. It also takes students on a path that provides context to the evolution of contemporary musical genres. 

How do you celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month? We would love to hear about your favorite strategies and resources in the comments below. 

About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.

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