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Palen Music Center Quick Note

Monday, January 8, 2007


The PMC Quick Note is a weekly service provided to all area directors.  It is part of our mission to support the lives of band directors across the Midwest.  The weekly Quick Note contains helpful tips and suggestions from area directors, spotlights on area college and university band programs, calendars of upcoming events, advocacy articles promoting music education, links to helpful web resources, and much more.  Comments, suggestions, ideas, and articles are always welcome.


Looking for help on a particular topic? Be sure to check out our Quick Note Catalog of back issues.

JH Jazz Band -- Success Lies Within the Warm-ups by Diana Williams

Junior High Jazz Band can be one of the most rewarding aspects of a band program. The small group setting provides an excellent opportunity to connect with the students. Many junior high schools offer jazz band in the school day, or as an extracurricular activity before or after school. No matter what type of schedule you have, or even if you do not offer jazz but have thought about starting one - there are some key elements that can help your band have a successful season.

The secret to a successful jazz band lies in the warm-ups. Incorporating the correct jazz articulation, style, balance and blend, and intonation into the warm-ups will give you the edge you need when it comes down to getting the music ready. There are several good method books out there to get the fundamentals taught, but the key element is the director's interaction and encouragement. It doesn't matter whether you are a jazz professional or if you have not ever played in a jazz ensemble - if you are actively playing and demonstrating what you are looking for, the student's will want to practice and improve.

Teaching Style
Most jazz books for beginning ensembles feature a practice cd. You will definitely want to start with the “language” of jazz. All of those “Doo, Dit, Dot, Dut” concepts work. There are many versions out there. Seek out the language concept and teach it from the very beginning. When the students can begin to “sing” the language within the warm-ups in time, in sync, and with the same pronunciation - you will move ahead so much faster in the music. You can start this concept at anytime within your program - and with consistent practice you will reap the benefits quickly.

Getting “THE SOUND”
Balance, Blend, and Intonation are the most important aspects to getting that “WOW! That's a junior high band?!” sound! Teach them from DAY ONE to blend within each section to the lead player. Teach your lead players to “listen” to each other straight down the line (vertically). Tune the ensemble using the crisscross method: horizontally, vertically, and then in an "X" pattern.  Horizontally - Lead player down to 4th parts in each section (ie: saxes).  Vertically - All leads, then all 2nd, followed by all 3rd, and then all 4th + bass.  "X" pattern - 2nd & 4th players (all), 1st & 3rd players (all) - and focus all pitch into the center of the ensemble.  Do this consistently and you will find that within your rehearsals you are teaching them to tune and listen. This will drastically improve your ensemble sound. Junior High bands CAN sound mature - you just have to teach it and work the concept daily. It WILL make a significant difference!

Rhythm Section
Rhythm sections are usually one of the toughest areas in a junior high jazz program to fill in. Look for piano players in beginning band and stress the importance of continuing to take lessons. Give them a very basic jazz piece to work on - just to get them excited about coming up into junior high and being a part of the jazz band. Bass players can be found within your low brass or percussion section. Start in your beginning band with advertising what you will be needing, and there will be some student who will start to learn the instrument before they ever reach junior high. If you are just starting a jazz band, tell your band kids you are looking for a bright, hard working student who likes to be the leader - you will be amazed at how many will ask you about it. Find someone in your community or your high school student to come in and work with them.

Selecting Music
Selecting music is one of the final critical elements for your program. Junior High students are amazing people! They will play whatever you teach them. That is such a powerful statement. You can forever change the path of a young student through the jazz program. Select music that will be challenging. Look for contrast styles: Swing, Ballad, Latin, Funk, Rock, etc. When going to festivals, the judges are looking at your contest selections just as much as how they play it. Programming can be crucial in a contest setting. Try to avoid playing the song that is considered “pop” or “cutsie” for contest. Save those for the spring concert or your elementary tours. It IS important for your students to play those type of pieces, they're great fun and can provide an opportunity to play “current” music. However, it is important to make sure they're learning some standard pieces, as well as some history of jazz. We're losing our jazz icons, and it is important that this generation knows who the pioneers have been and to keep the history alive for the future jazz listeners. Our job is to create a new crop of jazz listeners who will have a deep love and appreciation for America's “Classical Music”.

Diana Williams is the Director of Bands for Webb City R-7 Schools . Diana directs the Marching Band, Wind Ensemble, & Jazz I. She also assists at both the Junior High and Middle School levels. Diana is also the founder and Executive Director of Cutting Edge Auxiliaries Summer Camps.  Mrs. Williams received a Bachelor in Music Education (1992) from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas, and a Masters Degree in Secondary School Administration (2003) from Missouri State University.

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center

Can we assist you with anything?  Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.


(417) 882-7000
Bob Hopkins and Mike Brown
Springfield North (417) 862-2700 Burl Williams
Columbia (573) 256-5555 Robert Pitts
Joplin (417) 781-3100 Wayne Blades
Liberty (816) 792-8301 Ken Crisp


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