[ Login ]
lesson plan12345678

What is Jazz?






1. National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA

2. NAfME: The National Association for Music Education

3. For information on ordering The Instrumental History of Jazz 2-CD set, click here.

4. Student handouts can be downloaded from the Jazz in America website and photocopied.

5. Any material from the Jazz in America website may be downloaded, printed, and/or made into a PowerPoint slide as the instructor sees fit.


Teachers may use the following topics at their discretion, based on the experiences of their particular students. For example, if students already have a basic understanding of the elements of music, teachers may omit topic 4. This lesson plan can also be divided into smaller lesson plans to accommodate classroom schedules.

  1. Course Introduction for the Teacher
  2. What is Jazz?
  3. Jazz Recordings
  4. Basic Musical Elements
  5. Improvisation
  6. Jazz Sounds
  7. Rhythm
  8. A Perfect Democracy
  9. Where Did Jazz Come From?
  10. Ragtime: The Precursor to Jazz

National Standards for United States History1

Historical Thinking
Students should be able to:
  1. Appreciate historical perspectives – including the ability to (a) describe the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) consider the historical context in which the event unfolded–the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place; and (c) avoid “present-mindedness,” judging the past solely in terms of present-day norms and values (Historical Comprehension Standard 2F).
  2. Draw upon the visual, literary, and musical sources, including (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and (c) folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative (Historical Comprehension Standard 2I).
  3. Draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues, as well as large-scale or long-term developments that transcend regional and temporal boundaries (Historical Analysis and Interpretation Standard 3D).
  4. Hypothesize the influence of the past, including both the limitations and opportunities made possible by past decisions (Historical Analysis and Interpretation Standard 3J)

National Standards for Music Education2

Artistic Process - Creating: Imagine, Plan and Make, Evaluate and Refine, and Present Music
  1. Generate musical ideas for various purposes and contexts.. – Improvise rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic ideas, and explain connections to specific purpose and context (such as social, cultural, and historical) (MU:Cr1.1.5a); Generate musical ideas (such as rhythms, melodies, and accompaniment patterns) within specific related tonalities, meters, and simple chord changes (MU:Cr1.1.5b).
  2. Select and develop musical ideas for defined purposes and contexts. – Demonstrate selected and developed musical ideas for improvisations, arrangements, or compositions to express intent, and explain connection to purpose and context (MU:Cr2.1.5a).
Artistic Process - Responding: Select, Analyze, Interpret and Evaluate Music
  1. Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context. – Demonstrate and explain, citing evidence, how selected music connects to and is influenced by specific interests, experiences, purposes, or contexts (MU:Re7.1.5a).
  2. Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response. – Demonstrate and explain, citing evidence, how responses to music are informed by the structure, the use of the elements of music, and context (such as social, cultural, and historical) (MU:Re7.2.5a).
  3. Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’/performers’ expressive intent. – Demonstrate and explain how the expressive qualities (such as dynamics, tempo, timbre, and articulation) are used in performers’ and personal interpretations to reflect expressive intent (MU:Re8.1.5a).
  4. Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria. – Evaluate musical works and performances, applying established criteria, and explain appropriateness to the context, citing evidence from the elements of music (MU:Re9.1.5a).
Artistic Process - Connecting: Synthesize and Relate Musical Ideas
  1. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make music. – Demonstrate how interests, knowledge, and skills relate to personal choices and intent when creating, performing, and responding (MU:Cn10.0.5a).
  2. Relate musical ideas and works with varied context to deepen understanding. – Demonstrate understanding of relationships between music and the other arts, other disciplines, varied contexts, and daily life (MU:Cn11.0.5a).


The student will:
  1. gain a fundamental understanding of jazz
  2. gain a fundamental understanding of basic musical elements
  3. gain a fundamental understanding of the musical elements of jazz
  4. gain a fundamental understanding of how, where, and by whom jazz originated
  5. gain a fundamental understanding of jazz as a metaphor for democracy
  6. gain a basic understanding of why jazz is America’s music

  1. computer logged onto www.jazzinamerica.org
  2. LCD projector and screen
  3. CD player (optional)

  1. The Instrumental History of Jazz (IHJ)3 – optional
    1. two CDs
    2. accompanying booklet
  2. Student Handouts4 (one per student)


The instructor will:
  1. distribute student handouts 5
  2. discuss basic elements of music
  3. discuss the basic elements and origins of jazz
  4. discuss the roles of people in a democratic society using jazz as a metaphor
    1. individual freedom
    2. responsibility to the group
    3. leadership
  5. play jazz recordings, discussing with the students what they heard
  6. discuss why jazz is considered America's music


The students will:
    participate in a class discussion regarding:
    1. "what is jazz"
    2. the basic elements of music
    3. the basic elements and origins of jazz
    4. why jazz is considered America's music
  1. compare improvisation with regular conversation
  2. listen to various jazz saxophonists to compare and contrast their individual sounds (tone)
  3. listen to jazz recordings
  4. follow and interact with the animated student handout entitled "Journey #1: New Orleans, Louisiana" (click the Student Handout button on the left-hand side of your screen)


A Test Bank is provided that includes questions in the four formats listed below. At the teacher's discretion, all of the questions in each test bank may be used, or a few questions from each format may be selected to compile a shorter test.
  1. Multiple Choice
  2. Fill in the Blanks
  3. True / False
  4. Matching


The following topics and activities are covered in the Student Handout:
  1. Destination and Dates: New Orleans, early 1900's

  2. Historical Event: Emancipation Proclamation (1863)

  3. Vocabulary:
    cake walk
    call and response
    collective improvisation
    Congo Square
    Emancipation Proclamation
    Jim Crow laws
    New Orleans style jazz
    player piano
    work song

  4. Experience the Music
    Found throughout each handout, this section provides students with an activity to help them Experience the Music firsthand.

    WORK SONG: Students create a song to fit activity.

    CALL and RESPONSE: Students provide a "response" to a recorded "call."

  5. Jazz Artists:
    Louis Armstrong
    Sidney Bechet
    Scott Joplin
    Huddie "Leadbelly" Leadbetter
    King Oliver
    Kid Ory
    Joe Williams

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
home overview lesson plans jazz resources what's new jazz in america