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Pretty much every Spring, we will learn about jazz in my music class. Sometimes I align it with April, which is Jazz month. Other times I align it with Black History Month in February. Either way, if you’re looking for some Jazz lessons, here are some Jazz lessons for upper elementary students.
If you want a FREE Jazz Google Slides activity, you can click here to grab the FREE Google Slide March Madness style bracket. It features 16 different jazz artists. Students will listen to two of the (imbedded!) songs, and vote for their favorite. Their favorite will then go to the semi and quarter finals until there is only one left.
12 Bar Blues
The 12 Bar Blues is a staple in jazz music. We did this initially on boomwhackers, and then moved to keyboards. You could do it on any instruments, though– ukulele, xylophone, etc.
I put the kids in three different groups, each with the boomwhackers to make one chord. Then we played each of the bars, just keeping the steady beat. I pointed to the different groups to help them know when to come in.
You can also add a piece with the 12 bar blues, just make sure that you have the right key! Here is a YouTube backing track in the key of C, in case you don’t have any boomwhackers with accidentals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6aZZFnZUVk
You can also check out a bunch of different free backing tracks in different chord progressions on Little Kids Rock. Click here to check those out!
Virtual Field Trip to Harlem
I teach jazz every spring, and this year, my Jazz lessons for upper elementary were a little bit different, because I had this Virtual Field Trip to Harlem! It focuses on learning about jazz through 9 different musicians. Each musician has a slide with facts, a slide with a video a song, and an activity. This activity can be anything from answering questions about the songs to improvising melodies on online pianos.
It’s a really good way to introduce students to different jazz musicians in a fun way.
I like to do this all together. Currently, I’m teaching via Zoom, so I share my screen and let the kids pick what we click on.
We listen, watch, move, and sing along with the different jazz standards.
Jazz on a Saturday Night
Jazz on a Saturday Night is a really good book for Jazz lessons for upper elementary music. I use this with third grade, and we go deep into the instruments that are in jazz music. The book features quite a few famous jazz musicians, and talks about their instruments.
We typically start talking in depth about instruments of the orchestra in third grade, so this goes perfectly.
The book is quite short, but I like that it doesn’t take up a ton of time, because I can pair it with some of the activities in this print and go lesson pack. It goes along with the book, talks about jazz musicians, and their instruments. I’ve used it in class with my kids, but you could also leave it for a sub for an easy sub lesson.
Jazz is all about improv. So there are two super easy ways to do this:
- Scatting: You can teach scatting! For this, I introduce it first. Then I put some ideas for syllables you can say while scatting on the board. First I have them repeat after me, then we do a question and answer, where they say something different.
- Instrument improv: I like to use xylophones improvisation, because you can make them pentatonic, and then the kids can play anything. We do question and answer where I play 8 beats, then they play 8 beats. You can also have a student come up to the front to play the question part.
To make these more interesting, you can add some of those backing tracks. It’s super simple, but so much fun.
Virtual Field Trip to American Jazz Museum
When we went virtual, my principal gave out a specials schedule that included the specials teachers hosting two “virtual field trips” a week.
I had never heard of a virtual field trip before.
I learned quickly.
One of the ones we did– probably my favorite– was to the American Jazz Museum.
On the museum’s website, you can “walk through” the museum (this is free). You can share your screen and move around. Have the kids read the plaques that you come to.
To take it up a notch, when you come to a display about a musician, play a YouTube video of that person. They have displays about the famous musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and more.
What a Wonderful World Writing
Every year, I pick one or two musicians to focus on during our instruction. I always do Louis Armstrong with my fifth graders, which leads up to listening to What a Wonderful World.
I really, really simple activity to do with this piece is to have the students write about:
- Why they think our world is wonderful or
- What the world would look like if it was wonderful.
You can also do this digitally– I have a Google Slides resource for What a Wonderful World that includes this writing prompt as well as putting the lyrics in order, looking at the different instruments, learn about the song and Louis Armstrong, and more.
And, of course, you can read some jazz books! These are a few of my favorite for upper grades (some, like the Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald ones) are a bit longer, and you may want to split them over two different days. (affiliate links!)
So there’s a few fun and easy jazz lessons for upper elementary music class! Which was your favorite? Let us know on Instagram and tag me @beccasmusicroom