Improvisation in the classroom

I’ve been inspired by a TEDx talk I was connected with through twitter today. I have been doing a unit on Jazz music and I haven’t got my students to improvise yet as mostly the unit has been about how understanding the historical context of music can help you to listen on another level. I’m going to use a basic bordun (read: accompaniment pattern) and use the pentatonic scale, blues scale and traditional songs as patterns for my students to improvise with. Here’s the bordun that we’ll use:

Update: Just experimented with using this with my choir as a warm up where they sang the bordun, and as a circle we passed the role of improviser from one person to the next. It worked really well, particularly when I suggested using parts of nursery songs like Old MacDonald, Twinkle, twinkle and Mary Had a Little Lamb to serve as the basis for the melody. Now to use this game like Chinese whispers where the improvisation develops around the circle!

About Alison Armstrong

Alison Armstrong BMus./BEd. (Queensland University of Technology), Dip. ABRSM (Performance- Singing) I have trained to teach Music (Elementary, Middle and High School) and Drama (Middle and High School). This is my 7th year as a teacher.
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2 Responses to Improvisation in the classroom

  1. Shane T says:

    Hi Alison,

    Have just done an impro unit with Year 9 and used a great starting technique that I learnt from James Morrison. He did a workshop with our Jazz Band a couple of years ago and demonstrated the art of the one note improvisation. Based on the 12 bar blues, he showed that by using just one note with funky rhythms, you could create a great impro.

    I was working in D blues so we all played a D and developed some strong rhythmic ideas focusing on syncopation and anticipation. Once the kids were getting comfortable and “funky” we would then use two notes of the blues scale and continue to build from there. This made all of the students feel good as even the singers couldn’t stuff up playing one note.

    Worked like a treat and was a great place to refer students when they then started to develop their own 12 bar blue impro for performance.

    • Sounds like fun Shane. My improv. session with grade 10 went down a treat today. Some of the students chose to do some single note improvisation and some chose to rap or base their improv on my nursery song suggestions. It’s definitely something to explore further.

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