Language of Jazz

Creating a musical conversation that is unplanned or rehearsed, but fluid using musical instruments is the magic of jazz.  In this lesson, students use instruments whether traditional or found objects (such as natural materials, cans, boxes or chopsticks) to practice mimicking the beat and tempo of famous jazz collections by An Evening of Jazz (recorded performance).  Students tap their feet to the beat (steady sound) and tempo (speed of the beat); then listen to various jazz music and try to mimic the beats.  Then, students will work together to develop their own language by actively listening to one another.  One student will start a beat and the next will mimic the beat and add something new.  Continue this activity until the entire class has a chance to participate and build on the sound.  Afterwards, listen to selections from An Evening of Jazz (a recorded performance), and listen to the improvisations.  Improvisations are musical conversations and are perfected through practice and listening.  Students provide a written or visual reflection to the musical conversations they experienced.

  • Natural or Found Materials (see video for examples) - rocks, chopsticks, boxes, etc...


  • Making Music from Natural Objects Video

  • An Evening of Jazz (recorded performance)

  • Proper Musical Posture Resource

Instructional Resources

  • Tempo - the speed at which a passage of music is or should be played.

  • Beat - the basic rhythm or pulse of the music

  • Improvisation - a free performance with little planning or preparation while; spontaneous, unscripted performance


The Harlem Renaissance introduced a new dimension to music and changed the way people felt about music.  Music became a relationship.  In this lesson, students start to create an excitement and understanding that music surrounds us and they have the ability to cultivate sound becoming their own composer.  The improvisation in jazz and this activity provides students the freedom to find joy in music.


  • 6PR Improvise and compose simple rhythmic and melodic phrases

  • 4CE Identify and respond to simple music forms (e.g., AB, ABA).

  • 4CE Discuss the lives and times of composers from various historical periods

  • 1PR Demonstrate same and different (e.g., fast/slow, loud/soft, high/low and long/short). 

  • 2PR Demonstrate a steady beat and maintain it while performing

Ohio Education Standards


  1. Collect: Take time to wander in nature and find materials that can create sounds. Together practice making various sounds using sticks, rocks or any other natural materials.  

  2. Posture: As a class, practice proper posture using the provided resource.

  3. Find the Beat: Watch An Evening of Jazz.  In the classroom, use natural materials or boxes, cans, chopsticks or other materials to practice a simple beat.  Tap your foot to maintain a steady beat.

  4. Tempo:  Increase or slow the speed of the beat to practice tempo. Try to practice to create one collective rhythm.

  5. Improv:  Listen to An Evening of Jazz.  Discuss the moments when improvisations occurred and discuss the impact on the performance. In groups, students can create their own rhythms as before, then take turns practicing improvising.  Each small group can share their favorite arrangement with the large group.

  6. Build the Beat: (Teacher) Start a beat, then direct one student to repeat the beat, then add something new.  Direct the next student to repeat the beat, then add their own unique sound.  Repeat this step until all the students have a chance to participate.  It is suggested to perform this in small groups so the students can memorize each addition.

  7. Reflect: Students reflect on their experience by drawing or writing about their experience.


  • Just Hands: In groups, students will develop a musical arrangement using only pats and slaps on their laps

  • Compare and Contrast:  Students individually explore nature and compare the tones of various found 

  • Traditional:  Students use traditional instruments to create their own music.  

  • Telephone: One student will begin a beat, the next student will attempt to copy the same beat, then the next student will do the same.  The last student will perform the beat and see if it matches the original sound.  

  • No Peeking: Selected students wear blindfolds and try to mimic the beat they hear using only their hands.  They have to try to determine what type of combinations achieve a similar sound.


Demonstrate:  Students individually demonstrate their knowledge of beats and tempos using the materials from the activity.  Extra credit; students may define improvisations in music.