NAfME Standards: 5 Works that Highlight CONNECTING


The four pillars of the 2014 NAFME standards are CREATING, PERFORMING, RESPONDING, and CONNECTING. With limited classroom time, teachers spend the majority of their classes focussed on getting bands ready to perform. In this series, we’ll explore works that are great jumping off points for exploring the other standards – CREATING, RESPONSING, and CONNECTING. Here we highlight CONNECTING through bridging different CREATING and RESPONDING exercises. Don’t let the eduspeak distract you from our goal: music learning isn’t just about learning notes. It’s using the artistic process to become better citizens in society. 



MU:Re7.1E.5a Identify reasons for selecting music based on characteristics found in the music, connection to interest, and purpose or context. 

In 2015, I was asked by Jazz at Lincoln Center to design a series of family concerts to support the Archibald Motley retrospective at The Whitney Museum. New Orleans born painter, Motley did to the canvas what Ellington did to sheet music. He captured the feeling of the jazz age. What do I mean by that? The most timeless artists are able to transport to a very specific moment in time; to capture a time, to capture a place, and yes, to capture a feeling. In the 1920s, the shifts in music were echoed in dance, poetry, visual arts, and novels. 

Exercise: Students choose a painting by Archibald Motley and choose a musical work by a contemporary jazz artist (Duke Ellington, James P Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong) of The Jazz Age they feel relates to Motley’s work. How are these two works echoing one another? Where are they distinct? What sounds do we see? What sights do we hear?



MU:Re7.1.E.8a Explain reasons for selecting music citing characteristics found in the music and connections to interest, purpose, and context

Charlie Chaplin was a pioneering silent film actor. Lesser known was his skills as a composer. During the time of silent films, without any dialogue, music became all the more important. How do we clearly convey emotions we see in a scene through our instruments? 

Exercise: Take the final sequence from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Watch it with sound on and you will hear the composition of Chaplin’s entitled SMILE

Have students write down what emotions this ending conveys. They can map it out from the beginning of the scene to the final frame as it crescendos through different emotions. How is it different depending on who is “speaking”? 

Based on what emotions we felt, students should try and perform an original score to highlight the feelings of the scene. They can 1. Write a new song 2. Play a melody they already know 3. Play Chaplin’s Smile with their instrument or with other students in the band.

For a fun reference, check out the modern guitarist Bill Frisell scoring Buster Keaton’s One Week (1920).



MU:Cr3.2.E.8a Share personally-developed melodies and rhythmic passages – individually or as an ensemble – that demonstrate understanding of characteristics of music or texts studied in rehearsal.

When we’re learning a new language, we don’t begin by writing a whole book. We start with clear phrases that express very basic ideas. As we gain more facility with the language, we’re able to convey more subtle and complicated thoughts. Similarly, creating an original melody can be daunting – especially when limited by musical facility. To make it manageable, let’s start a simple riff. Here is a little excerpt from our MEET THE BAND lesson about the riff blues: 

A “Riff” is simply a short musical phrase that is repeated throughout the form. It can be 2-bars, 1-bar, or even one note if played in the right context! Using different riffs and an agreed upon form, we can build a song out of thin air.

Even a short riff contains a large amount of expressive information. Is it a flurry of notes or one emphatically placed HIT? Is it played loud and abrasively or soft and subtly? Is it the response to another section’s call or the stand alone melody? 

Our agreed form here will be the 12 bar blues hence the term riff blues.

Exercise: Using MEET THE BAND (Big Band Level 2) materials as a reference practice field material let’s create our own riff blues. How do riffs from different sections interact with one another? How do they interact with a soloist? How do different riffs create different feelings within the music?



MU:Cr1.1.E.Ia Compose and improvise ideas for melodies, rhythmic passages, and arrangements for specific purposes that reflect characteristic(s) of music from a variety of historical periods studied in rehearsal. 

David Amran on working with Jack Keroac: 

We never once rehearsed. We did listen intently to one another. Jazz is all about listening and sharing. I never drowned out one word of whatever Jack was reading or making up on the spot. When I did my spontaneous scatting […] he would play piano or bongos and he never drowned out or stepped on a word or interrupted a thought that I or anyone else had when they joined us in these late night-early morning get-togethers. We had mutual respect for one another, and anyone who joined us received the same respect. We almost never used a microphone. Most of the time, there weren’t any available!

In Post World War II America, The Beat writers such as Jack Keroac and Allen Ginsberg urged non-conformity and spontaneous creation. They drew inspiration from jazz musicians. 

Exercise: Start by sharing beat poetry for students such as Jack Keroac or Allen Ginserg. Drawing inspiration from these writers…

Take out little pieces of paper. Fill bucket #1 it with notes (Concert Bb, Concert F, Concert C, etc). Fill bucket #2 with moods (sad, happy, frantic, energetic). Pair students together to try and do 90 second spontaneous improvisation by pulling one piece of paper out of each bucket. To fit your students’ comfort and abilities, feel free to add more notes or even key signatures (Concert Bb -> Concert Bb and D -> Concert Bb Major). 



MU:Cr3.2.E.5a Share personally-developed melodic and rhythmic ideas or motives – individually or as an ensemble – that demonstrate understanding of characteristics of music or texts studied in rehearsal.

In jazz, a contrafact is a musical composition consisting of a new melody overlaid on a familiar harmonic structure. Example : Charlie Parker’s Anthropology uses the chord changes of George Gerswhin’s I Got Rhythm. Parker’s tune is a contrafact of I Got Rhythm. 

You may ask why not record the song you already know and love? The answer is money. If a musician creates a new melody, they get to keep a larger share of the recording royalties. Bebop musicians of the 1940s were famous for selecting songs from Broadway shows written by composers including George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Harold Arlen and writing contrafacts. 

Exercise: Taking George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm create your own 32 bar contrafact. It can feature excerpts of other contract facts (Anthropology, Flintstones, Hackensack) or try and write your own melody. Let rhythm be your guide. One great song to reference is Kenny Dorham’s Straight Ahead. It uses the I Got Rhythm form, but the melody is just 1 note!

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