Playbook

NAfME Standards: 5 Works that Highlight CREATING

The four pillars of the 2014 NAfME standards are CREATING, PERFORMING, RESPONDING, and CONNECTING. Due to busy school year schedules, teachers often spend the majority of classroom time focused on getting ready to perform. In this 3-part series, we’ll explore works that are great jumping off points for exploring the other standards essential to the artistic process – CREATING, RESPONDING, and CONNECTING. 

Here we look at 5 works that highlight CREATING – the stories behind them and how you can incorporate some of the lessons into your classroom.

LET’S RIFF! (How do musicians make creative decisions?)

  • One O’Clock Jump – The Count Basie Orchestra got their start performing in Kansas City dance halls. These evenings often went into the wee small hours of the morning. When they had finished all their prepared music, it was no problem for these masters of improvisation. They would, in the moment, create an entirely new song. The most famous of these HEAD ARRANGEMENTS or RIFF BLUES was One O’Clock Jump. 

In a Riff Blues, the different sections create their own riffs within the common framework of a 12-bar blues. Try having students create their own riffs in class or bring their own ideas from home to perform with their specific section. One 4-bar riff x 3 = 12 bar blues form. (Looking for a Riff Blues on Playbook? Try Meet the Band!)

MAKE THE MELODY OUR OWN (How do musicians generate creative ideas?)

Let students take a melody they know well (Happy Birthday or Twinkle Twinkle Little Start) and displace rhythm, swap out words to CREATE their very own version. Before making them try – can you, the teacher, embarrass yourself first?

  • LOUIS ARMSTRONG – HEEBIE JEEBIESWhat happens when a young trumpeter, Louis Armstrong drops the lyrics sheet during a recording session. ALL OF OUR WORST NIGHTMARE – OH NO!!! No problem! Louis started making us his own lyrics on the spot. Thus, scat singing was born! That type of freedom doesn’t magically appear – the more we practice creating, the better we get at improvising.

    Similar to #2, take a melody your students are familiar with and ask them to sing it their own way. BUT, instead of singing the lyrics, they should SCAT using made up syllables instead. How do you know what syllables to use? You don’t! They’re made up – just try singing how the melody naturally sounds TO YOU. This can also be done with a melody that doesn’t have any lyrics.
  • EDDIE JEFFERSON – BODY AND SOUL takes COLEMAN HAWKINS – BODY AND SOUL takes BODY AND SOUL – TONY BENNETT + LADY GAGA.

In jazz, every song continues to evolve as creators find inspiration from the piece. 1930-Johnny Green writes a beautiful song, Body and Soul (Performed above by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga). 1939-Coleman Hawkins takes the composition and plays the song without ever playing the melody. How? He CREATES his own melody in place of the written material. 1968-Eddie Jefferson takes Coleman Hawkins’s improvisation and standardizes it by writing lyrics to accompany the new melody. What? How? 

Can your students take an instrumental melody and write lyrics to it? This doesn’t have to be on the spot (although asking every student to contribute 1 line could be fun!). Students are welcome to take time at home and come up with their own song. 

A PLACE WE LOVE…(When is a creative work ready to share?)

  • CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME, CALIFORNIA GIRLS, GOING TO CALIFORNIA and list goes on. There have been so many songs written about California. For centuries, composers have used their home as a backdrop to create. We still hear this in modern styles of music like rap and hip hop. Why? Some of our strongest feelings are for the places that made us who we are and where we dream to go next.

Let’s take a song we play in class and swap out the title for the place we come from. Rather than O’Clock Jump, we call it North High Jump or South Street HS Blues. What does this place mean to us? How about creating some of our own lyrics? They can even be riff blues lyrics:

NORTH HIGH JUMP, IT’S REALLY TIME TO SWING
NORTH HIGH JUMP, IT’S REALLY TIME TO SWING
GRAB YOUR SHOES, TIME TO JUMP, JIVE, WALE, AND SING!

When we feel comfortable with that, students can write their own lyric drafts at home and bring them into class to present and eventually perform at a concert! 

It’s also important to consider: How can we express that meaning in the music we create? If our lyrics are happy, how can we support them with our music? If our lyrics are sad, we should ask ourselves the same question. Every aspect of the creating – from the music to the lyrics – work together as one!

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