Playin’ Around With Playbook: Laura Ziegler, JAM

At the center of my Ideal Educational Community, music is accessible to all. I am constantly seeking how I can achieve this. In my search, I had come across Just Accessible Music, also known as JAM. JAM aims to “provide a forum for music and research that is inclusive for all regardless of background, age, disability, skill-level or musical interests.” 

This week on Playin’ Around With Playbook, I had the opportunity to talk with the head of NYC Jam, Laura Ziegler. It was incredibly informative and inspirational in my pursuits to create a music classroom that can reach and teach everyone.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation on November 11th, 2021. Click here to view the full interview. 

Until next week, 


TRISTA FORD: I know one of the guiding principles in the JAM organization is equity in music. How did this contribute and guide you to the structuring of the New York School? How do you structure your classes?

LAURA ZIEGLER: It’s really unique. Because my background is in public school education. Usually, there’s a set curriculum, the common core. There’s a lot more flexibility here. How I start every student is: ask them what they’re interested in and what their goals are. We tailor our responses to that. I have a little ukulele group for our students, and one of our students, their mom, was saying they were interested in ukulele, and after the first lesson, there was no interest in learning ukulele. So, it’s very open and free, and you’re allowed to make mistakes, and change your mind. You’re allowed to switch up instruments whenever you want. 

TF: How do you organize the variety of instruments?

LZ: One week I bring one instrument, and if they’re not into it, the next week, I bring a different one. When I realized they weren’t vibing with the ukulele, we went to a more general music approach. They’re still learning the concepts, but it’s more about gaining play-based, coloring, drawing, visuals, rather than sitting down and learning one instrument. 

SAMMY MILLER: Kim talks a lot about building a music curriculum from the ground up. What do you see as the most important or has the most lasting effect on students? 

LZ: It depends from student to student. I’ve had some students that really liked the free, make up your own dance or pitches, rhythms. A lot of students, however, this structure caused a lot of anxiety and stress for them. As you get older, there’s more anxiety. It works better when you start them younger. 

TF: Can you tell me a little bit about your process of opening and expanding JAM in New York City? 

LZ: It’s been a big learning curve. I’m not a business person by any means. We had to start with all the business stuff: creating a business account, creating an LLC, and then came the advertising part. 

TF: Why do you think programs like Playbook are so important in today’s classroom? 

LZ: I think that there needs to be a lot of resources that make things like jazz accessible to everybody. When I was doing my music history lessons, there was a lot of disconnects, because I was asked to teach classical music history. The only genre they did connect with was jazz because I was able to relate how we got from jazz to here. I think it’s really important to have those resources and platforms for not only kids but adults too. So that they can understand, appreciate, and adapt it to whatever musical interests they have.


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