NAfME Standards: 5 Works that Highlight PERFORMING

Nafme Standard Performing


We’ve had educators ask us to add a post highlighting the NAFME standard of PERFORMING. For this one we have decided to focus on repertoire within PLAYBOOK. Here goes our 4th and final installment of NAfME Standards: 5 works that highlight PERFORMING.

Essential Questions:

  1. How do performers select repertoire?
  2. How does understanding the structure and context of musical works inform performance?
  3. How do performers interpret musical works?



MU:Pr4.1.E.5a Select varied repertoire to study based on interest, music reading skills (where appropriate), an understanding of the structure of the music, context, and the technical skill of the individual or ensemble. 

The Riff Blues presents a great opportunity to dig into two essential aspects of jazz music and improvisation. 

  1. RIFFS: We often talk about music being a conversation. In instrumental music, this can be difficult to conceptualize. How can a conversation exist without words? The riff is a great place to begin. Think of a musical riff as the same as a sentence: “How are you?”, “I feel good!”, “When are we going to New York City?”. Can we take our “How are you?” riff and follow it with the “I feel good!” riff? Now we’re having a conversation! BONUS: Your students can build on this conversation by adding lyrics to their riffs.
  2. BLUES: The 12-bar blues is the most common form in jazz. The more we hear and play it, the more we will understand it. It’s a great form for any level of improviser, from beginner all the way up to Charlie Parker. The form holds space for everyone to express themselves. 

MEET THE BAND is a 12-bar blues that is great for any intermediate to advanced ensemble. It features various riffs in the style of Count Basie’s Orchestra. In addition to being a great song, there is the ability for students to build their own riff as well.


MU:Pr4.2.E.5a Demonstrate, using music reading skills where appropriate, how knowledge of formal aspects in musical works inform prepared or improvised performances. 

This is a fun chart students always enjoy playing. A few of the elements I want to highlight — 

  1. KEY: This song goes back and forth between G major and G minor, giving students the chance to practice parallel keys. 
  2. PLUNGER TECHNIQUE: The brass section will be using their plunges on this piece in the written parts – melody and soli. It’s also a great chance to explore using a plunger in the improvised sections. 
  3. SAX SOLI: Short, but some great 
  4. BACKGROUNDS: Students have the chance to use written backgrounds or try creating their own riffs under the double time solo section. It’s a great way to build on the ideas of MEET THE BAND.
  5. THE BASS LINE: Our bass line is a core element of the song. Rhythm section musicians will not only use it to build the groove, also use the written material as a jumping off point during more improvisatory moments. Our bass line is the theme. What can we do to create variation?

MU:Pr4.3.E.5a Identify expressive qualities in a varied repertoire of music that can be demonstrated through prepared and improvised performances. 

This was built for beginner bands, but it’s concepts are relevant for all levels. When a student performs SYNCOPATION BLUES, they go beyond learning their part in the arrangement. They learn the song (see Practice Field Materials). This means students are versed in all the elements of what happens. They can play the melody, feel the groove, hear bass function and harmony in relation to the form, and so on.

Since all students will be familiar with the same core materials, they can more deeply express and think about how they wish to perform the piece. Deeper expression only happens when we have a strong command of the source material. 

  1. YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE (JAZZ 101 + Level 3)

MU:Pr5.3.E.5a Use self-reflection and peer feedback to refine individual and ensemble performances of a varied repertoire of music. 

Both arrangements of YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE on Playbook support 1) Self reflection 2) Peer feedback. Part of the reason I recommend this song is its familiarity. Since many students have heard this song (and can even sing it), they are more able to critically think about what choices to make during a performance. 

Version 101

In this version, every student will learn the melody and practice improvising using their song packet. Since all students on all instruments will partake, we push aside the idea that a jazz band is 15 concert band musicians reading parts and 3 students taking all the solos. Here everyone gets to express themselves. 

Level 3

The trombone section is featured on the first melody. The trumpet and saxophone sections can hone their performance and decisions during the soli at H.

*One note – Self reflection is to help us improve. Don’t let students get caught up in being mean to oneself. I’m no good. I’ll never be good. I’m not as good as that person. Similarly, it’s not a time for students to bully others. The trombones are dragging – they always drag. Nip that stuff out right away. 

Frame reflection as part of the artistic process. We are experimenting much like scientists. If you don’t make any errors, you don’t make any discoveries. One way to help students improve their self reflection is by critically listening to other music. Ask “What do we like about this recording?” and frame the responses as “Let’s add those elements to our band”. Teach them to listen: How cool is the Freddie Green guitar sound on Count Basie records? Isn’t it cool how the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra blend across sections? Let’s try to do that!


MU:Pr6.1.E.8a Demonstrate attention to technical accuracy and expressive qualities in prepared and improvised performances of a varied repertoire of music representing diverse cultures and styles. 

Composer and pianist David Linard’s LEMONS pays homage to the Cuban composer Pepe Sanchez. It is a Bolero: slow, danceable, and filled with emotions. It has technical challenges in all parts. Unlike many swing charts, brass and woodwinds are grouped together in unconventional ways. Rhythmically this piece requires high accuracy. Students music intently focus and listen for the many moving parts, calling and responding to one another. Lastly, I want to mention this is the only piece within PLAYBOOK with a true featured soloist who plays the melody and solo throughout the arrangement. Charlie Parker’s Bird with Strings or Stan Getz with String are great references. Good luck!

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