Reflections on the Use of Movement to Teach the Metric Feel of Jazz Swing

October 21, 2010 / By: Stephanie L. Tatting Peoples

The intent of this study was to investigate the effect of movement instruction on the rhythmic feel of triplet swing in jazz music with two fifth-grade beginning concert bands for four 50-minute rehearsals each.  The guiding research question was “How can I present movement instruction to help my students feel basic swing meter in jazz music?”  Three major components of basic swing meter in jazz music were used in the sub-problems: maintaining a steady pulse; emphasis on beats two and four; and swing eighth notes.        

Through action research, the researcher planned and taught lessons incorporating movement to teach the basic feel of jazz swing.  She and two other music professionals observed videotapes of the lessons, wrote reflections, and gave scores to solo and small group student performances.  Reflections were used to revise each subsequent lesson plan.

Themes evident across all of the expert’s reflections included: Students engaged in every lesson plan; Teacher demonstration promoting focus and appropriate responses; “Doo-DAH” syllables and movements corresponding well with heavy and light feelings of the music and students successfully moving to them; the appropriate age or stage of development for a band student to instrumentally perform in the metric feel of jazz swing was brought into question (especially beginner brass students).

Findings in this study suggested that movement helped students play while maintaining a steady pulse.  18 out of 23 performances had an average steady pulse score of 6 or above on a scale of 1-9.  Perhaps some performers did not score higher due to struggles with tone production and pitch production that new instrumentalists sometimes experience.  Most students demonstrated the steady beat with macrobeat movement while listening to and vocally echoing triplet swing music.                      

Results were inconclusive as to whether movement helps students swing eighth notes.  16 out of 23 performances had an average swing eighth note score of 6 or above on a scale of 1-9.  The band with better attendance and practice habits only had one average score below 6.  Perhaps these habits eliminated pitch and tone production obstacles (common for beginners) that could interfere with rhythmic accuracy.         

Findings in this study suggested that movement helps students emphasize beats 2 and 4.  Throughout all of the journal entries this theme emerged: “Doo-DAH” syllables and movements correspond well with the heavy and light feeling of the music and students seem to be successful moving to them.