Standards for Jazz Band - TQ Project

This past week, our Vertical PLC chose to use Teacher Quality funds to spend some time developing standards for our 7-12th grade jazz bands.

Teacher Quality History

Teacher Quality is a program enacted by SF 277 in 2007 to provide funds for teachers to engage in professional development. Ankeny chose to implement these funds by allowing us to apply for the money to be used:

to support current goal work and Individual Teacher Professional Development Plans focused on one of the following:content

  • specific professional development,

  • further development of Professional Learning Communities,

  • research-based instructional strategies, or

  • Ankeny Instructional Framework.

Each team can use the Teacher Quality money to link directly to their Iowa Teacher Professional Development Plan (ITPDP) in one or more of the following ways:

  • To pay for substitutes (subs can not be used on Mondays or Fridays) for peer observations in or outside district,

  • To pay for substitutes to attend a conference,

  • To pay for off-contract time to engage in new learning (i.e. - book study) and to plan for use of the new learning,

  • To purchase professional resources to support continued learning based upon the ITPDP, and/or

  • To fund a unique or differentiated plan which fits within the goals of improved student learning. If your team has differentiated professional needs connected to your ITPDP, please visit with the building principal for guidance.

We have used the TQ money to help fund our attendance at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago each December. This year, there were additional funds available, so we applied for time and resources to meet as a PLC and establish power standards for our 7-12th grade jazz bands.

The What

Much of the time we spent worked backwards from the top high school group (Jazz Collective) to our first groups (7th Grade). As team, we identified the skills we wanted students in Jazz Collective to be able to do:

  • Read notes and rhythms in a variety of styles (swing, latin, funk, fusion, etc.)

  • Improvise by:

    • Altering the Melody (syncopation, iteration, displacement, augmentation, diminution, repetition, truncation, ornamentation)

    • Using Riffs

    • Outlining Chords

    • Using Scales (pentatonic, blues, bebop, modes)

    • Play all 12 major scales using swing articulation with alterations

    • Play individual part independently within section and ensemble

    • Rhythm Section - improvised comping from slash notation/lead sheet

    • Woodwind - doubles on flute/clarinet

We then worked backwards from these skill sets through our different ensembles (Jazz Studio, 9th Grade, 8th Grade, 7th Grade) to identify what was going to be taught when.

The How

Specifically, we wanted to focus on the rhythm section instruments. A lot of our work together came from my class with Mike Steinel - Developing a Successful Jazz Ensemble, Steve Shanley and Wendy Morton's clinic at the 2015 IBA Conference entitled You Don’t Know a Thing ‘Til You Teach a Sixth Grader to Swing, and Mark Wessels' method book - A Fresh Approach to the Drum Set.


First, we started with bass! Mike Steinel recommends helping students build a pattern from the chord symbol either ascending (1 2 3 5) or descending (8 7 6 5). If we take a look at a bass:

The vertical column beneath 0 represents each of the open strings of the bass from lowest sounding (top string) to highest sounding (bottom string). The numbers across the top row represent each of the 12 frets. The notes in the cells below represent the possible notes on each fret. The red dots correspond to those on the neck of an electric bass.

Mike recommended using different scales to correspond to different kinds of chords:

  • Major Scale = Major Chord

  • Dominant Scale = Dominant Chord

  • Dorian Scale = Minor Chord

  • Locrian Scale = Half-Diminished Chord

  • Whole-Half Scale = Full-Diminished Chord

With the help of my classmate and colleague, Jim DePrizio, we were able to build some finger patterns for each scale pattern:

Then using Mike Steinel's Essential Elements for Jazz Ensemble (page 12 for bass, page 61 for director), we were able to build a basic blues line:

This progression should start on the E string, 6th fret. Because of the design of the bass, moving to the IV chord just means moving up a string! The nice thing about this progression is the last beat of measure 8 (F played with 4th finger on the A string, 8th fret) is the same as the first beat of measure 9 (F played with 2nd finger on the A string, 8th fret)!

You'll notice that if a chord repeats, we change direction. If the student isn't ready, they can just repeat the same pattern. We also get some easy transitions if we start descending instead of ascending:

Piano/Guitar Again taken from Mike Steinel, much of what we do on piano is able to be transferred to guitar. We want to build chords in the left hand to leave the right hand free to improvise or augment our comping. There are two categories of chords Mike recommends:

Middle C should always occur between fingers 1 and 5. Right Hand can play triads, octaves, descending 4ths from the root or the 5th, or improvise.

If the chords are progressing by:

  • 4th/5th - change categories

  • 2nd/7th - keep categories

  • 3rd/6th - choose category (potential shift)

All of this corresponds to Essential Elements for Jazz Ensemble (page 12 for piano/guitar, page 61 for director).

Drums Due to the vertical nature of our teaching, we have a resident percussion expert in Dr. Jake Thieben! Jake showed us a lot of great material out of Mark Wessels' method book - A Fresh Approach to the Drum Set. Specifically, we wanted to look at how to setup different figures.

Next Steps

Moving forward, we need to determine how we are going to implement these standards and strategies in each of the different ensembles. How are we going to ensure students develop into jazz musicians capable of playing in Jazz Collective and/or after high school? Using TQ funds, we purchased a few perusal copies of a few different resources:

We are looking at how to implement these method books as a way of teaching the standards we identified above. We are also looking at creating a library of video/audio to demonstrate sound concepts for big bands and soloists. The biggest first step will be to spend time with our rhythm section players before and outside of rehearsals with the full jazz ensembles.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.