Teach Jazz 101

Count Basie Orchestra

Duke Ellington Orchestra

Glenn Miller Orchestra

Benny Goodman Orchestra

Stan Kenton Orchestra

Woody Herman Orchestra

Charles Mingus Big Band

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra

Boss Brass

Maynard Ferguson Big Band

Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra

Maria Schneider Orchestra

Download Warm-up Exercises

Warm-ups in jazz band are an opportunity to build technical skills that will be of great benefit to young musicians, particularly as they work on their improvisation skills. Major and minor scales and chords, modes and blues scales should be part of a regular jazz band warm-up.

Younger musicians should focus on having the four most commonly used band key centers (Concert Bb, Eb, F and Ab) well “under their fingers” while high school aged musicians should aim to play these exercises in all 12 major keys. 

  • In straight and swing styles, play all major scales to the 9th degree ascending and descending and include the 7th degree below the root. (See Ex. 1) 
  • As a more advanced variation on scales, have students play them with the following pattern: 1 to 5 to 1 to 5 to 1 to 9 to 5 to 9 to 5 to 9 to 1-7-1  (See. Ex 2) 
    • Each of these exercises includes a basic ii-V – I progression for the purpose of working on tuning as being able to hear and identify this very common jazz progression. Either have students choose chord tones to play or assign them a chord tone.
    • You may also consider adding rhythm elements to this standard progression instead of just playing quarter note, quarter note, half note. 

To further technical development, try and include having students play minor scales in harmonic form using the same pattern including tuning the minor ii o – V – i chords. (See Ex. 3 & 4)

Major and Minor Blues scales are also valuable scales for students to learn in a variety of keys and should be included in warm ups.  

  • The formula for a Minor Blues Scale: 1 b3 4 #4 5 b7 8 b7 5 #4 4 b3 1  (See Ex. 5)
  • The formula for a Major Blues Scale: 1 2 b3 3 5 6 8 9 b3 9 8 6 5 3 1  (See Ex. 6)

More advanced players, typically high school, should include scales and chords that come from the modes of the major scale.  

  • 1-9-1, 2-10-2, 3-11-3, etc.  (See Ex. 7) 

This may seem like a lot to do, but by tackling a little bit over an extended period of time students will gain good technical facility as well as a better understanding about chords and scales and their application to improvisation.