Oh, jazz up that teaching, man!


March 17, 2011 by Willy Cardoso

There’s so much we can learn about teaching simply by looking outside of the teaching world.

A few minutes ago I was thinking about an orchestra and I started to picture it as a classroom. Where is the teacher? hmm… the teacher must be the maestro, the conductor.

Why? He sets the mood, the rythm… tempo and dynamics. How important that is for a teacher as well, “to manage the dynamics of learning” — sounds grandiose, and scary…

The conductor has also planning and managerial duties. He needs to know the curriculum, the syllabus, the lesson plan!

It seems teachers and maestros have quite analogous responsibilities to the smooth running of their working environments and endeavours.


then I was thinking (a few minutes later), “how boring!”

“how old!” -it is to think that a teacher is a conductor, and that the students are sitting in rows reading something they’ve already seen and done many times, with other people next to them doing the same thing — plus, it’s already there! no novelty, improv, dialogue!

hey wait — improv?      dialogue?


A classroom is not a pompous concert hall, it’s just a jazz joint   (just a jazz joint, I repeated this a couple of times to myself, ’cause it sounds so nice, j-j-j, just’ jazz joint)

So, here’s a new stage to picture – but the same question: Where is the teacher?

I can’t find him! But he’s somewhere… not standing out now – he’s blended in. It’s a jazz improv, the syllabus is nothing but a short whistle, a slender melody, that can be twisted, subverted, accelerated and joyfully played with by off-the-cuff hands and minds.

Here’s an example:

(if you don’t want to listen to the music, skip to 3:10 – there’s a brief interview)

The interviewer asks: What happened to the melody?

and later adds:   Are trying to get rid of the melody?

(How’s that?? it’s like are you trying to get rid of the coursebook? get rid of the syllabus?)

Billy (the pianist) is aware and smooth, like some teachers I know, he gracefully answers:

No… just embellish it a bit .. put our own personality into it.

Next time someone complains about having to teach the curriculum, follow strict syllabi and hundred-paged coursebooks, you can say:

Think jazz!




11 thoughts on “Oh, jazz up that teaching, man!

  1. David Warr says:

    Great post. what a musician! Thanks for including it.

  2. smmmmmmmmmooooooooooth…. 😉

    and cooool, of course.

    Great post. And a great tune.

  3. I echo the thoughts of David and Marián above.

    Love how you go outside the profession to bring more to the profession!

  4. Cristina says:

    Wow, fantastic analogy! 😀
    What should I add to such a dense and bright post? *begins to hum a jazz tune :)*
    Luckily for me I do not cover the curriculum – I encourage kids to DIScover knowledge around and within them. Or so I hope.

  5. Mirian says:

    I couldn’t agree more…sometimes I feel trapped by a coursebook I don’t like and syllabus that mean very little to students. I try, as much as possible, to make the classes more fun, customized, otherwise I myself can’t stand being in the classroom!

  6. Josh Round says:

    Love this post Willy!
    Great music, hilarious interview after it!!
    And nicely compared to the ‘trap’ of the course book – we have to avoid it by going ‘freestyle’…
    Yeah, jazz-teaching!! Love it!!!

  7. Alan Tait says:

    Lovely! This would be the Billy Taylor who did Hymn to Freedom, I guess, used by Barry Norman on the BBC film programme?

    Sounds like the old-timer is to square to dig the groove, daddy-o.

  8. Just came across your blog – like it and love this post!

    My own project is looking at teaching through the concept of Hip-Hop. There’s the freestyle element of Jazz impro as well as the ‘bottom up’ aspect of how knowledge is produced. Plus the call-and response/dialogical aspect.

    No coincidence that both musical forms came out of oppressive environments…

    If you’re at all interested, please check out http://rapclassroom.blogspot.com/ and let me know what you think!

    • Thanks!
      I took a look at your first posts and I like them. There’s a lot to write about in the mix of education and music, lots of interesting metaphors and artful analogies. Not only about the music we like, but also the ones we don’t, after all there are many hypes in education too.
      Good luck with the blog!

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