Educational Approaches to Presenting PlayTheGroove’s Content

New Music. Easy Process. Dynamic. Fun.

Energize Your High-School Jazz/Pep/Horn Band

Every teaching situation is different. A teacher’s background of education and playing experience vary widely from intimately knowing full-on classical music to concert band, jazz, pop, or folk. And student’s experiences vary as well from what style were played in previous groups and styles they listen to with friends or influenced by home life and family cultures.
Additional, teaching styles range wildly from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” to encouraging student’s self-learning styles on their own and strictly playing by ear.

Learning Choice

PlayTheGroove addresses each of these situations through immensely flexible charts and pedagogy that can be determined, tried, and adjusted on the fly. The following chart presents these concepts on a continuum from ALL AURAL to ALL READING. There is NO right or wrong. Your learning objectives are your choice. We do, however, want to emphasize modern educational processes of ownership by exercising students’ voices and choices, and where the 4Cs (collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication) can be utilized to help reinforce 21st century learning skills.




Step One: Choosing Song With Two Main Approaches:

(J - something like this will be consistent for each choice above - we interactively start to eliminate all the other chatter/noise).

1) Teacher chooses the song (perhaps best for an “All Reading” approach, or first time with PlayTheGroove – choosing easier for a success!).
2) Students choose the song – instill ownership through ‘voices and choices’ (perhaps teacher ‘pre-selects’ 3 to 6 songs before proceeding with 3-2-1 activity).

Attraction to groove
Level of challenge
Goals of the playing situation
Learning objectives

Cultural objectives
Past experiences (teacher & students)
Group Instrumentation
Intended audience

For both: the song choosing process needs to account for several subjective factors including:
Suggestion: Get student buy in (student weighted): have mutually agreed upon goals (song and outcomes) and timeline.
(J- Click for a 2019 example (need to revise a LOT… a teacher’s private “code” (to give to students for privacy and ability to view just their classes results, as well as how they compare and add to every school’s student’s and teacher’s anonymous choices, can be used as cross-curricular activities — math/ statistics in music education!)).

(J - something like this will be consistent for each choice above - we interactively start to eliminate all the other chatter/noise).

Grasp Framework to MOSTLY AURAL

Most Aural

Notes: Instruction starts with no sheet music as recorded music is emphasized.
Before introducing real sheet music, some student transcriptions of their parts is a viable goal.

Frameworks: 1) In-class, 2) Blended/flipped, or 3) Remote (different approaches for each).

Blended/Flipped and Remote: Feedback loops are strongly suggested with audio and/or video clips part of student deliverables.

Teacher/Student DAW Periodic Compilations: Performance videos may be more enticing to produce, but virtual recordings can be assembled much easier and quicker. Video takes ample computer resources and decent software (or a volunteer or money), whereas audio compilations can be done on Audacity, GarageBand, or some other DAW (still takes work though). Learning objects can be adjusted accordingly.

Mostly Aural

General Notes: Introductory lesson plan uses recorded music as the guiding resource.

Sheet music is introduced after pre-determined aural-only goals are met (ie playing song, transcribing parts, exercising feedback loops, etc).

Real music introduced as an addendum to playing. As needed (used to check student work.

Approaches: 1) In-class, 2) Blended/flipped, or 3) Remote (different approaches for each).

Mostly Aural

In-class: Song is broken down into parts, like intro, few measures of A, few more, same for B etc. Class listens followed by trial and errors picking up specific parts. Singing lines, rhythms, and grooves is a great place to start. Sections slowly put together.

In due time… sheet music introduced as listening peaks… allow periodically or brief views or full on reading.

Blended: Same as in-class but parts learned individually at home with feedback loops established. Sheet music introduced at key points.

Come to class and play solo parts and as sections for teacher feedback.

Sections slowly put together.

Remote: Students learn sections of the tune individually (audio for 5-7 days then give sheet music), establish feedback loops, come together with staged audio tracks or videos.


Maintaining periodic solo and group recordings is key to show improvement across all benchmarks. Also, recordings are timestamped and offer proof of effort. But the biggest reason is heightening concentration that happens during recording (and performances). Noting before and after specific steps can be played backed and discussed. Individual submissions of audio and video clips can be submitted. Any live final performance is also recorded and discussed.

Obviously this can be a lot, but periodically is a good idea to keep students on their toes.

Utilizing Inquiry-Based Questions to Motivate Students: (the trick is NOT talking after asking the question)

Inquiry based questions allow for heightened student engagement.

There is nothing revolutionary about open-ended questions. No doubt you’ve used them before or even in your everyday teaching. If done purposefully, they can be incredibly thought-provoking. Think of the rhetorical question that always get the mind working: “What is the meaning of life?”

PlayTheGroove is supplemental – it’s not meant to be a complete curriculum and pedagogy for multiple levels in an ongoing fashion. We’re just not there yet. We say this as it’s a GREAT way to practice and experiment with new ideas as you can freely try new ideas. You can try ideas again and again without being over-invested in the outcome.

As we are emphasizing student-led over teacher-conducted, open-ended questions is a great way to elicit critical thinking and motivating students to take responsibility for their own learning and ownership of their experience… under your watchful guidance.

Here’s a question that will get their neurons bussing

“What do you think we can do individually and as a class get this tighter?” Then stop talking and listen – ask it again if needed.

That’s it. Play a passage, any passage of a PlayTheGroove tune. Ask the question and remain quiet. Perhaps ask it again.

Kevin Tutt wrote a terrific paper: Using Questions to Teach the National Standards in Rehearsal. Kevin and I started emailing and I asked the question: “What percentage of teachers use open-ended questions in their teaching?” And his reply: “Few teachers use open-ended questions, and as the teacher evaluation system pushes more and more towards “measurable” effects, they will be pushed to be more directive, not more inquiring. Sigh ….”

Here are a few of my favs I use that you can experiment with: 

Play a song and ask: “We just played the song, what are the THREE main aspects to a song? What makes a song a song?” Or “Why is a song a song when jamming isn’t necessarily a song?” 

Responses need to get to melody, harmony, rhythm… and form is a bonus! perhaps just ask for ONE aspect.

For the song-choosing activity: “What led you to choose that song?” “What key aspects were important to you?” “What wasn’t important?”

After a song run through: “What worked and what didn’t work?” Or. “What would YOU like to try to make it better?”

Or try a few of these from the Open-ended Questions for Advancing the Musician by Jake Hertzog, May, 2012 


  • What kind of music is your favorite to listen to? 
  • What kind of music is your favorite to perform? 
  • How will what you are practicing now be different than what you practice next year? 
  • What are your musical goals? (Playing, writing, recording etc) 
  • What are your non-musical goals? (career, lifestyle, relationships, etc) 
  • What are the characteristics of great music? Groundbreaking music? 
  • What do you value more, creativity, or perfect execution? 
  • What makes you a great musician? 
  • What do you need to work on most musically? 
  • Would you prefer to play every night with someone else’s band, or once a month with your own band? 
  • What types of personal satisfaction do you get from music? (artistic, egotistic, self-identity, etc) 
  • What is the most appealing thing about pursuing a music career? 
  • Could you achieve that satisfaction if you did something else for a living and just played music on the side? Why or why not? 
  • What makes you special as a performer and player? 
  • What are your specific challenges on your instrument? 
  • Why is it important to study older music? 
  • Where would you like to be in 10 years? 
  • Whats more important to you, fame or credibility? 
  • Who or what has been your most influential teacher? Why? 
  • How organized are you on a scale of 1-10?
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