Charlotte Mason and Jazz

As I began compiling thoughts on the topic of jazz music for composer studies and music appreciation I felt pulled in many directions!  Should I post about history?  Should I post about specific composers?  Should I take more of a music element approach?  All of these topics could easily fill up a long blog post! For you, as a busy homeschool mom, I am going to try to be concise and touch on each topic for you to read and implement in your home classroom!  My purpose for you in this post is to put something in your hands that you can immediately go to your “classroom” and experience the joy of jazz music with your children!  (Our “classroom” is the kitchen table, living room couch, and sometimes even our car!)

Charlotte Mason and Jazz music

Charlotte Mason and modern jazz music never really met.  There were some roots of jazz rhythm in the early 1900’s in Europe but if you look at PNEU programs you will find it is all dominated by Western Civilization Classical and European Folk music.  It is a benefit to our day and age that we can pull sources from all nationalities and cultures!  Although jazz still exists as a cultural representation of the West, the roots of African history instead of European nobility within the USA are what distinguish it as a more modern art form.  It is also important to note the influence of African rhythms and music in our folk music heritage through Spirituals and Gospel music.  I hope that you will take the time to explore these important musical genres with your children and share the appropriate historical facts!


A phrase I continually think of as I educate my children through the principles of Charlotte Mason’s writings, is “spread a feast.”  I want to expose my children to all the wonders and pleasures of music, poetry, literature, science, history, and more!  In Volume 6, she writes:

As for that aesthetic ‘appetency’ (to use Coleridge’s word) upon which so many of the gentle pleasures of life depend, it is open to many disasters: it dies of inanition when beauty is not duly presented to it, beauty in words, in pictures and music, in tree and flower and sky. The function of the sense of beauty is to open a paradise of pleasure for us; but what if we grow up admiring the wrong things, or, what is morally worse, arrogant in the belief that it is only we and our kind who are able to appreciate and distinguish beauty? It is no small part of education to have seen much beauty, to recognize it when we see it, and to keep ourselves humble in its presence.

-Volume 6, page 56

So, the question is…. how do we present this aesthetic?  In the same way that many Charlotte Mason communities advise, pick a composer for 1 term, study an important piece from that composer’s life over a two week period, and allow students to immerse themselves in the music.  Dance!  Move! Sing along! “Open a paradise of pleasure” by turning up the tunes!  I have compiled a list of 6 important songs in the American Jazz genre that I hope you will enjoy with your families!  I have included a Youtube link, my thoughts on the piece, and some external links of possible picture books to use with your children!

Duke Ellington Take the A Train. 
This piece clearly paints a musical picture of a train!  Listen to the driving rhythm and train whistle played by the notes of the piano!  Duke Ellington was a legend and there are some quality picture books available that go along well with composer study! I love this one!

Duke Ellington It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing. 
Swing is an important term in jazz music. To demonstrate the difference between “straight” and “swing” there are various drumming videos on YouTube that you could watch.  I like to play an example of “straight” rhythm for them to play rhythm sticks, of other percussion instruments and then listen for the change to “swing” and adjust their steady beat playing! There is a jazz standard you can look up (Miles Davis My Funny Valentine – this link ) At minute 4:10 the band plays a very straight rhythm while MD improvises on trumpet.  At minute 4:35 the rhythm changes to swing. There are other examples throughout the recording if you want to listen for them all!

Miles Davis So What. 
This is one of my all time favorites!  While we listen I let the kids move around and sing under their breath “so what” when you hear that recurring interval.  Another fun movement game to do with kids is let them walk in one direction but when they hear the “so what” they freeze and then have to change directions!  It’s a great lesson on understanding phrase length and spatial awareness! Here’s a nice picture book to extend a lesson on Miles Davis.

Louis Armstrong What a Wonderful World. 
Another iconic jazz standard! There are some beautiful picture books to go along with this song!  Enjoy the music for music’s sake!

Charlie Parker Bebop. 
There are a lot of subgenres of jazz music!  Bebop was popular in the 1940s and was not intended to be dance music, but music that could showcase the technical skill of jazz musicians!  I enjoy the picture book “Charlie Parker Played Bebop” by Chris Raschka.

John Coltrane Giant Steps. 
Again, Chris Raschka has done a great job introducing this song and composer in a wonderfully illustrated picture book!  Many of these instrumental jazz standards are a great example of form. In classical music we may call the main theme the “A section” and in jazz music we call it the “head!”  Listen to the piece and identify how many times you hear the band play the main theme!

I hope you enjoy presenting jazz music to your children and I would love to hear your favorite recordings and how your family studies modern music!



RaeAnna Goss is a homeschool mama that has been teaching music to elementary children since 2002.  She also teaches Solfa video classes. You can find more information on her blog: