Resources and Research

PlayTheGroove – Pedagogies, Guidelines, and Ancillary Resources

Bringing New World Jazz to Music Education with Educationally-Grounded Methodologies.

Content and Curriculum: Richard J. Frank

February, 2020

PlayTheGroove Explainers:


Practice and Performance Guidelines:


What is PlayTheGroove?:  

I and a team of esteemed educatorsdesigned this new teaching method that helps music students integrate the skills of sight-reading and playing by ear, as well as creative expression, right from the start. When you can experience the reward, you want to do the work. I call it PlayTheGroove because that's what you do. This ground-breaking music education methodology is designed for teaching dynamic, modern jazz and world music to middle and high school ensembles. It's non-linear; Our goal is to make teaching and learning rhythm-based music more relevant, accessible, inclusive, and engaging than ever before through proprietary prototypes of content using several modern compositions

To start, though, PlayTheGroove is addressing secondary “jazz bands” (live/horn/pep bands with a rhythm section) with established programs and post-beginner aspiring musicians. With PlayTheGroove, we encourage “teaching to” moments as the ensemble, and individuals need. Our content-based on real music from real CDs from real players will challenge post-beginners through advanced players.

"Content" (to us) = These items include sheet music for all instruments, the mp3, methodologies, PD videos, guidelines and other resources. 

   -TOC- to return to the master index

About Richard J. Frank:

Richard Frank has been entrenched in the entertainment industry for 20+ years as both a professional musician and a successful business development executive.

Richard received an AAS degree from Onondaga Community College, a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Southern California (USC), took numerous graduate-level courses at USC, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Educational Technology at the California State University Northridge (CSUN). He is a professional acoustic & electric bassist and played with the Harry James Orchestra and The American Youth Symphony under the baton of Maestro Mehli Mehta. This led to manager and development positions for the AmericanYouth Symphony which ultimately led him to produce a one-hour PBS documentary entitled Maestro Mehli Mehta and the American Youth Symphony with Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Midori, Robert Merrill, host Walter Matthau, and several others. Additionally, he co-wrote and co-produced two groove jazz CDs under Present Tense entitled "Night Shadows" and "Smooth Talkin'" featuring Eric Marienthal and Alex Acuna. He is developing PlayTheGroove to bring relevant and accessible modern jazz and world music to secondary music ensembles. For other information, please view his LinkedIn Profile and Academia profile

To “educationally-ground” PlayTheGroove’s content, methodologies, and approaches, Richard undertook several graduate-level directed research studies were executed at the University of Southern California (USC) revolving around PlayTheGroove’s modern content and approaches.

Currently, Richard is pursuing an M.A. in Educational Technology at the California State University Northridge (CSUN) where he is exploring the use of technology in music classrooms that promote and prioritize performance on real instruments and voice. Given the rise of technology in musical creation and expression, he is also exploring “smart” uses of digital devices to heighten engagement and address other modes of learning.  Furthermore, digital devices such as smartphones and tablets can be musical instruments as some schools may not have established music programs with ample “real” instruments. There is a lot to explore - ideas are welcome – please share.



Especially in this day and age, privacy is a big concern to all of us. Regarding names and emails, we only require this information from teachers so we may correspond during the practical study and occasionally email updates in the future – you can ask to be removed anytime.

No student information is requested or required in any way.

If you, the teacher, would like to be closely involved with PTG moving forward, we are seeking advisors for ideas, suggestions, and further beta-testing of charts (free).


How PlayTheGroove works:

In typical music classroom settings, most students never play the melody of a tune. PTG starts there.  With our proprietary unison-based sheet music, PTG is inclusive for everyone: horns, strings, woodwinds, vocals, brass and an expanded rhythm section (all doubling encouraged).

For the “rhythm section” (bass, drums, and keys and/or guitar and/or vibes), multiples of each are also welcome as there are multiple parts to choose from - some melodic, some chordal, and some reinforcing the rhythmic groove.

Do you have trouble finding music for your ensemble because you can’t find the right arrangement for your instrumentation? PTG solves that issue while bringing inclusivity, engagement, and creativity to the forefront. The goal is to engage youth in performance ensembles with music and music education methods that are relevant and accessible to them.

Advanced groups will also benefit but probably in different ways. Once everyone learns the melody, harmony, groove, and form of the tune, the depth of each one can be explored in incredible details. More understanding of theory and harmonic structure can be immediately applied to improvisation. Small ‘chamber’ groups can be created. Arranging of charts can be further explored and not just basic form and staggering of instruments, but arranging the tune and instrument harmonies to match the ensemble. 

Teachers can be immensely creative with the flexibility PTG suggests.



Continuum of Teacher’s and Class’ Disposition:

PlayTheGroove was designed and created to be highly flexible to reach a wide range of classroom situations and teacher dispositions. However, our approach by no means limits the depth of music teaching, playing, mastery, or exploration that can be explored. This is the “continuum” we are referring to, and it refers to everything, the teacher, class as a whole, individuals, time spent, emphasis on performance, creativity, technology, administration's position, and almost anything else. 

This is not about being right or wrong, it about being open and flexible with your teaching approaches to your ensemble to match the music’s genre with proper teaching methodologies. Youth learn differently today - music education needs to innovate along with it.

The type of teacher and class that will be interested in doing this trial program will be looking for new content and solutions to engage aspiring “jazz-band” musicians. Every teacher will be on their own continuum regarding:

  1. Frustration with the lack of modern music and lack of flexibility of other approaches (or just can’t find fitting materials).
  2. The inclination to try new approaches (early adopters),
  3. Interest in giving their students a) more ownership of their work, b) more decision making and c) more personal investment in the outcomes,
  4. Spending extra time with their students to discuss the options, activities, and potential benefits of this approach,
  5. Exploration of new tactics in choosing music,
  6. Allow students to drive their own learning at their pace (of course guided by the teacher), and
  7. Open to considering (and this is optional and flexible as well as driven by the teacher’s experience and interests) cross-curriculum exercises like creating pie charts and allowing small group activities leading to student’s teaching to expand and connect music to other disciplines. Music and math, Music and English (writing a paper or review)… Math and Science tbd!


With all of the above, it’s the teacher’s choice, with student’s buy-in, what they want to do, for how long, and what degree of depth they want to dig into. That is the continuum or spectrum we speak of.

We believe movement on the continuum is good as it shows trying new approaches and making adjusts on what works and what doesn’t work. And it doesn’t mean right to left is better than left to right. Sometimes everything is taught by ear with some teachers – they can use PTG to help with reading music – that’s right to left.


Who, currently with this pilot program, is PlayTheGroove for? 

  1. Secondary Jazz/pep/horn/live bands with mixed instrumentation with a rhythm section (think jazz band).
  2. Post-beginning and intermediate groups - advanced groups will also gain a lot from playing the music (and perhaps even focus more intensely on improvisation and other fundamentals).
  3. Big Bands of all levels to focus on new styles, improvisation, theory, warm-ups, and jams.
  4. Teachers that want innovative engagement options and flexibility to address their groups.
  5. Teachers wanting to form combos (jazz chamber groups) from the larger ensemble.
  6. Ensembles wanting to play current/modern genres of jazz and world music.
  7. Teachers wanting inclusivity: No one needs to sit out.


Desired Participating Ensemble & Teacher Requirements:

  1. Rhythmic-based (“jazz”) ensembles consisting of a bass, drum, and keys or guitar with a fair level of proficiency at their instruments. Multiple players on each instrument are OK.
  2. For this pilot program, and our limited repertoire, PlaytheGroove requires the players to have some experience playing. 4-6 months and knowing the concert Eb, Bb, F, and C scales are suggested for the easier tunes. A basic reading of notes is helpful, but not always necessary.
  3. Styles in the group can be swing jazz, funk, fusion, Latins, rock, blues and the like.
  4. Post-beginner horn players to play the melody – any brass, strings, vocals, and woodwinds welcome. (Best tune for young players is Smooth Talkin’ – the others get more challenging).
  5. Possess adequate gear for the rhythm section (drum set, keys/piano, guitars/bass and amps) and horns/wind/string instruments.
  6. Music notation reading is helpful but not required.
  7. Have a play-back/stereo system in the classroom to play an MP3 file at a decent volume.
  8. Have web access to preview songs and download/print sheet music. Students can participate in picking the song to play which encourages ownership.


What Participation Entails:

  1. Mostly – this requires an open mind. Seriously, what we are asking is you partake in this pilot program at face value and push judgments and opinions aside. The biggest two items that may come up are: a) “This will never work,” and b) “I’ve already tried that before.”
  2. A Growth Mindset as set for by Carol Dweck. Simply give this a chance, like cooking a new recipe. Your first meal was probably mediocre by Wolfgang Puck’s standards (let’s see him take over your class!).
  3. Be patient with yourself and the students. Say “This is a test class – as much as it is for me and you, let’s just roll with this and see what happens.”
  4. Trying ideas. We would like you to try our ideas first. As they are immensely flexible for different class situations and complexions, mix things up as you see fit. Just do it.
  5. Communication with your students and the researcher. Ask questions. Contact the researcher if questions arise.



There are FOUR main phases to this beta-testing of our prototype: Listen - Download – Play – Perform.

  1. LISTEN: To begin, a student-driven activity is implemented where they will be instrumental in helping to pick an educationally-grounded song they will perform. You, the teacher, will have a voice too and guide the process (hopefully not dictate it). Applying critical thinking to listening for the students deepens awareness of music, involves them in the choosing of what music to play, and instills “ownership” of the music to raise engagement.
  2. DOWNLOAD: Getting the sheet music and guidelines is an easy online process with the printing being done by the teacher (or parent volunteer) using plain 8.5 X 11 paper.
  3. PLAY: The song is streamlined for immediate student success. However, there is much work that can be done pending experience and time allotted to the song(s). We would like to encourage fresh pedagogies to teach the fundamentals of the song, and music in general, which relate directly to the song being played. 
  4. PERFORM: The song(s) can be performed in a few days or a few weeks pending groups skill level. It’s NOT meant to be even close to perfect. We suggest a simple performance for their friends – even in the band room at lunchtime to start. We call these the “Band Room Sessions” and the onus of putting the performance on the students as another learning process.


Personal Observations of Existing Jazz Program

After taking part in and observing numerous public & private school music programs and jazz festivals, PlayTheGroove creator and founder Richard Frank had four key takeaways: 

  1. Most music teachers love teaching music, they teach from their own experiences and repeat their approaches. This results in a reluctance to explore new music, approaches, and methodologies that may expand their own awareness and relevance and accessibility of their efforts to more profoundly influence their young musicians.
  2. Rhythmic music being taught and performed in secondary classrooms is predominantly ‘jazz’ and rooted in genres from the 1930s-60s. There is little authentic content and methodologies to experience and present modern music, including modern jazz or world music, of this century and recent past. It is not available for diverse situations and does not encourage inclusivity.
  3. Teaching methodologies and approaches, due to the nature of the music and history, are implemented from a top-down, conductor to group approach and often limit the creative or nurturing student-centered approach. Furthermore, the occasional teaching of current music is usually not “authentic” in approach or intuitive.
  4. Rhythm-based "jazz band" classes are often non-inclusive, audition-based, and adhere to the standard instrumentation (4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes, and rhythm section). In most cases, students were excluded who could not read sheet music and had limited experience. Additionally, directors did not allow for any duplication of parts in practice or performance.
There are certainly many exceptions to these four points. We believe that validating modern jazz and world music through educationally-grounded presenting principles will strengthen the resolve to innovate rhythmic music education.

Some Solutions: Great, current music. This is our #1. This is missing from existing catalogs. It simply doesn’t exist how we are envisioning it. We’re developing the initiative PlayTheGroove to be a simple, fast-acting, and creative approach where teachers and aspiring musicians can discover and play accessible contemporary jazz and world music. PTG seeks to encourage the individual to explore and develop themselves and their world through music.

My Conclusions: Education constantly needs to innovate, or it becomes stagnant, outdated, and obsolete. Music education also needs to innovate to reflect today’s youth and to incorporate modern thought. The music and methodologies used in secondary rhythmic music education classrooms today are largely outdated by 50+ years in many situations.  Music in the world changes every day with new artists releasing new material most of which will never see a classroom. We want to change that.



Research Completed: To be educationally-grounded, PlayTheGroove was developed over the last 5 years with input from several professors at the University of Southern California, put through 60+ clinics, research studies, and countless conversations with students and educators. We are not “snake-oil salesman” by any stretch of the phrase. 

Note: To educationally ground PlayTheGroove, we researched and wrote the PTG Classroom Curriculum to the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) and the National Association of Music Education (NAfME) guidelines.

We completed while studying at USC:

  1. Primary Research with 11 schools and 256 students,
  2. Secondary Research of contemporary academic research, and
  3. Current World Music in Music Education and its Influence on Global Cultural Diplomacy.

The next major research undertaking will be through CSUN through this nationwide beta-testing Pilot Program:

How do PlayTheGroove's digital and analog approaches and methodologies for teaching, learning, and performing modern jazz and world music affect the music classroom environment? How does PTG affect student learning and engagement? How does PTG affect teacher confidence in their transfer process when presenting unfamiliar songs and genres


Revolutionary Elements: PlayTheGroove defines revolutionary as it’s ability to significantly move a teacher or student from one set spot on their continuum to another. Some teachers may have never asked their students to help choose songs to play – doing that once (and with some regularity) would indeed be revolutionary. Apply this to many elements contained in PlayTheGroove and ‘revolutionary’ is inscribed all over. 

Here are some broad elements that are also innovative:

  1. All tonal instruments play the complete melody. Sometimes students have never played the melody in 12th grade. That’s pretty huge. They can mix it up any way they wish.
  2. Each song's unison sheet music is formatted and developed the same way. Consistent looking sheet music and consistent availability of parts give teachers confidence in playing new genres and experimenting in new ways. This is possible as teachers and students will not be tied down to figuring out a chart and how to play it—they will be able to create their experience.
  3. PlayTheGroove’s approach is scalable for any size group with a rhythm section and requires very little professional development for the basics. We anticipate creating easy to follow guidelines and videos to show these steps as well as more advanced ones.
  4. PTG can help shift the status quo. We all become “comfortable” with what we know and what we think we know. Small shifts like having your musicians create their own arrangement of the song the first or second day.
  5. Technology in music is not going away. Incorporating some technology for at-home activities may inspire “non-interested musicians” to become more engaged – albeit in different ways.
  6. Breaking into small groups for creative problem-solving address standards as well as empower youth to solve problems and present solutions.
  7. Encouraging listening more than simply playing notes can also be a significant shift.

These examples and many others are what PlayTheGroove is seeking to effect. What will be your findings?  Please share.


Utilizing Open-Ended Questions to Motivate Students: 

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 gets the mind work: "What is the meaning of life?"

PlayTheGroove is modular now - 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, try them again and again, but you're not over-invested in the outcome.

Enter PlayTheGroove's take on open-ended questions. 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 or a regular 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 ….”

It's superb if you'd like to dive into this deeper.

But 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?  Not sections, but what makes a song sound like a song?”

Responses need to get to melody, harmony, rhythm… and form is a bonus! perhaps just ask for ONE aspect. Then ask all those players (don’t say), and have them play it.  "What's missing?" 

For the song-choosing activity: "What led you to choose that song?"

After a song run through: "What worked and what didn't work?"

"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 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 do you bring to someone elses band?

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?


Since I'm a big fan of continuums, you can use this last one in a million ways:

What is your understanding of _________________  on a scale of 1-10?  What makes you think so?  What can you do to raise it 1 number?

How prepared for the next rehearsal are you on a scale of 1-10?

How well do you know the melody (__________) for the next rehearsal - on a scale of 1-10?

With a performance coming up in 3 weeks, where are we now - on a scale of 1-10?

What can we aim for for a week from now? What does that look like?  What do you need to really commit to that?

Things like that. 

First person to send me an email with "PTGHero 12356" in the subject line gets a $10. Starbucks card!!


A few things about Unison Charts: 

Unison charts, under quick observation, may not appear complex? Or do they?

When evaluating music for your students are you factoring in 1) Student Ownership, 2) Critical Thinking, 3) Collaborative and Project Based Learning, and 4) Playing a song in one period for an immediate success to achieve “a single point of reference?”  We are.

What about all the music fundamentals (theory and improvisation for example) and music chart rudiments where everyone needs to be on the same page – every time? What about simply developing a repertoire for your ensemble where you can have 2-4-10 songs ready to go at a moment’s notice? And get to a performance for peers in as little as a week, or 2 or 3.

If the perception that unison charts are easy, shorten the time to master them… with the right feel, unique arrangement, spot-on phrasing, and articulation. If created purposefully, unison charts can be easy to get success and enthusiasm flowing, but they can also be very complex to master. Large groups can break into combos for more isolated voices. And learners can practice writing a harmony part or take a crack at a full harmonized arrangement (lend them some scores to study).

Our unison charts emphasize all of these “educationally-grounded” principles of music. And when songs are being learned for the first time and up through high school and even college, PTG’s unison charts and methodologies provide the backbone that can be applied in numerous situations that simply playing notes on a page can’t match.

As a teacher, what you choose to present and the depth you want to go is your choice. Every one of the above elements is on a continuum. From 1-10 (with 10 being most creative or most inventive or most inclusive or most experimental or most understood), where are you with your class on each of these? 

Can they improvise?

Do they all know basic theory or improvisation?

Do they collaborate?

Can they arrange a tune?

Apply critical thinking?

Embrace and demonstrate student ownership?

Learn by listening or reading notation?

Every artist in the PlayTheGroove library is a professional in their own right (every recording musician on the records are equally as good). Most are nationally or internationally touring musicians and have recorded with well-known artists. They are touring and playing today. They write and make music for events, television, and films.

And they all play unison charts. They all write them. And they all ‘up’ their performance chops every time they play them to make them sound unique and fresh every time.

That’s the promise and goal of PTG’s Unison Charts.

By the way – we’re just starting with unison charts. We do have harmony combo and big band charts in development. Our approach: Get them all to play the melody as one, with everyone really feeling and making the groove and then graduate to harmony charts. The sequence will make a lot more sense to the youth and will create cohesiveness (and you always have the unison charts for those special situations).


Achieving a “Single Point of Reference” in one period: Patrice Rushen, Chair of the USC Popular Music Program and Advisor to PTG, coined a phrase that denotes our initial intent of achieving a “Single Point of Reference.” By playing a complete song in one period allows the ensemble as a whole to have a solid starting point from which to grow and expand from.

This meant to be an immediate success. Revolutionary?  How often do your groups play a complete song in one period?

Of course, every individual in the ensemble will be in different places (their own continuum) and have their own challenges to contend with but as a group firmly on a continuum (from 1 to 10 with 10 being totally ready). Pending your musicians, this could be a 1 or a 3 or a 5 if they are quite good. Thinking as a group you know where you are and may know how to get to the next step (we’ll help don’t you worry).

A second reason for playing the song in its entirety in one period is an immediate class success! This can be huge. To themselves, it will sound quite good, and there will be a general sense of excitement and accomplishment having achieved that goal. And since this is student led and student driven, this is a real success for you and them to be proud of.



Teachers and Students Self-Assessment of themselves and the group:

Teachers can self-assess where they are on each of the following items. The 1-10 scale will be relative to a pre-college "understanding" of each of these and related to rhythm-based "jazz" music.  An 8 in classical theory doesn't equate to an 8 in jazz theory.

Think of "jazz" structures for each. If you don't know what this means, you're probably more towards the left. That's OK. It's where you are.

At some point, after a couple of days on a song, each individual can self-assess where they are on their continuum which will help to show where progress is needed. Consider having students self-reflect on the following elements (and others you wish to add):

Scale: 1 - Very little knowledge/understanding/ability, 4-6 Adequate (decent understanding), 9-10 You really know your stuff (this is all relative of course, a high school 7 is different than a college grad 7, which is different than a 10-year pro). If given to a high school class as a self-assessment tool, the class can discuss each and set a scale (guided by you).


Melody                    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Harmony                 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Rhythm                   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Theory                    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Form                       1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Improvisation          1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Articulation              1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Intonation                1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Arranging                 1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Collaboration            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

Small Group             1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

_____________        1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

_____________        1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

_____________        1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10

This is a simple activity for individuals to “self-assess” from a critical perspective. The first time is where a student finds themselves on the continuum now. “Progress” can be shown by how far a student moves from the left to the right on each of the elements.  The process will help the teacher, student, and the class identifies important things to work on. Focusing on just a few elements on the list is fine to start (based on a song or overall playing can be ascertained collaboratively) – work another set on a different tune and keep refining over time. This is a form of metacognition – the awareness and understanding of one's own thought process.                                                                                                                                

To download a Word doc framework, please click this link. Please adjust it as you see fit. The goal is to get your class to self-assess themselves and the group to help drive what needs to be worked on. Note: opinions will change – some people are purists while others are more flexible and malleable to goals for themselves and the group.


Feel and Mastery:

We all want our students to strive for some level of mastery on their instruments. Some teachers may like to focus on mastery from the start to avoid developing bad habits. No doubt this can happen, but the upside to a class enjoying “making music,” and not be “corrected” for every attempt or mistake, is what we’re aspiring to with PlayTheGroove. After all, with most people never playing music again after high school, and a really small percentage ever go on for music in college or professional performance careers, it begs the question what is the goal of your program for your students? So, what is the goal of your program?

We ALL want the music to sound good and the players to achieve some level of mastery on their instruments. You can do that with PlayTheGroove. Or consider PlayTheGroove to be your place to experiment with new ideas that may just produce results that you weren’t expecting. Developing critical thinkers, creativity, collaborative learning skills, leadership skills, teachers & presenters, confidence in voicing thoughts and opinions, and so many other characteristics of a well-rounded citizen may be what your students respond to. You can always exercise your ‘normal’ approaches with the ensemble with another repertoire.


Getting Quickly to a Performance:

How long does it usually take your ensembles to get to a performance? A month? 2 months? End of the semesters only?

We’d like to empower you to get to a performance quickly - in as little as 2-3 weeks from the first session. Let’s not over-stress about this, put that on your aspiring musicians. The trick we firmly believe is to emphasizing “feel” over “mastery.” Feel comes from the heart and grasping the groove, precision (mastery) for aspiring musicians comes from time, practice, attention to rudiments, and pain-staking fundamentals. Professionals excel in both.

A performance emphasizing and prioritizing “feel” is totally acceptable especially if there is a less discernible and relaxed audience. That is the thought behind the “Band Room Sessions” for friends and even family if time allows. Performing and recording are two areas in music where concentration is amplified. Practice at home has distractions like TV, phone, and family. In school, the stakes are quite low as there is little pressure until concert time. Performances build confidence, understanding, and awareness. If a ‘band-room session’ bombs it’s because the focus and commitment fell apart. However, the chance for success is high as the stakes are rather low. The learning curve is a bit steep the first time, but 2-3 weeks later add in administrators and other teachers to raise the stakes and do it again!  And 2-3 weeks after that play outside at lunch. Advancing the performance situations, while further developing the feel and the playing mastery, will push the rehearsing accordingly and in a complementary fashion.



Some ideas for class sessions after the first session:

The first session may take most of a period. It’s to play the song all the way through for that “single point of reference” and class success. Then what?

Layering: Our musical definition of layering is having instruments come in one at a time where they become “layered” on top of each other. This usually happens in the rhythm section, but it could certainly start with a riff or horn figure. There are no rules to this – have the students suggest different layering orders. If it sounds good, it works! BTW - this IS arranging, pretty easy right? It’s a start, and they didn’t even know they’re doing it.
One outcome that seems to automatically happen with layering is that listening and attention are amplified. There is pressure on the next voice to fit in with those that came before – this is not only in feel but volume, articulation, phrasing etc. Try this: Have the drummer start and slowly layer in 3 to 4 parts and observe the result.  Ask the students for comments on that. Then, have the drummer come in last and see how the dynamics change. And then, have everyone start all at once. Each trial can be started by an ensemble member, not the teacher.

Developing the Feel: One reason a group sounds better when parts are layered is that the feel of each part as it is layered on better matches the feel of the part(s) preceding it. By the time the melody comes in the rhythm section is more “locked in” hence the melody will lock easier.
Try starting the group all at once and note the “feel.” (just play into “A” and quit).  Next, layer the instruments in; start with any rhythm instrument and play into “A” and quit. Hear a difference? Point this out to the ensemble and ask “what do you think makes the difference?”

Try this experiment: Determine a set order to the layering (it can always change in the future), 1st time ask the 1st person to emulate the recording as much as possible and hear how all the parts respond. The next time ask the same person to “try a new feel.” Try a 3rd time with yet another approach.

Working with mixed-level ensembles: This can be a big issue with some ensembles which include seniors playing with beginning freshman who are just starting, or some that take private lessons playing with those that don't, or those that driven to practice more than others. We want them everyone to grow and feel comfortable growing from wherever they are in the process. Naturally, you know your students best and you can evaluate the situation as not all students respond equally. Consider these ideas, choices, and activities you can use with PlayTheGroove charts:

1) In reality, most professionals on combo gigs usually get only the C-melody part. Ultimately, serious-minded players need to read (and fully interpret) their part from the “C” lead part. Give your better players just the C lead chart (Cbc play can play treble clef) and ask them transpose their own part in their heads and on the fly. 

2) Have stronger players learn the song by ear from the beginning and memorize the chart (and chords/form…). 

3) Let these advanced musicians learn to play other instruments such as percussion, drums, bass, add'l keys parts... Fill what you need to balance your ensemble. 

4) Rhythm players have a tendency to play what feels comfortable; basically, what they know. You can always say: “Play exactly what’s on the recording, the paper is just a guide. Work on this at home. Emulate those musicians. Go to YouTube and find their videos…”

5) Stronger players can mentor/instruct younger players. This reinforces leadership and responsibility (under a teacher's watchful eye).

6) Whether it's 2, 3, 5, or 7 outstanding players, challenge them to for a jazz chamber group. Duets, trios, quartets on up is a whole different level of challenge. Have them choose a different and harder tune for their own school segment of a concert. Let them direct their own experience and drive their own progress (under a teacher's watchful eye).


Class Schedule (suggested framework):

If "teaching to standards" is important to you, to educationally ground PlayTheGroove, we researched and wrote the PTG Classroom Curriculum to the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) and the National Association of Music Education (NAfME) guidelines.

While we encourage innovating your classroom interactions and teaching processes, most of what we suggest is a framework. YOU know your classroom and students best. Day 1 is the only day to try to adhere too to LEARN THE SONG. Everything else reinforces what they are learning to progress the song's mastery and establishing sound educational fundamentals.

Being a bold teacher and wanting to try new concepts to engage your students, click on this link and print these 2 pages. Again, this is a framework that we’d like you to adhere to as close as possible for the first few times

Day 1 - most of the class period (up to 50 minutes pending class) - everyone learns the song per the PTG approach. Makes a new arrangement and plays the song all the way through – unconducted.


Encourage home listening and playing to the recording (3Xs each) - 30 minutes - break between other homework or between exercises (time management skills to expand on here).


Day 2 (not necessarily successive days but within 2-3 days from 1st session to be fresh) - Play recording, play tune with recording, run some exercises (cacophony or scales in key), play tune again (all in 20 minutes). Discuss that “The next PTG class we will break into smaller groups and work on separate things - or the same thing - to see what ways you come up with.” “Groups can be random or pre-arranged - or we will try both.”


Discuss the groups and subjects the day before executing them. Then just do it!


If anyone asks “why are you playing the recording so much?” Answer with something like “The goal is to emulate – copy – the sound and style. As a drummer/bassist/etc… really listen to their parts, pick up licks and phrases. If playing the melody, listen to the phrasing and articulation. That’s what we’re after. The recording is the teacher.”


                  This is particularly helpful if teaching these genres are foreign to you.


Day 3 Play recording and play tune and then commence breaking into small group activities as pre-determined the day before. Say something like:


“The goal is to develop some solutions to your challenges and present/teach them to the class which we will all try.”


“Let’s arrange a Band-Room Session” performance. In 2 weeks, I need the class to convene here at lunchtime to play these 2 songs. You need to invite your friends. The small groups need to plan this and make it happen.”


“After your group presents, each of you will need to join another group, listen, and come up to speed quickly, and then contribute.”


Small groups (combos or chamber groups) can change the rules – new feels can be introduced as well as new phrasings. OR NOT – perhaps you want them to emulate for a few weeks before experimenting. Small groups can be designed as such. Play both at a performance by the same group!


Day 4 Perhaps start song #2. You know your flow, so your class planning will be smoother.


Note: Each of these will vary in approach and complexity pending song and level of musicianship/maturity. Some of these can be over a period of days - spend 10 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday. Present Friday.


Small Group Breakouts


Goal: Designed as problem-solving opportunities (please see Richard Laprise's excellent article: What's the Problem? Exploring the Potential of Problem-Based Learning in an Ensemble Setting in Music Educators Journal, June 2018), we want to encourage situations that challenge the student to ‘solve-for’ specific or general problems around and using music. This can be actually playing music and elements thereof, societal implications, or even using music to relate to other worldly issues.


Critical thinking, collaborative learning, peer-assisted learning, communicating instructions or imparting ideas to the class are all challenges to individuals and groups. These involve aesthetic judgments/decisions around the music and prompt preparation to communicate them to others in some digestible way.

The concepts below are brainstorms on initiating Small Group Breakouts in a classroom situation. The goal of each of these is to encourage leadership and individual voices with a direct application in solving musical challenges to forward musical situations. The bigger goal, hopefully, is that skills learned and experiences applied through this effort - which is a unique component of music - will be applied to other situations that are non-musical.

There is a lot to explore - ideas are welcome – please share them with us. These are ideas to develop and run with while keeping your class sensibilities in mind. These are not set in stone, not much is with PlayTheGroove.


These Small Group Breakouts are meant to be non-conventional in design and structure. These are not playing sectionals! They are also meant to be interchangeable between groups - or alternated between songs, so people get different learning experiences. We want to encourage a large berth of flexibility and design with the concepts to work for situations unbeknownst to us due to local situations and predicaments.

Structure: Ideally 3 to 5 people. If adopted for regular use (once a week perhaps) these groups could be consistent or random in makeup. After the group meets for 5-10 minutes, the class reconvenes, and each group may “teach” or presents in some way their element back to the class. This too can be staggered. One group may be able to present after one break-out session (like learning a riff as a group or a unique arrangement), whereas other things may require a few sessions to hone on ideas (ideas to start improving). All TBD.


Note: teachers DO NOT need to know how to address each of the activities below – nor do the students. This brings in elements of “Informal Learning” where solutions are simply created and experimented with. Do more of what works and adjust what doesn’t work. That’s “iterating” in entrepreneurial speak.



Warm Up Exercises - using the scale of the song develop 2-3 class warm-up exercises to become fluent with the scale, extending ranges, tighten up the melodic rhythm, sequence the scale to aid improvisation.

Basics of Improvisation - perhaps guide the group to encourage a) rhythmic approaches or clapping first. b) pull rhythmic phrases from melody and start there, c) perhaps pull the better improvisers together for this one and have them “think back” to when they started. d) put one good improviser with a group of beginners to come up with some ideas.

Arranging the tune - explore solid or other unique ways of starting the tune. (besides layering, perhaps the whole band starts the last 8 bars then cut to intro). Not everyone needs to play all the melody all the time – that’s so that everyone learns the melody. Solo instruments or small groupings may want to start, with another group play another section.  Then everyone plays a section… *Have students suggest different instrument combinations of sounds and play the song, or sections, again to demonstrate. 'Blending' can be experimented with. 

Melodic rhythm exercises - groups takes the melody and devises rhythmic exercises.

Articulation exercises - determine the… - length of notes, phrasing, etc… and really mark up a section of the music… and demonstrate to class first (?).

Practice sections of the melody or groove to get a solid unison section happening, the purpose of the group is to devise new ideas for the class and run them! Don’t just repeat the ones done previously in class

New melody ideas for “A,” “B,” “C” … Can be just 4 bars as starting points

Sound production - use outside or unusual sources/instruments to create unique music sounds that contribute to the song in some way.  Homemade percussion instruments is a possibility, smartphones or other technology.

Background riffs over a song - pending song and level

Choreography - What!? While we're revitalizing how we learn to play and explore music, let's explore different ways to present it. Choreography is about flow. Whether 1 or 4 PTG songs in a performance, how they flow and tell a story and flex the attention of the audience is important. Sitting in one place and just performing can get a little boring... how about a short verbal presentation introducing the artists? What about having soloist - or groups of percussionists walk to the front of the stage or mix with the audience? Small groups can explore choreography.

A problem with strictly performance driven ensembles is that many youth just don't feel confident if the learning environment is too strict in that way. Having other ways to shine in a music class can reveal hidden strengths of individuals and keep them engaged while still contributing to the big picture of making music in all it's parts like using tech, arranging, composing, promotion, choreography... SMALL GROUPS may help bring out these hidden strengths if we pay attention.






SMALL GROUP TECHNICAL or CULTURAL RESEARCH (engage and outside of class):

Basics of Theory - Scale and basic chord (1-3-5 only to start). Show chords leading tones up a full octave plus. Plan exercises to convey the theory but put it into action through exercises… lead to soloing ideas.

Technical - Are there challenges the class is having where a small group of techies can shine to help others?  Even the teacher?

Artist’s history and background? What impact, if any, has this on the music?

Cultural or historical perspective if how/when the music was composed or reflects. What impact, if any, has this on the music?

Artist’s Past influences with musical examples. What impact, if any, has this on the music?

    Can this cultural deep dive be presented to an audience before a performance?




Small groups can be fun! Each of these can be read out loud, discussed as a class, torn into strips (rewrite if you want), put in a hat and each group chooses one. The class can pick the top ones that interest them. Some may be too hard or not relevant to a tune, you have choices. Feel free to ask the students to suggest small group breakouts.

With the above possibilities - perhaps only 3 or 4 are chosen to try or better yet, come up with your own that fit the needs you see and hear. If there are 20 melody instruments, you can have 5 groups of 4. NOT all need to be done – 25 students is 5 groups of 5, or 6 groups of 4…


These groups can be spread out over a larger classroom, break into practice rooms, police themselves if research at home is needed, or wherever...

Teachers - during this whole process you are simply walking around and listening. Occasionally they can sit in and ask “open-ended questions” to promote thinking and encourage everyone’s participation.

Some groups, like cultural/artist influences, can use cell//computers to research artists on PTG - or online search.


Esteemed Advisors and Creative Team

Patrice Rushen, Ph. D. - Patrice is an award-winning musician and composer who is also one of the most sought after artists in the music industry. She is a classically trained pianist who originally found success in the 70’s and 80’s with her signature fusion of jazz, pop and R&B. During this era, she composed and recorded the hit song, “Forget Me Nots,” which has been frequently covered and sampled by other artists. Rushen is also a four-time, Grammy nominee who has composed scores for movies and television. She has been the first female musical director for many of the entertainment industry’s top award shows, which include the Grammy Awards, the Emmy Awards, the People’s Choice Awards, the NAACP Image Awards and HBO’s “Comic Relief V.”

Brian Foley, Ph.D. - Brian is a Professor of Secondary Education at California State University Northridge. His research looks at uses of technology in the classroom to promote learning particularly in science education. Recent work looks developing teaching methods for using science classrooms through the use of collaborative documents. Before coming to CSUN, Brian completed his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley and worked at the Caltech Precollege Science Initiative and at UC Irvine.

Tony White - Professional jazz musician, musical director, teacher, and philanthropist, Tony is one of those all-around talents whose mastery of the tenor sax, soprano sax, alto sax makes him the perfect headliner as well as the perfect mentor. As coordinator of the LAUSD Beyond the Bell program, he recruits music teachers for high schools with outside arts partners in music, visual arts, drama and dance to help focus their resources in schools that welcome the arts into their curriculum, and acts as a liaison between the Grammy Foundation and LAUSD students who are interested in full-time careers in some aspect of the music industry. He visits colleges and universities with composers, entrepreneurs, agents, lawyers and other behind-the-scenes professionals to allow students to rub shoulders with future mentors and/or bosses.

Chris Stevens - Chris is a performing musician with over twenty years of experience at Long Beach Polytechnic, a six-time Grammy Signature School, and has long been a leader in the education of the next generation of performers and artists. He graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from CSU Fullerton, and earned his teaching credential at CSU Long Beach. He directs the jazz program at Long Beach Poly which includes over 120 students in 4 different curricular classes. He recently finished an extensive service on the board of the California Alliance for Jazz in various capacities, including President. Additionally, he directed the SCSBOA All-Southern Junior High Jazz All-Stars in 2007, and the Orange USD Middle School Honor Band in 2016. He has presented clinics on various topics at SCSBOA and CASMEC Conferences, as well as adjudicated many jazz festivals.

Judy Lewis, Ph. D. - Judy Lewis is an assistant professor of Music Teaching & Learning, and director of the new K-12 Contemporary Teaching Practice Master’s degree program at the USC Thornton School of Music. Prior to her appointment at USC, she taught general music in elementary and high schools in the United States and Israel. She also served as assistant professor of music education at Queensborough Community College, NYC, senior lecturer in Popular Music Songwriting and Artist Self Promotion & Marketing at the Musrara School of Music & New Media in Jerusalem, Israel, and senior lecturer in Popular Music Performance at the Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance in Jerusalem, Israel. She holds degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University (EdD in Music & Music Education) and the Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance (BA and MA in Music Education). Her main research interests lie in the areas of critical pedagogy in music education, popular music listening and composing, and social justice in music education. Her scholarly writings have appeared in Philosophy of Music Education Review, School Music News, and Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain.

Aaron Kohen - Aaron Kohen graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Geography and pursued his Masters of Music Education at the University of Southern California. He has taught music at the elementary, middle and high school levels in LAUSD and LVUSD since 2000. Mr. Kohen studied violin, trumpet and finally bass in his youth, leading to a love of instrumental music. He has performed and recorded as a bassist with jazz groups, orchestras and rock bands, composed music for concerts, films and commercials, and taught bass privately for 15 years. Mr. Kohen teaches all levels of jazz at CHS and is the co-director of the Music Program.

Alexander Koops, DMA - Alexander Koops was born and raised in Jos, Nigeria. He holds a D.M.A. in Music Education from the University of Southern California, with minors in theory, orchestral conducting, and horn performance. His dissertation materials on introducing composition in middle school and high school bands and orchestras have been used by multiple schools in southern California. He completed his B.A. degree in Music Education from Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) and his M.M. degree in Wind Conducting from the University of Colorado (Boulder), where he studied with Allan McMurray. He has also studied voice and opera conducting with Nicholas Laurienti, former Artistic Director of the Denver Opera Company. Additionally, he has a chapter published in Composing our Future, (Oxford University Press, 2012), and was a contributor to Musicianship: Composing in Band and Orchestra published by GIA in 2013. Koops was awarded a Fulbright grant in 2012 to teach at the Jazeps Vitols Latvian Academy of Music in Riga, Latvia. 

Ken Foster - Kenneth Foster is a nationally recognized arts leader with more than thirty years of experience as an arts administrator, curator, educator and performing arts presenter. Immediately prior to coming to USC in 2013, where he designed, launched, and now directs the Arts Leadership program (ARTL), he was the executive director of San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) for ten years. During his tenure at YBCA, he transformed the organization into an internationally recognized center for contemporary art, performance and social activism. Additionally, Ken wrote the book, Arts Leadership: Creating Sustainable Arts Organizations.

Tony White - Tony White is the coordinator of the Visual and Performing Arts for Los angeles Unified School District's Beyond the Bell arts program. As coordinator of the program, he works with before and after programs in LAUSD, recruits music teachers for high schools with outside arts partners in music, visual arts, drama and dance to help focus their resources in schools that welcome the arts into their curriculum; acts as a liaison between the Grammy Foundation and LAUSD students who are interested in full-time careers in some aspect of the music industry. He visits colleges and universities with composers, entrepreneurs, agents, lawyers and other behind-the-scenes professionals to allow students to rub shoulders with future mentors and/or bosses. By working tirelessly he hopes to engage students in wanting to have a future, to have a sense of commitment and teamwork, “to hone their craft and make a better way for themselves.”


Need More Ideas or Help?

Contact me – let’s talk.

Subsequent rehearsals can include more experimentation, song/part refinement or some combination of both as each presents opportunities for learning and creativity. Personally, I’d avoid being to regiment and stringent as that may stifle creativity… at least with youthful fingers and minds. In music, experimentation and self-discovery are vital to encourage creativity. For example – the layering order can be experimented with every time the song is played. It doesn’t have to be written in stone for 3 weeks. In fact, it is the spontaneity of the layering order which will inspire independent voices and encourage listening on the bandstand come any playing or performance situation.

Pending your group, you can lock in an arrange a few days or week before a performance. Or not, do it that day or have the audience choose! Break that 4th wall.

From this point on (which is optional-not part of the survey), the goal is song refinement and breaking the tune down in a while always relating what you are teaching back to how it makes the tune better and how to understand it in a relevant and deeper way.  For example, breaking down the groove and melodic rhythm will tighten everything. *Do some exercises and play the song again.

Working on the scales inherent in the tune will help with fingerings. Add articulation and intonation to bring clarity to the melody and solo ideas.  Do some related exercises in the song's key and play the song again.

Emphasizing student choices on form puts the onus on them to be creative and listen to each other -- especially if the tune is not conducted.  *Initiate some form conversations and play the song again – student controlled.

You can do literally anything to mix it up and challenge the minds.

Learn the scale of the song. Learn some theory: Ask "where in the song do you see these notes together?"

Then learn the chord basic 1-3-5. Then ask “Where do you see these notes in the melody?” “What are the notes around the chord tones?”

Get in the habit of asking "What worked and what didn't work?" or "What would YOU like to try?" or "What would make this sound better? Tighter?" 

The less you give the small groups to work with the more they have to create their own solutions and approaches. We don’t mean to encourage any Lord of the Flies situations in a classroom. However, informal learning combined with some direction on a fitting level challenge encourages a group attitude to solve problems. Add in “time” to work on it, and they just may yield some results that may surprise you and them. Repeating the activity another time will allow for students to learn more on their own before the next session. 

Small groups meet with action goals being: 1) explore and learn what each person may know and can contribute, 2) lead toward codifying the knowledge for class presentation, 3) if to be continued, make a to-do list of who needs to do what, 4) prepare for teaching to class, and 5) Teaching that subject to the class.


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PTG is a platform that can start where a teacher is and expand as needed. If you’re looking to grow and expand – in regards to rhythmic band music - we’re here to help, please contact me directly:

Richard J. Frank
CSUN - M.A. in Educational Technology