What is Jazz - A GCSE Music Poster

Resource added: 24 April 2023

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Jazz is a fusion of African and European music which developed in the USA in the early part of the 20th century. 

Specifically, Jazz emerged in the African-American communities of New Orleans, with its roots in blues and ragtime, as well as traditional European harmony and African rhythmic rituals. It really rose to prominence in the 1920s, with the period even being known as the ‘Jazz Age’.

Jazz played a huge part in diversifying American culture in particular, from raising the profile of African-American and Jewish musicians to bringing female performers to the fore. The genre gave us some of the most influential musicians that ever lived, including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, to name just three. 

If your GCSE music students are learning about Jazz as a genre, then this free downloadable poster could really help them to remember the key elements of Jazz!

What’s on the poster?

The poster outlines the main elements of Jazz that students need to remember and specifically covers the areas of harmony and tonality, metre and rhythm, tempo and structure, groups and instruments used and texture. 

Harmony & tonality

There are a few key things to remember when it comes to harmony and tonality in Jazz. Firstly, as Jazz developed, the harmonies became more complex and this is now a key distinguishing feature of Jazz.

Jazz also uses lots of minor and major 7th chords and chord extensions and often uses dissonance too. 

Metre & rhythm

Early Jazz tended to use a 4/4 time signature but as it became more complex, other time signatures. Now, a variety of time signatures are used in Jazz. 

And Jazz is known for its use of complex rhythms, including triplets and dotted rhythms. 

Tempo & structure

Jazz developed from blues and ragtime and, as it was evolving, many Jazz musicians were compelled to push the rules and experiment with the music. This has led to a number of different styles, each with their own characteristics in terms of tempo and structure. 

For example, swing and bebop both feature a very fast tempo. And free jazz, which developed in the 1950s and 1960s, is notable for the fact that players in the ensemble all play at different tempos. 

One thing that is common in Jazz is that it tends to feature break sections which are used to link short solo passages to the chorus. 

Groups & instruments used

A key feature of Jazz is the way vocalists use improvised scat singing to imitate instruments. Aside from that, different styles of Jazz tend to feature slightly different makeups of ensemble. 

For example, a Jazz band will often include a trumpet, trombone and clarinet, as well as a rhythm section consisting of a bass guitar, drums and keyboard or guitar. Whereas a swing band will usually include saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section. And a Jazz trio will usually be comprised of a pianist, bassist and drummer. 


In terms of texture, again, this has changed over time. Early Jazz featured a more homophonic texture but this changed to a more polyphonic texture as Jazz became more complex. 

Another key feature of Jazz is the use of stab chords, which are short, staccato chords that usually last for one beat and are played by brass instruments. 

We hope you find this poster useful for your students. If you do have a jazz ensemble, or you would like your students to learn more about jazz, you may like to consider a music tour to a city with a great jazz scene, like Paris, Budapest or New York!

For any further information, or to request a tailor-made quote, please don't hesitate to contact us