Lesson 2: Scatting in “Take the A Train”

Aim: How can scat singing introduce new patterns in jazz music?
Summary: Students imitate some simple scat patterns and learn about context for “Take the A Train” by Billy Strayhorn.
Materials: Musical Explorers CD or online audio, Musical Explorers Student Guide
Time Required: 30 minutes (three 10-minute activities)
Standards: US 1, 2, 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 4.2, 5, 7.2, 8, 9, 11; GA 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9; SC 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Vocabulary: scat, phrase

Review “Blue Skies”

  • Review improvisation with your class.

    • Remember, improvisation is when you create something new on the spot.
  • Review the chorus of “Blue Skies” with the class. Listen to Track 17, which features a new version of the melody using nonsense scat syllables instead of words, such as “Doo-wah, shoo-bee-doo-wah”.

    • Scatting is improvising with your voice using “nonsense” sounds. Listen to what Kim is singing. Can you think of some other nonsense sounds you could use to sing the same melody?
  • While following the contour of the melody on SG18, ask your students to sing the melody with the scat syllables instead of the words.
  • Practice this new version of “Blue Skies” with the class until they are comfortable singing the scat syllables. Ask the students to point out any patterns they hear in the scat syllables.

Listen to “Take the A Train”

  • Teach the students the melody to “Take the A Train,” Track 18.
  • Ask the class if they have ever taken a train or bus. Explain that this song was inspired by the subway in New York City, which helps people get from place to place. Sugar Hill is a neighborhood in Harlem, which is a part of New York City where Billy Strayhorn, the composer of this song, lived.
  • Listen to the full version of “Take the A Train,” including Kim’s improvisation, Track 19.
  • What did you notice about the words? What are some of the nonsense sounds Kim used?
  • What did you notice about the melody? How does the shape of the melody change?

Take the A Train

You must take the A Train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem
If you miss the A Train
You’ll find you’ve missed the quickest
way to Harlem

Hurry, get on board, it’s coming
Listen to those rails a-thrumming
All aboard! Get on the A Train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem

Imitate Scat Patterns

  • Using the scat version of “Take the A Train,” have students sing the melody while Kim sings her scat improvisation.
  • Now using the scat version of “Take the A Train,” Track 19, have students imitate the scat phrases sung by Kim. Explain that a phrase is a short portion of the melody. Encourage them to recreate Kim’s syllables, as well as the pitches she sings. Notice how she repeats the scat syllables and makes patterns out of them.
  • As the students become more comfortable, ask them to follow the contour of the pitches with their hands. Their hands should move up as the pitch rises and down as the pitch falls.
  • Listen to “Take the A Train,” Track 18. Encourage your students to listen for the scat patterns they have just learned. Discuss the patterns the students noticed after listening to the recording.

Creative Extension: Create Your Own Jazz Song

Create your own version of “Take the A Train” as a class (SG19). Have students add their own words based on landmarks in their neighborhoods or towns. Then ask students to create their own scat version.

Billy Strayhorn wrote “Take the A Train” for Duke Ellington and his orchestra, a group of musicians that played jazz all over the world in the mid-twentieth century. Hear more live performances of Duke Ellington’s music in Additional Resources. Learn more about Duke Ellington and jazz history at jazzinamerica.org.

Musical Word Wall

Add the words scat and phrase to the Musical Word Wall.

PDF Downloads

SG19 ↓ Download File