Jazz Voice

Author: Jan Shapiro | Course Code: OVOIC-242

Singers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra have left an indelible mark on American popular music through their vocal stylings, fusing a conversational delivery with rhythmic and melodic improvisation. Jazz Voice is designed to teach you the unique characteristics of jazz singing and how you can apply these characteristics to create your own sound. You will learn jazz phrasing, how to integrate good technique into jazz song styles, and how to sing with a number of time feels and grooves.

The course begins by comparing jazz vocal styles to other contemporary styles, as well as exploring blues artists and their influence on jazz. It then focuses on jazz vocal technique and delivery, including use of vocal inflections, dynamics, articulation, and interpretation, and how to improvise through rhythmic and melodic phrasing. You'll then apply these concepts to jazz tunes in various tempos and grooves, including ballads, medium swing, fast swing, and bossa nova. You'll move on to learn important considerations for effective stage presence and use of the microphone, too. The course combines video demonstrations with listening examples and audio analysis, and you'll work with rhythm tracks recorded with a live band. The course features artists such as Ma Rainey, Lonnie Johnson, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Joao Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, Abbey Lincoln, Lou Rawls, Kenny Rankin, Luciana Souza, and Jane Monheit.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Sing jazz standards in various tempos, including ballads, medium swing, fast swing, and bossa nova
  • Improve your stage presence and use of microphone
  • Identify your vocal range most comfortable for singing jazz
  • Distinguish characteristics of early blues singers and their influence on jazz
  • Apply good breath management and tone while singing in a jazz style
  • Strengthen your articulation of song lyrics
  • Use vocal inflections and dynamics appropriately
  • Alter the melodic and rhythmic phrasing in a song
  • Better hear chord changes within a song
  • Identify song forms common in jazz
  • Sing introductions and endings effectively

Lesson 1: What Is Jazz Singing? 

  • Vocal "Lingo"
  • Finding the Right Key
  • Comparing Jazz to Other Vocal Styles
  • Characteristics of Early Traditional Blues Singers

Lesson 2: The Roots of Jazz: The Blues

  • Blue Notes
  • The Blues Scale
  • The Blues Chord Progression
  • Hearing the Chord Progression

Lesson 3: Sounding like a Jazz Singer: Vocal Technique and Delivery

  • Singing with Good Technique
  • Vibrato
  • Belting
  • Song Delivery

Lesson 4: Rhythmic Phraseology

  • Changing the Rhythmic Phrase
  • Feeling the Groove
  • Listening with a Big Ear
  • Rhythmic Phrasing Practice

Lesson 5: Melodic Improvisation

  • Knowing the Chords of a Song
  • Changing the Melody within a Song
  • Call and Response
  • Improvising with Words and Syllables

Lesson 6: Interpretation

  • Articulation
  • Vocal Inflections
  • Dynamics
  • The Message of the Song

Lesson 7: Slow Tempos: The Ballad

  • Characteristics of the Ballad
  • Song Form
  • Introductions
  • Endings
  • Performing the Ballad

Lesson 8: Medium Swing

  • Characteristics of Medium Swing
  • Internalizing the Pulse of the Song
  • Melodic Improvisation Review
  • Singing and Swinging

Lesson 9: Fast Swing

  • Characteristics of Fast Swing
  • How Fast Is Fast
  • Articulation of Lyrics
  • Singing Up Tempos

Lesson 10: The Bossa Nova

  • Characteristics of Bossa Nova
  • The Rhythm
  • Applying Jazz Phrasing and Improvisation to the Bossa Nova "Feel"
  • Singing Bossa Nova

Lesson 11: The American Songbook

  • American Songbook and Composers
  • Song Repertoire
  • The Microphone
  • Singing with Stage Presence

Lesson 12: Now's the Time: A Review and Beyond

  • Jazz Vocals Review
  • Improvisation Guidelines
  • Final Performance

Jan Shapiro

Author & Instructor

Jan Shapiro is the chair of the Voice department at Berklee College of Music. She has presented vocal clinics around the country and toured extensively, performing in jazz clubs, hotels, and supper clubs in Chicago, Washington D.C., Atlanta, New York, St. Louis, and Boston. Her latest CD, Back to Basics, features jazz standards with her own unique arrangements.

Shapiro has performed as a studio vocalist, recording advertising jingles, TV spots, and demos, including recording with Len Dressler of the "Singers Unlimited" for the Broadway musical Copperfield. She was the guest vocalist for the Boston Globe Jazz Festival in 1987 and 1990. Prior to teaching at Berklee, she was a faculty member in the Voice department at Fontbonne College in St. Louis, Missouri, and in the Jazz Studies department at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Illinois.

In addition to singing, Shapiro plays flute, electric bass, piano and keyboards, as well as percussion. She composed the score of "Tales of Toyland," a children's production of Bob Kramer's Marionettes of Saint Louis, which toured nationally. She began her music studies at the Saint Louis Institute of Music and then received her bachelor's degree, graduating Cum Laude, from Howard University, and her master's degree from Cambridge College.


Completion of Music Theory 101 and Voice Technique 101 or equivalent knowledge or experience is required. Students should have a healthy instrument and be able to match pitch.

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • Mac Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, or Safari
  • PC Web Browser: Firefox (Recommended), Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Edge
  • Flash Player (if using the Record Live tool)

Hardware Requirements

All Users

  • A printer is recommended, so that you can print out music examples used in the course
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built in ports or an external audio interface)

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.7 or higher
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones 
  • Webcam

PC Users

  • Windows Vista SP2 or higher
  • Intel Pentium 4 or higher
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones 
  • Webcam


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Next Term Starts January 9

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