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Ep.121 How to Sing and Teach Jazz with Michele Weir

Alexa is joined by Michele Weir, a renowned figure in vocal jazz education and arranging. Michele is the founder of the online school Music Habit and the creator of the app ScatAbility. Additionally, she has written several books on jazz, so who better to talk you through the topic of how to sing and teach this genre?


  • Jazz is a diverse genre with various styles and sub-genres. New Orleans jazz originated in the early 20th century and features collective improvisation. Bebop, which emerged in the 1940s, is known for its complex harmonies, fast tempos and intricate improvisations. Cool Jazz developed in the late 1940s and 1950s, and has a more relaxed and laid-back style, emphasising controlled emotions and intricate arrangements. Contemporary jazz, a diverse category that encompasses various modern jazz styles and fusions with other genres, represents the evolving nature of jazz music.
  • In identifying jazz music, several key elements stand out. The rhythmic style, particularly the swing feel, is a defining characteristic. Singers need to develop their rhythmic sense and feel the groove to deliver jazz convincingly. Additionally, jazz singers must master the art of putting lyrics in rhythm to sound conversational, especially in swing. Another indication of jazz interpretation is when the performer adds improvisation to the melody, showcasing their creativity and spontaneity.
  • In jazz, singers alter notes and melodies to match the lyrics’ subtext, using vocal phrasing and melodic variations to convey storytelling and emotions. This improvisational approach allows for unique expressions and deeper connections with the song’s meaning.
  • In jazz, ghost notes and articulation add depth and complexity to the music. Ghost notes are subtle, muted tones that enhance the groove, while articulation techniques bring out emotion, expressiveness, and individuality in performances.
  • Learning jazz piano benefits jazz singers by deepening their musicianship, improving improvisation and enhancing timing and phrasing. This knowledge enables more expressive performances and better collaboration with accompanists. Overall, it makes jazz singers more versatile and engaging performers.
  • Scatting is a more organic vocal improvisation technique using nonsensical syllables. A teacher helps by introducing scat patterns, practising rhythm and pitch and helping the singer make up their own rhythms.


‘No two jazz singers are alike’

‘Jazz comes in different packages; it’s not always about a well-trained voice’

‘Phrasing is a bigger deal in jazz than it is in other styles’

‘I want to be leader of the band, so I need to talk to them in the musical language they understand’  



Relevant Links & Mentions:


Michele Weir is widely distinguished for her work in vocal jazz education and arranging. She served as vocal producer and contributing arranger for the Manhattan Transfer album, Chick Corea Songbook, and her vocal arrangements are performed by notable groups, including Swingle Singers and New York Voices, with instrumental works played by the Boston Pops, among others. Michele has delivered teaching and lecture presentations all over the world, and pioneered an educational path for vocal improvisers through the creation of her iOS app, ScatAbility. She is the author of several educational books in jazz. Her online school, MusicHabit, is a popular resource for jazz singers, pianists and educators. Michele’s past performance ranges from headliner concerts at numerous educational festivals to touring internationally as pianist and vocalist with singer Bobby Vinton. Michele was a member of the Grammy-Nominated vocal group PM Singers and served as dubbing supervisor for the DreamWorks film Prince of Egypt in Mexico, Greece, Denmark, Portugal, Thailand and Japan.

Link to podcast presenter’s bios



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