Jazz Improvisation Syllabus

The following jazz improvisation syllabus is used for the MUSI 1601, “Introduction to Jazz Improvisation” course at the University of Connecticut, taught by Professor MacDonald.

Course #: MUSI 1601, section 1.  Two credits.
Semester: Fall 2021.
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music & Director of Jazz Studies
Class meeting time: Mondays & Wednesdays, 11:15 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Classroom: MUSB 109
Earl MacDonald’s Office: MUSB 207.
Online Office Hours: by appointment.

(Optional) Text Books:

“Maiden Voyage, Fourteen Easy-To-Play Jazz Tunes,” by Jamey Aebersold
Volume 54.
* play-a-long tracks can be downloaded via iTunes.

“The Jazz Theory Book,” by Mark Levine
Sher Music.  ISBN 1-883217-04-0

A great jazz solo consists of: 1% magic & 99% stuff that is
explainable, analyzable, catergorizeable, doable.
– Mark Levine, jazz pianist/author

The intent of this introductory jazz improvisation course is to focus on the “99% stuff.” By concentrating on elements of jazz theory, ear training, transcription, and playing, students will attain a solid foundation upon which to build as beginning jazz soloists.

Course material will include:

Chord symbol notation, chord/scale theory, basic chord progressions, song forms, rudimentary reharmonization, transcription & analysis of jazz solos, ear training (aural recognition of intervals, scales, chords and progressions), jazz terminology, the application of “licks”, bebop fundamentals, and other relevant topics.


Performance tests: 50%
Solo transcription(s) and performance project(s): 20%
Written quizzes: 30%

A:    94 – 100%,  A-:   90 – 93%,  B+:   86 – 89%,  B:    82 – 85%,  B-:   78 – 81%,  C+:   74 – 77%,  C:     70 – 73%,  C-:    66 – 69%,  D+:   62 – 65%,  D:     58 – 61%,  D-:    51 – 57%,  F:    0 – 50%

*The course content, schedule and grading scheme are subject to change at the instructor’s discretion. Note: This online jazz improvisation syllabus and class schedule are malleable, evolving, and frequently updated documents. Check them frequently.

Communication policy

E-mail is the instructor’s preferred method of communication with students. Please allow 24-hours for replies. When requesting a meeting with me outside of my office hours, please submit several meeting time options. I prefer to be addressed as Professor MacDonald.

Useful telephone numbers, websites and services:

Student Code

You are responsible for acting in accordance with the University of Connecticut’s Student Conduct Code. Review and become familiar with these expectations.

Academic Integrity

This course expects all students to act in accordance with the Guidelines for Academic Integrity at the University of Connecticut. Consult UConn’s guidelines for academic integrity. Cheating and plagiarism are taken very seriously at the University of Connecticut. As a student, it is your responsibility to avoid plagiarism.

Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence

The University is committed to maintaining an environment free of discrimination or discriminatory harassment directed toward any person or group within its community – students, employees, or visitors. Academic and professional excellence can flourish only when each member of our community is assured an atmosphere of mutual respect. All members of the University community are responsible for the maintenance of an academic and work environment in which people are free to learn and work without fear of discrimination or discriminatory harassment. In addition, inappropriate amorous relationships can undermine the University’s mission when those in positions of authority abuse or appear to abuse their authority. To that end, and in accordance with federal and state law, the University prohibits discrimination and discriminatory harassment, as well as inappropriate amorous relationships, and such behavior will be met with appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from the University. Additionally, to protect the campus community, all non-confidential University employees (including faculty) are required to report sexual assaults, intimate partner violence, and/or stalking involving a student that they witness or are told about to the Office of Institutional Equity. The University takes all reports with the utmost seriousness. Please be aware that while the information you provide will remain private, it will not be confidential and will be shared with University officials who can help.  More information is available at equity.uconn.edu and titleix.uconn.edu.


Except for final examinations, the instructor has final authority in permitting students to submit assignments late or make up examinations.


My lectures, notes, handouts, and displays are protected by state common law and federal copyright law. They are my own original expression and I’ve recorded them prior or during my lecture in order to ensure that I obtain copyright protection. Students are authorized to take notes in my class; however, this authorization extends only to making one set of notes for your own personal use and no other use. I will inform you as to whether you are authorized to record my lectures at the beginning of each semester. If you are so authorized to record my lectures, you may not copy this recording or any other material, provide copies of either to anyone else, or make a commercial use of them without prior permission from me.

Students with Disabilities

The University of Connecticut is committed to protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities and assuring that the learning environment is accessible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. Students who require accommodations should contact the Center for Students with Disabilities, Wilbur Cross Building Room 204, (860) 486-2020, or http://csd.uconn.edu/.

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