Intro To Jazz Improvisation: Class Schedule

In this introductory jazz improvisation class, students will concentrate on elements of jazz theory, ear training, transcription, and performance. As a result, students should establish a solid foundation upon which to build as beginning jazz soloists.

Class #: MUSI 1601, section 1
Semester: Fall XXXX
Meeting times: Mondays & Wednesdays, 11:15 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Class Room: MUSB 109
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music & Director of Jazz Studies
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 10:10 – 11:00 a.m., Thursdays 12:30 – 1:20 p.m., and by appointment (room MUSB 207)

Note: This online syllabus/class schedule is an evolving and frequently updated document. Therefore, check it frequently.

Aug. 26 (Monday):

Course outline, content, office hours & grading explained.
Topic #1: chord symbol notation: triads & seventh chords.

Aug. 28 (Wed.):

Topic #2: chordal extensions & alterations.
* Print and study the PDF attachments. Complete the homework practice assignments (found at the bottom of the topical web pages).

Sept. 2 (Mon.): Labor Day — no UConn classes.

Sept. 4 (Wed.):

Topic #3:
 labeling “voiced” chords
Homework: chord symbol practice test #1,  [answer key]

Sept. 9 (Mon.):

Add/Drop via Student Administration System closes. Courses added or dropped after this date require additional signatures. Dropped courses will have a “W” for the withdrawal recorded on the academic record.

Topic #4: Learning from recordings.
Reading: 1) Why transcribe? 2) Transcription techniques
Assignment: Transcription Project — Transcribe, learn and memorize 2 choruses (minimum) of the blues from a recording of your choice, approved by Prof. MacDonald. Due dates: First of all, solos must be selected & approved by Sept. 23rd. Completed transcriptions will be submitted on Oct. 16th. Finally, solos will be performed with and without the recording on Nov. 13th & 18th.

Sept. 11 (Wed.):

Topic #5: the blues: chord progression & harmonic analysis. Blues scale, arpeggiating chords, chord tone patterns, and improvising with chord tones.
Sonny Moon for Two” and blues worksheets distributed.
Play-a-long track
Homework: chord symbol practice test #2, [answer key]

Sept. 16 (Mon.):

Call and response ear-training exercises.
Practice session: the blues.
Rhythmic displacement of 4-note cells.
Homework: chord symbol practice test #3, [answer key]

Sept. 18 (Wed.):

Quiz: chord symbol notation, identification & labeling. (10%)

Sept. 23 (Mon.):

Deadline for solo transcription selection & approval.
Ear-training exercises.

Topic #6: song forms: AABA, ABAC, AA1 etc.

tunes: Satin Doll, Oleo, Anthropology, Just Friends, It’s You Or No-one, On Green Dolphin Street

Introduction to “So What” and “Impressions.” [iTunes play-a-long download link]
Practice session: the blues.

Sept. 25 (Wed.):

Topic #7: diatonic seventh chord harmony: major & minor scales.
Topic #8: soloing with thirds, triads & seventh chords as “building blocks” – C major (concert pitch), D major (Bb transposition), A major (Eb transposition), C major in bass clef.
Practice session: “Impressions,” the blues

Sept. 30 (Mon.):

In-class playing test: the blues (10%)

key:  Bb concert. Memorized. No written music permitted. Perform “the head,” arpeggios (up & down), chord-tone patterns, the blues scale. Solo with: 1) half notes and quarters, using chord-tones, 2) the blues scale, 3) seventh chord arpeggios with eighth notes.

Oct. 2 (Wed.):

Recorded Submission:

Due to the rather large class size, the following portions of our 12-bar blues test will need to be video recorded and submitted via e-mail before 11:00 PM, Wednesday. For each example (with the exception of  question #2), play along with the recorded background accompaniment for “Sonny Moon for Two,” found on Please edit your videos into one file, rather than submitting multiple files. Finally, if your file is too large to send as an e-mail attachment, upload it to a drop box or Google drive and submit a link. 

  1. 1 chorus of half note improvisation, limited to chord tones (1, 3, 5, 7) played in any order. Avoid consecutive repeated pitches.
  2. Without accompaniment, play the Bb and G blues scales, ascending and descending. 1 octave each.
  3. 4 choruses of improvisation — 2 choruses with Bb blues scale, 2 choruses with G blues scale. Think and play motivically. Most importantly, incorporate some space, so as not to produce a (non-)musical run-on sentence.
  4. Sonny Moon for Two head, played twice, followed by 4 choruses of improvisation, concluded with the head played once more. (In other words, 7 choruses total, including head statements.) Into your solo, aim to incorporate some of the concepts taught in this unit. This could include the 2 blues scales, motivic development, use of space, ascending & descending arpeggios, chord tones, patterns, “bah-bah-doo-dah” rhythms, rhythmic displacement, etc.

Oct. 4 (Fri.):

Mid-semester progress reports issued to students via e-mail.

Oct. 7 (Mon.):

Topic #9: Chord-scale theory.
Diatonic seventh chord harmony (continued) and symmetrical scales (chromatic, whole tone, diminished, augmented)
“Impressions” practice session.

Oct. 9 (Wed.):

Analysis of song form & harmony.  Recorded examples.
Articulating Five to I
“Impressions” practice session.
Analysis of song form & harmony.  Recorded examples. Chordal Arpeggios.

Oct. 14 (Mon.):

“Summertime” scale options.
Blues Scale application to Summertime.
Topic #11: Articulating dominant chords resolving to I.
V7 to I “licks” and practice techniques.

Oct. 16 (Wed.):

Deadline for submitting completed solo transcriptions. (5%)
chord–scale relationships.
V7 to I resolutions
Topic #12: Triadic Upper Extensions

Oct. 21 (Mon.):

Playing test: “Impressions” (15%)

In lieu of an in-class performance assessment, please prepare and submit a video recording using the guidelines at the following link:

So What/Impressions Test

Oct. 23 (Wed.):

Topic #13: motivic sequencing & development
“Summertime” practice session: chord tone arpeggiation/improv., V7 to I resolutions, triadic upper extensions
Chord-scale relationships practice quiz homework

Oct. 28 (Mon.):

Last day to drop a course.
Review: chord–scale relationships and diatonic harmony.
“Summertime” practice session.
Chord-scale relationships practice quiz homework

Oct. 30 (Wed.):

Quiz: chord-scale relationships. (10%)

Nov. 4 (Mon.):

Topic #14: pentatonic scale improvisation
“Summertime” practice session: know the melody and how to apply specific V7 licks in the correct measures. Improvise 2 choruses, incorporating chord tones, triadic upper extensions, appropriate scales, V7 licks, motivic sequencing & development and other addressed concepts.

Nov. 6 (Wed.):

Applying triadic upper extensions, V7 licks, and pentatonic scales to other songs.
Analysis of selections from the standard jazz repertoire.
“Summertime” practice session.

Nov. 11 (Mon.):

NOTE: class will meet today.
The graded chord-scale relationships quiz will be returned.  
We will review for the upcoming cumulative quiz.

Playing test:
 “Summertime” (15%)
Outside of class, please prepare and submit a video recording using the guidelines at the following link:

Summertime Test

Nov. 13 (Wed.):

Playing test: Performance of solo transcriptions (15%)

Nov. 18 (Mon.):

Playing test: Performance of solo transcriptions
Review for cumulative quiz

Nov. 20 (Wed.):

Cumulative written quiz (10%)

Nov. 24 – 30: Thanksgiving Recess

Dec. 1 & 4: Requested topics, TBA

Dec. 9 – 15: UConn’s final examination period
Cumulative jazz improvisation performance test, by appointment (10%)

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