Jazz Arranging 1

The following syllabus was used during the Fall 2021 semester. Although I tweak my syllabi annually, there is still room for improvement in the class’ design. The following changes will be implemented in future semesters, based on my observations and solicited student feedback.

  • The course will start with a review of chord symbols and chord spelling. Too many students still have deficiencies in this area, coming in. Unfortunately, some students still wrestled with correct chord spelling at the end of last semester.
  • 4-part closed block techniques will be taught before writing any arrangements. Previously this was the final unit of study. Moving it to the beginning will reinforce chord spelling and get the students thinking about secondary dominants, “tonicization” and other harmonic devices.
  • A portion of the grade will be allocated to first drafts. Students weren’t taking advantage of the consultation classes designed for the instructor to provide feedback. They had nothing written for these sessions. The first time I saw their work was when I was grading it.
  • In addition to writing complete combo arrangements, I think I’ll create more worksheets with 8-measure fragments. Something like:
    1. write a second horn part below this melody (the bridge of What Is This Thing Called Love? or another tune), using guide tones.
    2. write a second horn part below this melody (first 8 m’s of There Will Never Be Another You), using third whenever possible, but adjusting the interval when harmonically necessary.
    3. etc.
  • Finale and all computer notation, was problematic. I need to find or create some online tutorials to share.

Writing Jazz Combo Arrangements

Course Title: Jazz Arranging 1
Course #
: MUSI 3631, section 001. Two credits.
Semester: Fall 2021
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music & Director of Jazz Studies
Class meeting time: Mondays & Wednesdays, 9:05 a.m. – 9:55 a.m.
Classroom: MUSB 109
Earl MacDonald’s Office: MUSB 207.
Online Office Hours: TBA and by appointment.

Jazz Arranging and Composing, A Linear Approach, by: Bill DobbinsText Book:

Jazz Arranging and Composing, A Linear Approach
by: Bill Dobbins
Advance Music. ISBN 3-89221-006-3

*Link to other highly recommended jazz arranging text books


Music Notation Software:

Finale or Sibelius
(Note: the instructor is fluent with Finale. Use of Sibelius will be allowed, with the caveat that no guidance will be offered for Sibelius users.)

Using MuseScore is highly discouraged as it generated the octave treble clef for the tenor sax. DO NOT use the octave treble clef under any circumstances. The instructor will not accept or grade any work submitted which uses an octave treble clef.

Course description:

We will concentrate on writing musical arrangements for small jazz groups consisting of one, two & three horns plus rhythm section. For each of the three instrumentations we will address several basic arranging techniques designed to create melodic and enjoyable parts for musicians. Manuscript preparation and the use of music notation software will be taught as a means of clearly communicating your ideas to performing musicians.

Course content will include:

instrument ranges, transpositions and timbres, melodic interpretation, melodic analysis (identifying passing tones, appoggiaturas, escape tones, neighbor tones, etc.), formal organization & development (introductions, endings, backgrounds, solis, etc.), voice leading, harmonic anticipation, chromatic and diatonic parallelism, “tonicization,” harmonization, homophony, basic reharmonization and rhythm section notation.

  • transposition quiz: Mon., Sept. 20th, 2021:  10%
  • copyist/notation project: Mon., Oct. 4th, 2021: 10%
  • Worksheet assignments: 20%
  • 3 arrangements:
    • quartet: Mon., Oct. 11th, 2021: 20%
    • quintet: Wed., Nov. 3rd, 2021:  20%
    • sextet: Wed., Dec. 1st, 2021: 20%

* One arrangement must be hand-written.
* All assignments are due at 9:05 a.m. on their specified date.

There will be no formal midterm or final exam for this jazz arranging course. Expect the workload to be demanding; but know that you are developing skills which can be used for the rest of your musical life.

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. This syllabus is a malleable, evolving, and frequently updated document. Check it frequently.

Proposed timeline for covering the course material:

Aug. 30 (Mon.):
– course outline, schedule, policies and grading explained.
– orientation: idea generation, arranging techniques, musical options.

Sept. 1 (Wed.):

– listening example:

– instrument transpositions, ranges, restrictions: brass, saxes, quick reference sheet
– demonstrations

  • saxophones
  • trumpet

Sept. 6 (Mon.):
– Labor Day. NO CLASSES.

Sept. 8 (Wed.):

– instrument transpositions, ranges, restrictions, demonstrations

  • trombone

– homework: Transpositions Practice Test #1;   Answer Key

– listening examples:

Sept. 13 (Mon.):

– assessment of transpositions homework
– homework: Transpositions Practice Test #2;   Answer Key
– rhythm section instruction: drum notation key, sample drum part
copyist/notation project assigned; due Mon., Oct. 4th.
If I Should Lose You
lead sheet

Sept. 15 (Wed.):

– homework: Transpositions Practice Test #3;   Answer Key
part copying: sample sax part

– listening: Ray Brown Trio with Elf Wakenius – Summertime

Sept. 20 (Mon.)
– transposition/instrument ranges quiz (10%)

Quartet Arranging: 1-horn & rhythm 

Sept. 22 (Wed.):
– quartet instruction.
Quartet Arrangement Assignment distributed. Due Monday, Oct. 11th.

Quartet Arrangement Assignment


Sept. 27 (Mon.)
– additional quartet instruction:

formal planning: There Will Never Be Another You,”
reinventing melodies: “Smile,” arranged by Pete McGuinness

Sept. 29 (Wed.):
– consultations for quartet assignment
– David Berger video: Jazz Composing & Arranging Habits

Oct. 4 (Mon.):
– copyist/notation project due: (10%)
– consultations for quartet assignment

Quintet Arranging: 2-horns & rhythm

Oct. 6 (Wed.):
– 2-horn instruction & analysis.
quintet arrangement assigned; due Wed., Nov. 3rd.

Quintet Arrangement

Oct. 8 (Fri.):
– Mid-semester progress reports issued to students via e-mail.

Oct. 11 (Mon.):
– Quartet assignments due. (15%)

Oct. 13 (Wed.):
– additional 2-horn instruction, analysis & discussion
– recorded examples
– reharmonization techniques
Be Still, My Soul (a reharmonization arrangement)
– consultations for quintet assignment

Oct. 18 (Monday):
– copyist/notation project returned.
– additional 2-horn instruction, analysis & discussion.
– consultations for quintet assignment

Oct. 20 (Wednesday):
– additional 2-horn instruction, analysis & discussion.
– consultations for quintet assignment

Oct 25 (Monday):
– quartet assignments returned and discussed.

Oct. 27 (Wednesday):
– consultations for quintet assignment

Sextet Arranging: 3-horns & rhythm

– 3-horn instruction and analysis.  Sextet arrangements assigned: Due Wed., Dec. 1st.

Jazz Sextet Arrangement

Nov. 1 (Monday):
– additional  3-horn instruction, analysis & discussion.

Nov. 3 (Wednesday):
– Quintet arrangements due. (20%)

3-Horn Examples

Nov. 8 (Monday):
– review of sextet assignment criteria/parameters
– additional 3-horn instruction, analysis & discussion

Nov. 10 (Wednesday):
– quartet revisions deadline
Bye Bye Blackbird examples
– consultations for sextet assignment

Nov. 15 (Mon.):
– graded 5tet assignments returned
intro to 4-part closed block
4-part closed block worksheet #1
– consultations for sextet assignment

Nov. 17 (Wed.):
– 4-part closed block: harmonizing non-chord tones
4-part worksheet #2
4-part worksheet #3
4-part worksheet #4

– consultations for sextet assignment

Thanksgiving Recess: Nov. 20 – Nov. 27

Nov. 29 (Mon.):
– 4-part closed block
– quintet revisions due

Dec. 1 (Wed.):

– Sextet arrangements due. (20%)

[no option to revise, as students are now familiar with the instructor’s expectations]

Dec. 6 (Mon.)

– suggested reading and listening lists in preparation for writing for jazz big band
– requested topics
– completed 4-part closed block worksheets due: #1 through #4.

Dec. 8 (Wed.)

– final deadline for submitting any outstanding quartet & quintet revisions.

Communication policy

E-mail is the instructor’s preferred method of communication with students. Please allow 48-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.

Some 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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