Jazz Composition

Course#: MUSI 3343, section 1.  Two credits.
Instructor: Professor Earl MacDonald

The exploration and application of composition strategies involving the manipulation of form, melody, harmony and rhythm to create short form works for small group improvisational jazz contexts.

Prerequisites: MUSI 1601, Introduction to Jazz Improvisation
Recommended Preparation: MUSI 1314, Harmony 2

Text Book: (required) “Jazz Composition: Theory & Practice” by Ted Pease.
Berklee Press. SBN 978-87639-001-6

Instructional Pattern: The course will be taught as two 50-minute classes per week during the spring semesters.

­­Melodic factors, motivic devices, harmonic considerations, blues & song form, and metric modulations constitute the study units. Below is a 14-week timetable with corresponding assignments.

To acquire an understanding of the compositional contributions and lineage of jazz masters, students will listen to two jazz albums each week. After listening, students will select one album and write a few phrases describing each song on it. Beyond overarching impressions, students should make observations pertaining to harmonic rhythm, form, orchestration, melodic considerations, motivic devices, and the function of the rhythm section. Most importantly, students should catalog ideas they might want to borrow or develop further in their own compositions.

The instructor has chosen recordings to represent works of notable composing jazz musicians like: Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson, Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Carla Bley, Bob Brookmeyer, Muhal Richard Abrams, Kenny Wheeler, Fred Hersch, Maria Schneider, etc.

Because it is important for developing composers to experience their music being rehearsed and performed, performance dates will be scheduled within Music Convocation (MUSI 1101).

Schedule and Assignments:

Week 1: Introduction, Orientation & Review

Week 2: Melodic Considerations

  • melodic rhythm, scale resources, interval patterns, melodic variation via modal interchange
  • assignments: p. 3, 7, 13 – 15, 17
  • listening: Art Blakey – Free for All, Bill Holman – Big Band in Jazz Orbit

Week 3: Motivic Devices

  • melodic repetition, sequence, motivic transformation, motivic embellishment, motifs based on intervallic patterns, melodies based on guide tones, melodies based on compound lines
  • assignments: p. 22 – 25, 27, 29, 32 – 33
  • listening: Vanguard Jazz Orchestra – Thad Jones Legacy, Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage

Week 4:

  • antecedent and consequent phrases, pitch contour and range, apex, melodic tension
  • assignments: p. 36, 40 & 41, 43, 45
  • listening: Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um, Fred Hersch – Forward Motion

Week 5: Harmonic Considerations

  • tonal harmony, modal harmony
  • assignments: p. 55, 56, 60 – 61, 72 – 75
  • listening: Miles Davis – Kind of Blue, Chick Corea – Three Quartets

Week 6:

  • modal interchange, chromatic harmony, harmonic rhythm, modulations, ostinato, slash chords, pedal point and constant structures
  • assignments: p. 79, 86, 87, 89, 93
  • listening: Clifford Brown – Study in Brown, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra – Up from the Skies

Week 7:

  • pedal point and pandiatonicism, harmonization, reharmonization
  • assignments: p. 96, 101 – 103, 107 – 108
  • listening: Kenny Wheeler – Music for Large & Small Ensembles, Miles Davis – Milestones

Week 8: Blues and Song Form

  • the blues – harmonic form and melodic form
  • assignments: p. 123 – 124
  • listening: John Coltrane – Love Supreme, Carla Bley – Fleur Carnivore

Week 9:

  • “Rhythm Changes”
  • assignments: p. 125
  • listening: Duke Ellington – Far East Suite, Wayne Shorter – Ju Ju

Week 10:

  • AABA song form
  • assignments: p. 131 – 136
  • listening: Ornette Coleman – Shape of Jazz to Come, McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy

Week 11:

  • AABA song form, continued
  • assignments: p. 137, Convo performance
  • listening: The Best of Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk – At the Five Spot

Week 12:

  • AABC song form
  • assignments: p. 142
  • listening: Larry Young – Unity, Maria Schneider – Evanescence

Week 13:

  • Ostinatos, ABCA song form, through-composed tunes
  • assignments: p. 145, 148, 158 – 163
  • listening: Miles Davis – Complete Birth of the Cool, John Coltrane – My Favorite Things

Week 14: Metric Modulations

  • Metric Modulations
  • assignments: p. 183
  • listening: Bob Brookmeyer & Clark Terry – With Mel Lewis Orchestra Live at the Village Vanguard, Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch


  • Listening reports: 28% (14 assignments; each valued at 2% of the total grade)
  • Music preparation & rehearsal engagement for the Music Convocation performance: 12%
  • Text book assignments: 50%*
  • Classroom participation: 10%

*Each of the above-listed text book assignments will be equally weighted and will receive a grade out of 10 points (for example, 8 points = 80%). The cumulative sum will be averaged and apportioned 50% of the total grade.

Late and incomplete assignments will generally not be accepted and will receive a grade of zero. If the student has extenuating circumstances (for example, they are hospitalized) that prevent them from submitting their assignments on time, please notify the instructor. These instances will be evaluated on an individual basis.

A mid-semester progress report will be e-mailed from the instructor. There will be no final exam. The course content and schedule are subject to change at the instructor’s discretion and will be properly communicated to students as changes arise.

Grading Scale:

Grade Letter Grade GPA
93-100 A 4.0
90-92 A- 3.7
87-89 B+ 3.3
83-86 B 3.0
80-82 B- 2.7
77-79 C+ 2.3
73-76 C 2.0
70-72 C- 1.7
67-69 D+ 1.3
63-66 D 1.0
60-62 D- 0.7
<60 F 0.0

It is the responsibility of all students to acquaint themselves, and to adhere to all university policies. Please review the following:

Students are expected to follow all safety protocols and to keep current with university communications regarding COVID-19.

Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence

The University is committed to maintaining a safe and non-discriminatory learning, living, and working environments for all members of the University 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 responsible employees (including faculty), as outlined in the Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence, are required to report to the Office of Institutional Equity any information that they receive related to sexual assaults, intimate partner violence, and/or stalking involving a student. An exception to this reporting exists if students disclose information as a part of coursework submitted to an instructor in connection with a course assignment. Even in the absence of such obligation, all Employees are encouraged to contact OIE if they become aware of information that suggests a safety risk to the University community or any member thereof. 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, including confidential and exempt employee resources available for support and assistance, can be found at equity.uconn.edu and titleix.uconn.edu.

Statement on Absences from Class Due to Religious Observances and Extra-Curricular Activities

Faculty and instructors are expected to reasonably accommodate individual religious practices unless doing so would result in fundamental alteration of class objectives or undue hardship to the University’s legitimate business purposes. Such accommodations may include rescheduling an exam or giving a make-up exam, allowing a presentation to be made on a different date or assigning the student appropriate make-up work that is intrinsically no more difficult than the original assignment. Faculty and instructors are strongly encouraged to allow students to complete work missed due to participation in extra-curricular activities that enrich their experience, support their scholarly development, and benefit the university community. Examples include participation in scholarly presentations, performing arts, and intercollegiate sports, when the participation is at the request of, or coordinated by, a University official. Students should be encouraged to review the course syllabus at the beginning of the semester for potential conflicts and promptly notify their instructor of any anticipated accommodation needs. Students are responsible for making arrangements in advance to make up missed work.

For conflicts with final examinations, students should contact the Dean of Students Office. Faculty and instructors are also encouraged to respond when the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletes (CPIA) requests student progress reports. This will enable the counselors to give our students appropriate advice.

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/.

Emergency Management/Preparedness

In case of inclement weather, a natural disaster, or a campus emergency, the University communicates through email and text message. Students are encouraged to sign up for alerts through http://alert.uconn.edu. Students should be aware of emergency procedures, and further information is available through the Office of Emergency Management at http://publicsafety.uconn.edu/emergency/.

Some useful telephone numbers:

Comments are closed.