Jazz Improvisation and Performance

The following jazz improvisation syllabus is used for the MUSI 3601, “Jazz Improvisation and Performance” course at the University of Connecticut, taught by Professor MacDonald.

Course #: MUSI 3601, section 1.  Two credits.
Catalog Description: Advanced jazz theory, styles, and ensemble techniques.
Semester: Spring 2024.
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music & Director of Jazz Studies
Class meeting time: Mondays & Wednesdays, 12:20 p.m. – 1:10 p.m.
Classroom: MUSB 207 – Mondays, jazz combo room – Wednesdays
Earl MacDonald’s Office: MUSB 207.
Office Hours: Wednesdays at 10 a.m., and by appointment

Course format & content:

In this 14-week semester, we will focus on elevating our jazz improvisation skills through the exploration of seven carefully curated compositions. These selections have been chosen to offer a diverse array of harmonic and rhythmic challenges, each contributing to a broader understanding of the settings and musical devices encountered by jazz musicians. Throughout the semester, each composition will be given dedicated attention over a two-week period, serving as the focal point for our listening sessions, study sessions, practice sessions, and performances. Following this intensive exploration, the piece will become part of our regular repertoire rotation, providing ongoing opportunities for review and refinement.

During our Monday sessions, held in room 207, students and the professor will share and listen to recordings, fostering discussions on analysis, improvisational approaches and techniques. Additionally, keyboard instruction will be a key focus, enhancing our collective understanding of the intricacies embedded in the chosen compositions.

On Wednesdays we will meet in the basement jazz combo room, where we will play as an ensemble. These sessions will center around the selected piece of the week, allowing us to delve into its nuances and intricacies through collective performance. Furthermore, we will revisit and review the compositions from the previous week, reinforcing our understanding and mastery of the evolving repertoire.


Week 1 & 2:

Week 3 & 4:

  • Jordu — by Duke Jordan

Week 5 & 6:

Week 7 & 8:

Week 9 & 10:

Week 11 & 12:

Week 13 & 14:

Grading & Expectations:

Evaluation Structure: Each two-week segment contributes 10% to the overall grade. Students will be assessed based on the following criteria:

  1. Song Memorization:
    • Ability to memorize assigned songs.
  2. Participation:
    • Attendance
    • Active involvement in class discussions
    • Bringing relevant recordings to class
  3. Keyboard Skills:
    • Melody execution in the right hand (RH), “shells” in the left hand (LH)
    • Accompanying skills (comping)
  4. Demonstrated Independent Work:
    • Analysis of musical elements (phrasing, harmony, etc.)
    • Transcribed passages
    • Completion of assigned exercises
    • Composed études

The grade, measured on a scale of ten, aims to capture the overall endeavor invested during the two-week segments. While it is understood that not all students may excel equally in keyboard skills, the grading system takes into account a holistic evaluation. If diligent effort is demonstrated across all aspects of the course, weaknesses in one area, such as piano proficiency, can be offset by strengths in other components. It is important to note that proficiency in keyboard skills contributes to a deeper understanding of music, and students are encouraged to invest effort in this aspect as it enhances their overall musical comprehension.

Weightage: This holistic approach constitutes 70% of the final grade.

Final Performance: The remaining 30% will be dedicated to a semester-end performance at the UConn Bookstore in Storrs Center. The performance details, including time and date, will be announced soon, with a likely occurrence during a lunch hour.

Mid-Semester Progress Report: A mid-semester progress report will be emailed by the instructor. Please note that the course content and schedule are subject to changes at the instructor’s discretion, and any modifications will be communicated promptly.

Important Note: This online jazz improvisation syllabus and class schedule are dynamic, evolving, and regularly updated documents. Students are advised to check them frequently for the latest information.

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

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.


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.

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.