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. Two credits.
Semester: Fall 2023
Meeting times: Mondays & Wednesdays, 12:20 p.m. – 1:10 p.m.
Classroom: MUSB 109
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music & Director of Jazz Studies
Online Office Hours: Wednesdays at 10 a.m., and by appointment. MUSB 207.

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

Aug. 28 (Monday):

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

Aug. 30 (Wednesday):

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).
Chord Construction Worksheet
Chord Symbol Notation & Identification

KEY – Chord Construction Worksheet

Sept. 4 (Monday): Labor Day – No classes

Sept. 6 (Wednesday):

Topic #3: labeling “voiced” chords

Sept. 11 (Monday):

Courses dropped after this date will have a “W” for withdrawal recorded on the academic record. Last day to add or drop courses without additional signatures.

Homework: chord symbol practice test #1,  [answer key]
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: Solos must be selected & approved by Sept. 25th. Completed transcriptions will be submitted on Oct. 18th. Finally, solos will be performed with and without the recording on Nov. 15th.

Sept. 13 (Wednesday):

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. 18 (Monday):

Bessie’s Blues – John Coltrane
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. 20 (Wednesday):

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

Sept. 25 (Monday):

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. 27 (Wednesday):

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.

Oct. 2 (Monday):

Practice session: Impressions, and the blues

Oct. 4 (Wednesday):

Playing test: the blues (10%)

The guidelines for the blues test are outlined on the linked page, below. Your video must be submitted to the linked Google Drive dropbox by 5PM.

Blues Test

We will not meet as a class today.

Oct. 7 (Friday):

Mid-semester progress reports due students from faculty

Oct. 9 (Monday):

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

Oct. 11 (Wednesday):

the Altered scale
Analysis of song form & harmony.  Recorded examples.
Topic #10
: Articulating Five to I
practice session.
Analysis of song form & harmony.  Recorded examples. Chordal Arpeggios.

Oct. 16 (Monday):

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

Oct. 18 (Wednesday):

Deadline for submitting completed solo transcriptions.(5%)
Review: chord–scale relationships.
“Summertime” practice session: head, arpeggios, V⇒I and ii-V⇒I licks, blues,
V7 to I resolutions

Oct. 23 (Monday):

Review: arpeggios, V⇒I and ii-V⇒I licks
Topic #12: Triadic Upper Extensions
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. 25 (Wednesday):

Summertime practice session.
Topic #14: major pentatonic scales applied to Summertime
Chord-scale relationships practice quiz homework

Oct. 30 (Monday):

Playing test: Impressions (15%)

In lieu of an in-class performance assessment, please prepare and submit a video recording using the guidelines outlined at the link below. Upload your submission to the linked Google Drive drop box before 5 p.m. today.

So What/Impressions Test

Review: chord–scale relationships and diatonic harmony.

Nov. 1 (Wednesday):


“Summertime” practice session.

Nov. 6 (Monday):

Quiz: chord-scale relationships. (10%)

Nov. 8 (Wednesday):

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

Nov. 13 (Monday):

Last day to withdraw from a course
Final “Summertime” practice session: head, arpeggios, licks, blues, pentatonics
Applying V7 licks to other songs.

Nov. 15 (Wednesday):

Playing test: Performance of solo transcriptions (15%)

Use today’s class period to record and submit your solo transcription project. Perform your transcribed solo with and without the recording. Upload your video recordings to the linked Google Drive dropbox before 5 p.m..

Nov. 18 – 26: Thanksgiving Recess

Nov. 27 (Monday):

Review for cumulative written quiz: Practice Quiz #1, Practice Quiz #2

Nov. 29 (Wednesday):

Playing test: “Summertime” (15%)

In lieu of an in-class performance assessment, please prepare and submit a video recording using the guidelines outlined at the link below. Upload your video recordings to the linked Google Drive dropbox before 5 p.m..

Summertime Test

Dec. 4 (Monday):

Cumulative written quiz (10%) – “in person”

Dec. 6 (Wednesday):

Review for playing quiz
Requested topics, TBA

Dec. 8 (Friday): Last day of fall semester classes

Dec. 14: Reading Day

Dec. 11 – 17: Final Examination

Cumulative jazz improvisation performance test (10%)

  • Due: (anytime, on or before) Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023 at 5 p.m.. Upload your recording to the linked Google Drive dropbox.
  • Video record yourself performing “Sonny Moon for Two,” “Impressions,” and “Summertime” with recorded accompaniment, using the following format:
    • head, 3 choruses of improv, out-head
    • NOTE: for “Impressions,” use the “So What” backing track, but set the playback speed to 125%.
    • review and incorporate the various skills and topics discussed and learned throughout the  semester.
    • Late submissions will not be accepted.

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