Jazz Lessons

Professor Earl MacDonald uses the following course outline when teaching junior and senior-level jazz lessons at the University of Connecticut. It includes the elements of each lesson, as well as the grading scheme.

Course #: MUSI 3222, section 009 (2 credits)
Spring Semester, 2021
Instructor: Earl MacDonald
Class meeting times: synchronous, online instruction via ZOOM; scheduled individually.
Online Office Hours: By appointment. Professor MacDonald will be working remotely this semester.

The philosophy behind jazz lessons, as stated by trumpeter Brian Lynch: "It is important to try to sound like someone, especially early in your development."

“Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate.”
– Clark Terry






Students may choose between the following two options:

  1. to focus intensively on the recorded solos of one, selected, iconic jazz artist.
  2. to transcribe a variety of players, including solos played on instruments other than your own.

The student will transcribe, analyze, learn, extract, memorize and apply improvisational vocabulary. We will aim to imitate all aspects of the recorded solo (pitches, articulations, slurring patterns, rhythmic feel, “attitude,” etc.)

By the end of the semester, a minimum of five solos will be transcribed, thoroughly analyzed, learned (including the “head” interpretation of each piece) and “picked apart.” Segments of the solos will be learning in all keys. The makeup of these five transcriptions could be:

  • twelve-bar blues (2),
  • rhythm changes (2),
  • ballad (1) and
  • standard (1).

Additionally, a bare minimum of five jazz standards will be memorized and added to the student’s repertoire. Ideally, the student should aim to learn one tune per week, on an ongoing basis.

Sight reading, technical instrumental maintenance, flexibility and range building exercises (if applicable) will be the ongoing responsibility of the student. Practice routines, including these elements will be carefully monitored and adjusted in jazz lessons.

Weekly Lessons:

Each week the student will be given a clear and definite assignment, which the instructor deems manageable and attainable. Assignments could include:

  • transcribing a solo (in part or in whole),
  • learning a lick in 12 keys,
  • memorization,
  • learning an entire solo in another key,
  • identifying and categorizing licks,
  • applying vocabulary into other contexts,
  • studying pacing and phrase structure etc.

Each lesson you will receive a grade based on the quality of your work from the preceding week’s assignment. Weekly assignments will constitute 80% of your final grade for jazz lessons.

Semester-end Jury:

At the end of the semester, a jury will be scheduled which will be adjudicated by the jazz faculty. The jury will account for 20% of your grade, and will be based upon the material addressed in jazz lessons throughout the semester.

*The course content, schedule and grading scheme are subject to change at the instructor’s discretion. Note: This online syllabus/class schedule is a malleable, evolving, and frequently updated document. Check it frequently.

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 regularly scheduled lessons, 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:

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