Undergrad Jazz Courses

Below are brief descriptions of the undergrad jazz courses for Performance Majors, which also form the core for the new Music Education and Comprehensive programs with a jazz focus. For more information please refer to the FACULTY OF MUSIC website.

In addition to the courses listed below, all jazz students take Introduction to Music & Society and Historical Survey, plus one full Arts and Science Elective per year.

Students receive 24 hours of private instrumental/vocal instruction per year and play in at least two ensembles.

Jazz Improvisation
JMU 191Y1/291Y1/391Y1/491Y1

Jazz Improvisation is a required course in Years 1 and 2; an elective in Years 3 & 4.

Improv 1 focuses on the essential elements of jazz improvisation through the study of standard tune forms and common chord progressions. Key topics include melodic construction combined with harmonic and rhythmic precision, group interaction, personal expression, repertoire development and solo transcription.

In Improv 2 students are encouraged to develop awareness of their own voice as improvisers while deepening their understanding of the jazz tradition. Composition of melodic lines over various harmonic cadences and playing rhythmic variations on these lines is a weekly component of the course. Students continue with repertoire development, transcription, and working in 12 keys (blues, rhythm changes, bebop heads).

Advanced improv electives provide an in-depth look at generating and developing ideas through melody, harmony, texture, style and rhythm. Topics include odd meters, extra-musical form, ensemble interaction, communication, and free or open playing.

Jazz and Traditional Materials
JMU 100Y1/200Y1

Materials is a required course in years 1 and 2.

Elements of harmony, melody, rhythm, and form are studied within the context of jazz and other styles. Written and performance exercises provide a foundation for concurrent and future studies in jazz improvisation, composition, and arranging. The structural components of jazz and other styles are further examined through analysis and practical assignments in improvisation, composition, and arranging. Standard notation practices and the use of music software will also be discussed.

Ear Training

Ear Training is a required course in years 1-3.

Aural skills are developed through the auditory study of harmony, melody, rhythm, and form in jazz and other styles. Identification and performance exercises provide students with a foundation for concurrent and future studies in music. Transcription techniques are explored as well as strategies for the enhancement of critical listening skills.

Students gain further mastery in recognizing melodic, rhythmic, harmonic and structural aspects of music in both jazz and traditional idioms. Practical “real time” transcription of recordings is emphasized in class work and assignments, as is the sight singing of diatonic, chromatic, and modal melodies.

Advanced techniques in aural training are developed through the identification and singing of complex melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic materials. Major and melodic minor scale sequences are expanded through chromatic embellishment, and harmonic progressions broadened to include upper structure triads. Advanced topics in rhythm will also be addressed.

Jazz History

Jazz History is a required course in Year 2.

This two-term course explores the evolution of jazz from Ragtime in the early part of the 20th Century through Fusion in the 1970s. Students will gain insight into the development of the music relative to the major social events of the times, including two world wars, Prohibition, the Great Depression and the ongoing struggle for civil rights for African Americans, who are central to the development of the music.

Jazz Arranging

Arranging is an elective course in Years 3 and 4.

Techniques of jazz arranging and orchestration are examined from entry level to advanced. Two to five part writing is explored as well as brass quintet and big band orchestration. Students will gain experience writing backgrounds, solis and shout choruses, and receive instruction in score set up and reharmonization.

Jazz Composition

Composition is an elective course in Years 3 and 4.

The art of jazz composition is explored through lectures, listening, analysis, and application. Students will compose stylistically diverse music for a wide variety of large and small ensembles, both vocal and instrumental. Students are encouraged to propose their own topics and projects for attention and discussion during the course.