MUS 230: Improvisation II

Instructor: Dr. Jonathan Noffsinger
1 credit hour


MUS 230 or permission of instructor

Course Goals & Objectives

To aid the student in her/his development as a jazz musician through an introduction to and familiarization with traditional avenues for self-advancement in improvisational techniques.

Required Materials

  • notebook and music manuscript notebook with soft lead pencils
  • cassette tape player with several blank cassettes
  • Access to a piano
  • 3.5 inch high density computer floppy disk (unformatted or Macintosh formatted)

Class Procedures

Each lecture will cover the topic listed and its application to melodic improvisation. Lectures will be conducted on a seminar basis. Labs will involve extensive playing and singing in the form of scales, arpeggios, patterns, jazz tunes, and improvising solos. Study of each tune will be accompanied by discussion, analysis, and listening to important recordings. Some items for study will be placed on reserve in the Media Resource Center.

Tests & Examinations

All tests and examinations will have either a written or playing component or a combination of both. This is a performance oriented class. It is expected that the student will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts discussed through her/his playing in class. Therefore, much outside preparation may be necessary.

Grading System

3 Transcriptions: 35%
4 Tests (minimum): 15%
Mid-Term Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 20%
Class Participation: 10%

95%-100% = A
90%-94% = A-
86%-89% = B+
82%-85% = B
79%-81% = B-
75%-78% = C+
71%-74% = C
68%-70% = C-
64%-67% = D+
60%-63% = D
57%-59% = D-
0%-56% = F

Three transcriptions will be done by the student in the course of the semester. The first transcription will be of a simple melody well known to the student. The second transcription will be accompanied by a written analysis. The third transcription will also be accompanied by a written analysis and will be referred to as the final project. The final project will consist of a solo transcription of a jazz artist by the student to be selected with the approval of the instructor. It will be accompanied by a 5 – 10 page typewritten, double-spaced paper analyzing the music and giving brief historical and biographical information on the artist.

Attendance Policy

Participation in each class is fundamental to developing an understanding of the material. Two unexcused absences will result in a reduction by one letter grade (from A to B for example). Tardiness will not be tolerated. Excessive tardiness will be treated as an unexcused absence. An excused absence may be defined as a lack of presence at a scheduled class because of: 1) a conflict with another required University function, or, 2) for compelling personal reasons such as a death in the family or a serious illness. When possible every effort should be made by the student to notify the instructor, personally, a minimum of 24 hours in advance of the absence.

Personal Conduct

It is hoped that students participating in this course will be challenged to achieve their full potential. At the same time, we are committed to providing a non-threatening learning environment. No conduct, which may be regarded as harassing as defined in the University of Alabama’s stated policy will be tolerated.

Disability Accommodations

To request disability accommodations, please contact Disabilities Services (348-4285). After initial arrangements are made with that office, contact the instructor.

Course Outline

This is subject to change. Dependent on the progress of the class, the time-line may be changed.

  • Week 1: Review of Chord Nomenclature and Chord/Scale relationships. Ear Training drills. Introduction to differing blues chord progressions. Introduction to the Jazz Improvisation Lab.
  • Week 2: Continued ear training, call and response exercise. Test 1 on Chord/Scale relationships.
  • Week 3: Begin study of Patterns and Essential licks. Perform all Blues tunes. Transcription 1 Due.
  • Week 4: Continued study of Patterns and Essential Licks. Test 2 on Blues Tunes, Patterns and Essential Licks.
  • Week 5-7: Learn lydian-augmented scale and its 5 applications. Begin applying “Cry Me A River” lick to II-V-I in minor. Introduction to chord substitutions. Transcription & Analysis Due
  • Week 8: Select Solo for Final Project with approval of the instructor. Test 3 on lydian-aug. scale and “Cry Me A River” lick.
  • Week 9-12: The Ballad Vehicle. Play 3 selected ballads with emphasis on improvisational aesthetics. Continued application of chord substitutions.
  • Week 13 & 14: Continued study of Ballads and chord substitutions. Test 4 on Ballads and chord substitutions.
  • Week 15: Final Project due at last regular class meeting. Review of materials covered.
  • Finals Week: Written Final Exam and performance of transcription


Improvising Jazz by Jerry Coker
Complete Method for Improvisation by Jerry Coker
How to Listen to Jazz by Jerry Coker
Patterns for Jazz by Jerry Coker
The Jazz Language by Dan Haerle
A New Approach to Ear Training for Jazz Musicians by David Baker
A New Approach to Jazz Improvisation by Jamey Aebersold