Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
MUC 155
Course Title:
Introduction to Improvisation
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Introduces the beginning improviser to the art of soloing. On the most basic level common staples of the jazz solo are presented and practiced. Simple tunes featuring these staples are used as "vehicles" for soloing. Enrollment open for this class. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Exercise material including lead sheets to songs will be handed out when appropriate. Instructor demonstration and lecture will precede each class run-through of material. After preliminaries are covered, instructor performance/lecture will interlace with individual presentations of rhythms, scales, songs, etc. Improvising will be attempted from the outset. Some tape recording will take place, this for critiques from instructor and students.

  • Students will be able to perform several jazz rhythms in correct style.
  • Students will be able to play easy scales, triads, and seventh chords from memory.
  • Students will be able to solo against 8, 4, and 2-measure vamps.
  • Students will be able to improvise through simple progressions including the "turn-around."
  • Students will be able to perform songs in swing and Latin style.
  • Students will be able to improvise blues, minor and major keys.
  • Rhythm Section students will be able to accompany in the jazz style.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Grading for class will be done on an individual basis taking in the student's skill level at the outset and factoring musical improvement by the end of the sessions. "Spot" testing will occur constantly (for example, a student may be asked to perform a blues scale on call, or perform a tune similarly) as will hearing tests. The final will include a taped performance of two selections from class repertoire, these to be disclosed with no prior notice. Criteria will include:

  • Performance of rhythms, scales, chords, and "turn-arounds."
  • Performance of class repertoire.
  • Aural recognition of rhythms, scales, and chords.
  • Improvement of solo performance from beginning of class to end.

Special Note to the Student:
The material listed below will be organized into sessions dealing with specific problems and solutions common in jazz improvisation.
Subject Matter:
Jazz Feel
Whole and half notes; activating, syncopating
Quarter and eighth notes; jazz interpretation
Rhythm Section: comping rhythms, jazz voicings
Vocal "scatting", selection of syllables, rhythmic applications
Short ideas or "riffs"
Melodic motion up, down, and arched
Ideas beginning on the beat, off the beat
The use of rests in separating phrases
Song rehearsal and study
Jazz Basics
Easy keys; minor, dominant, and major
Minor triads, the minor 7th chord, blues and bebop scales
8, 4, and 2-measure practice vamps on these
Major 7th chord, major pentatonic and standard major scales
8, 4, and 2-measure practice vamps on these
The ii minor, V7, I or "turn-around"; two short simple patterns
The "turn-around" applied to easy minor and major keys
Adjustment of Jazz feel and basics to Latin style
Jazz Repertoire
"Summertime": Minor sound featured
"C Jam blues": Dominant sound featured
"Blue Moon": Major sound featured
"Tune Up": Turn-arounds and major sound featured
"Song for My Father" (Latin style): Minor and dominant sound featured

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

The following skills are expected to successfully meet the minimum requirement of "C" or "Pass" for the course:

  • Perform all of the assigned tunes, vocally or on an instrument
  • Improvise using slow rhythms, eighth note rhythms, and riffs
  • Adjust rhythmic feel to the style of the tune
  • Include in solo ideas the simple scales, triads, and 7th chords as studied
  • Utilize one or two turn-arounds in a solo