Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
MUC 155A
Course Title:
Improvisation I
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Covers how scales and chords are constructed and used, including melodic construction, phrasing, motifs, riffs, substitution chords, voice leading, paraphrase and melodic ramps. Includes harmonic construction of all styles of jazz and ear training. By the end of the sequence, students solo against song form. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Handouts for the course will include addenda to existing patterns/scales, lead sheets, and a page notating historical ideas from the solos of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, and others. Lectures will highlight these ideas; other theoretical matters will be discussed as well. Staging and presentation will involve the use of video taping. Group practice and individual application will continue as usual.

  • Students will be able to play all patterns/scales up to quarter note= 160.
  • Students will be able to perform ten to twelve melodies from memory.
  • Students will be able to solo consistently and well on prior material.
  • Students will be able to solo reasonably on ballads and up-tempo tunes.
  • Students will be able to end solos effectively, set up the next soloist, trade fours, and arrange existing tune spontaneously.
  • Students will be able to announce, order, and present two to four songs for a live audience.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Grading will, for the most part, be based on classroom performance of items listed below. A final performance at a venue to be announced will be critiqued by students and instructor and will be factored into the final grade. Criteria may include:

  • Individual performance of patterns, scales, and historical ideas
  • Individual performance of these from memory
  • Individual performance of prior songs from memory; new songs at sight
  • Individual soloing over all songs
  • Individual applications of suggested techniques
  • Group and individual staging and presentation of songs in sets

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)


  • Speed drills on prior patterns; increasing speed
  • Study of historical ideas; application to varying tempi, key signatures
  • Adding the ninth to primary chords; decorating the ninth chord
  • Whole tone and diminished scales; applied to the dominant and turnaround
  • Substitutions against turnarounds and turn-backs; tritone, half-step shift
  • Rhythmic drills in jazz waltz, latin, and fusion styles


  • Insertion of whole tone, diminished scale, ninth chords, and historical ideas into solo lines
  • Controlling idea flow in ballads
  • Paraphrasing (quoting from the melody being improvised)
  • Spacing ideas at fast tempo; repetition and sustaining
  • Control of increasing or decreasing intensity through solo area
  • Moving outside the existing key
  • Musical organization of a song list for performance
  • Visuals: microphone technique, stage craft, (posture and demeanor) cuing the next soloist visually, announcing

Songs: (vocal selections TBA)
Up-tempo: Scrapple from the Apple
Ballad: You Don't Know What Love Is
Latin: Recordame  Corcavado
Jazz Waltz: West Coast Blues, Bluesette
Fusion/Vamp: TBA
Competencies and Skills:
Skills required for at least a C grade are as follows:

  • Performance of all first and second term patterns and songs from memory
  • Performance of all patterns/scales at quarter note = 140
  • Ability to use patterns, scales, chords, and historical ideas in solo lines
  • Ability to solo reasonably on all material
  • Ability and willingness to stage and perform a set of two to four songs for a live audience