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Course Description

'Improvisation is the most defining feature of jazz' (Winton Marsalis). The same could be said for much of western popular music born in the 20th century. The NSW Board of Studies Music Syllabus states, 'improvisation is the simultaneous creation and performance of music. The improviser draws on known information and seeks to reorder it to produce something different'.

The purpose of this course is to provide not only 'information' and insight into how to 're-order it’ but also how to use this knowledge in the classroom to produce something different (improvise and/or compose). This course is for all stages of experience and starts at a basic level with extensive notes, music and examples.


High school music teachers who wish to improvise, arrange, compose and understand the theory behind the music.

Teaching Standards

2.1.2 Proficient Level - Know the content and how to teach it - Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area: Apply knowledge of the content and teaching strategies of the teaching area to develop engaging teaching activities

"This course is content focused and very engaging. Lots of excellent classroom resources included."

- Becky Bennison, Macarthur Anglican School

"Highly recommended. Quality and content relevant to course outline. Thank you for an insightful journey into aspects of Jazz. Recommended for beginner learners of the context, although a good refresher for more experienced educators. "

- Leon Hine, St Dominic's College

"I really enjoyed and benefited from this course. The explanation of the chords and scales is very good."

- Hala Ibrahim, St Mark's Coptic Orthodox College

Course curriculum

  • 1

    Course Contents

    • Class Notes and Videos

    • Contents of Appendix

    • Download Resources

  • 2

    Module 1 - Introduction

    • Introduction

    • Improvisation

    • The Blues

    • Jazz and Improvisation

  • 3

    Module 2 - Chord/Scale Theory and its application to Jazz Improvisation

    • Chord Scale Theory and its Application to Jazz Improvisation

    • Examples

    • Scales and Chords

    • Melody and Chords

    • Understanding Chord Progressions and the Role of Cycle of 5ths

    • Reflection Questions

  • 4

    Module 3 - Four Note Chords

    • Four Note Chords - Theory

    • Four Note Chords

    • Reflection Question

  • 5

    Module 4 - The Blues

    • The Blues

    • Jazz

    • The Blues Structure

    • Reflection Question

  • 6

    Module 5 - The Blues 2

    • The Blues 2

    • One Scale fits One Chord

    • Reflection Questions

  • 7

    Module 6 - Blue Bossa

    • Blue Bossa

    • Blue Bossa

    • Modes

    • Scales and Chords

    • Tension and Release

    • Reflection Question

  • 8

    Module 7 - Chord Substitutions

    • Chord Substitutions

    • Chord substitutions and jazz harmony

    • Rule 1: Tri-Tone Substitution

    • Rule 2: Alterations using Rule 1 and Rule 2 on a V - I progression

    • Rule 3: III replaces I in the cycle

    • Rule 4: Chord quality change

    • Rule 5: Diminished chord as a disguised dominant 7th, b9 chord

    • Rule 6: A IV minor chord can be replaced with its related dominant

    • Reflection Question

  • 9

    Module 8 - Heart and Soul

    • Video 8 Heart + Soul Tta-1

    • Heart and Soul Substitutions

    • Reflection Question

  • 10

    Module 9 - Blues Substitutions

    • The Blues with substitution chords

    • Blues with substitution chords

    • Reflection Question

  • 11

    Module 10 - Scale Page and Conclusions

    • Scale Page and Conclusion

    • Scale Page

    • Conclusion

    • Reflection Task

  • 12

    Appendix - Historical Development of Chord-Scale Theory and its Pedagogical Application to Jazz Improvisation

    • Introduction

    • Early History

    • Early Jazz

    • Chord Scale Theory

    • Conclusion

    • Resources

  • 13

    Appendix - Music

    • Blue Bossa: C part

    • Blue Bossa : Bb part

    • Blue Bossa : Eb part

    • Blue Bossa : C bass part

    • Cantaloupe Island : Bb lead

    • Cantaloupe Island : Bb harmony

    • Cantaloupe Island : Bb tenor harmony

    • Cantaloupe Island : Eb Alto

    • Cantaloupe Island : C lead part

    • Cantaloupe Island : Eb alto harmony

    • Cantaloupe Island : C lead sheet bass clef

    • Cantaloupe Island : Keyboard

    • Cantaloupe Island - Guitar

    • Cantaloupe Island - Bass

    • Rays Blues : C part

    • Rays Blues : Bb part

    • Rays Blues : Eb part

    • Rays Blues : C part bass instrument

  • 14

    Audio - Recorded Demos

    • St. Louis Blues - Maxine Sullivan - TTA demo

    • C C Rider - Jerry Lee Lewis - TTA demo

    • C C Rider - The Gene Harris - TTA demo

    • Mid Blues Demo 6 X - Ray Forster - TTA play along

    • CJam Blues - Ray Forster - TTA play along

    • Blue Bossa - Joe Henderson - TTA demo

    • Blue Bossa - Ray Forster - TTA demo

    • Blue Bossa

    • Cantaloupe Island - Herby Hancock - TTA demo

    • Cantaloupe Island - Ray Forster - TTA play along

  • 15

    Course Feedback

    • Feedback

Do you teach in NSW? If so, this is relevant to you:

Completing The Art of Improvisation: The Theory Behind the Reality Chord/Scale Theory and Its Application to Jazz and Modern Harmony will contribute 6 hours of NSW Education Standards Education Authority (NESA) Accredited PD in the priority area of Delivery and Assessment of NSW Curriculum/Early Years Learning Framework, addressing standard descriptors 2.1.2 from the Australia Professional Standards for Teachers towards maintaining Proficient Teacher Accreditation in NSW.



Ray Forster

Ray Forster

Although by inclination a jazz musician, a large part of my professional life was spent doing commercial work as well as jazz gigs. I lived, studied and worked in London for 5 years in the 60's and after returning home worked the Sydney music scene with included several tours in and out of Australia. I also taught jazz piano at Barker, Knox and Abbotsleigh schools and ran the successful jazz ensembles at Barker for 16 years. In the mid 70's I did the then new and first, jazz course at the Sydney Con, and went back and did my Master of Music (Performance) degree in 2005. I was always intrigued as to how the theory of improvisation worked and how it might be taught as I came from a time when things were taken off recordings by ear with little knowledge of the theory behind the music. The understanding of chord/scale theory, how key centres work, and their relationship are important part of teaching this fascinating subject.

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