Jazz Programs

Jazz Combo

Jazz Theory

Jazz Theory I: Fall Term
Jazz Theory II: Winter Term
2 hours / week for 12 weeks
Mondays 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

As an aspiring jazz musician, a solid knowledge and understanding of jazz theory will help you with the various concepts and possibilities encountered in a jazz performance experience. The objective of the Jazz Theory course is to clarify the techniques used in the jazz language and expose students to jazz materials. Through jazz repertoire, this course explores melody and harmony, form and style, improvisation techniques and jazz rhythms, thus enhancing the overall perception of the music.

The Jazz Theory course is designed for two sets of constituents: it provides the information and preparation required for the real playing situation to students who are interested in participating in the McGill Conservatory Jazz Combos but who lack some basics in the jazz idiom; in addition, the course serves students who already are enrolled in the McGill Conservatory Jazz Combos who wish to improve their understanding of jazz theory.

Level I is an introduction to all the jazz materials mentioned above. Level II continues to explore the same topics in a more advanced format.


  • McGill Conservatory Secondary III Theory & Ear Training
  • Ability to read music
  • Basic knowledge of your instrument (know where your notes are…)

Suggested literature
Haerle, Dan. The Jazz Language, a theory text for jazz composition and improvisation. Warner Bros. Publications.1980

Jazz Improvisation

Jazz Improvisation is offered in Fall and Winter terms
1.5 hours / week for 12 weeks
Tuesdays 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Jazz Improvisation focuses on scales and arpeggios, chord/scale relationships and solo transcription. Throughout the semester, students are expected to improve their improvisational skills and develop a small repertoire of jazz standards. Attendance is mandatory.

The course is offered at two levels: Jazz Improvisation I for beginners and Jazz Improvisation II for intermediate players. Jazz Improvisation I is designed for students who have some ease on their instrument but have little or no experience with jazz improvisation. Students are introduced to basic improvisational concepts and learn how to apply them to common jazz standards. Jazz Improvisation II is designed for students who have some experience improvising on their instrument and want to further develop their skills. Both Jazz improvisation levels provide the student with the necessary tools to improvise by combining jazz theory in a group playing situation.

The level of each class offered is determined after the auditions. A student can register more than once for the same level if he/she wants to.

Jazz Rhythm

Jazz Rhythm is offered in Fall and Winter terms
1.5 hours / week for 12 weeks
Wednesdays 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Jazz Rhythm is a course for all instruments. The level of the class offered will be determined after the auditions.

This course is for any Jazz Student playing any instrument who wants to get more out of the combo experience by improving his or her basic rhythmic skills. This course is ideal in conjunction with the jazz combos but can be taken on its own as well.

-Improving sense of time and rhythmic accuracy
-Improving rhythmic reading skills
-Avoiding getting lost
-Enriching rhythmic vocabulary when improvising

-Reading exercises (group clapping and exercises with instruments)
-Dictation exercises (transcribing and exercises with instruments)
-Time Feel exercises (Work on playing ahead, on the beat or laying back)
-Rhythm exercises (Swing rhythms, Polyrhythm, Hemiola figures, Odd time signatures)

The course will require a minimum of 6 students and should be limited to 12 students.

Jazz Combos

2 hrs/week, 4 sessions: Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer

Combos meet once a week to explore jazz in all its exciting facets, with special emphasis being placed on developing creative instincts through jazz improvisation.

Students 13 years and over with a minimum of one year of playing experience in one of the following instruments or in jazz voice may audition: trumpet, trombone, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, flute, piano, electric or acoustic bass, guitar, drums.

All combo classes are held on weekday evenings. Each Combo has the opportunity to perform in concert at the end of the term.


Admission into the Jazz program is only by audition.  New students must register to reserve a space for their audition by contacting the Conservatory Office.

Please refer to the Audition Schedule for dates.

Audition Requirements

  1. Improvise over a blues progression
  2. Present a prepared tune from one of the following jazz standards:
    • Stella By Starlight
    • All The Things You Are
    • Autumn Leaves
    • I Got Rhythm (or any rhythm changes tune)
    • Any other jazz standard of the student's choice (must bring chart)
  3. Pianists, bassists and guitarists should have a basic knowledge of chords and be able to read through a chord chart.
  4. Knowledge of scales and sight-reading ability are an asset.

For more information on Term Dates and Course Fees, please visit the Dates and Fees page of our website.

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