I'm finishing up my second semester in SDSU's jazz studies graduate program. One of my current classes is a seminar on research procedures in music. It's been a fascinating experience, learning how to locate research materials, organize my thoughts, and write more effectively, all in the context of music research.

The culminating project of the class was a prospectus for a long-term, thesis-worthy research project. I chose the subject of jazz pedagogy in American higher education, focusing on the chord-scale relationship concept (the idea that assigning a specific scale to each chord in a tune creates a solid framework for improvisation). My aim is to investigate how this concept was first introduced as a teaching tool in universities, how it evolved within certain programs, and what alternatives have been developed. The prospectus is not meant to answer so much as properly pose these questions.

Here it is:


Jazz education was gradually established in U.S. colleges throughout the first half of the 20th century. The origins of jazz pedagogy are in the private instruction studios of the 1910s and 1920s. The availability of music recordings after 1917 facilitated learning for a much wider student base, as a musician no longer needed to reside in proximity to performers of the style he or she was studying. Jazz and dance bands were assembled in high schools and colleges in increasing numbers. Schools offered courses in jazz history and improvising techniques initially for no credit, later as supplementary classes for credit, and eventually as part of a complete jazz studies major. By the 1940s, seven colleges were offering jazz-related courses for credit: Alabama State University, Tennessee State University, Wilberforce University, Westlake College of Music, Berklee College of Music, Los Angeles City College, and North Texas State University.1 North Texas was the first university in the U.S. to offer a degree in jazz studies. By the 1950s over 30 colleges and universities offered courses in jazz history and performance.

Teaching materials for the earliest of these courses were limited. Leonard Feather and Robert Goffin, teaching the first college jazz history course in the U.S. (1941 at the New School for Social Research), had a few well-written biographies at their disposal, but no instructional books.2 To meet the growing need for jazz teaching materials, many study books were published and adopted in the following years, including American Music and Jazz by J.T.H. Mize, First Arrangement by Van Alexander, 30's Study in Swing by David Gornston, New Method for Orchestra Scoring by Frank Skinner, 88 Keys to Fame by Sharon Pease.3 

By the end of the 1960s, jazz-related courses were available at over 300 colleges, 135 of which offered these courses for credit. Still, only a few of them offered a full degree in jazz studies. According to Dr. Warrick L. Carter, in his illuminating article, "Jazz Pedagogy: A History Still in the Making" (1986), there were specific key figures at these pioneering universities who had great influence on the acceptance of sound pedagogical practices in later years:

The important pedagogical leaders of these programs shaped the jazz and laid the foundation for many of the concepts and approaches that are currently accepted as sound jazz pedagogical tools. They include Leon Breeden and Gene Hall (NTSU); Buddy Baker, Jerry Coker, and David Baker (Indiana University); Roger Schueler (Millikin University); John Garvey (University of Illinois); Bob Share and Lawrence Berk (Berklee College of Music), Alvin Batiste (Southern University) and Bob McDonald (Los Angeles City College).4 

For centuries, tonal music has been propelled not by scales, but by melodies that imply and reinforce the underlying harmony. Since the indoctrination of jazz education in the latter half of the 20th century, most educators assign specific scales to each chord type to direct students in their improvisation. Early and persistent examples of this methodical approach include the Schillinger System (employed at Berklee College of Music, established as the Schillinger House of Music in 1945), George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept, and Jamey Aebersold's Play-A-Long series. Dr. Carter described the utility of the influential Schillinger System:

The Schillinger System allowed composers, for the first time, to use specific mathematical rules that could adapt harmony, rhythm, melody, etc. from any idiom to jazz-oriented composition. It also allowed jazz players to develop their solos (instant composition) along specific mathematically determined paths. The jazz arrangers felt that by following the system, "the chart" wrote itself, for it was merely a matter of following the mathematical formula(s).5 

While these methodical approaches, specifically that of assigning a scale to each chord in a tune, may help students find the appropriate notes to play while improvising, such approaches were not employed by any of the major innovators in jazz at the time. The outstanding soloists of swing and bebop in the 1930s and 1940s did not have any pedagogically-derived approaches at their disposal, because jazz education did not yet exist outside of private instruction. Given that jazz education was not widespread until the 1960s, its influence on the achievements in jazz up to that time could have only been minimal. Since then, educators such as Shelton Berg, Jimmy Bruno, and Ed Byrne have opposed the approach of chord-scale relationships on the grounds that it obscures the essence of the approaches used by those who defined the jazz idiom.


Two short but prominent articles on the early history of jazz education are Leonard Feather's "How Jazz Education Began," from the February/March 1981 Jazz Educators Journal and Bryce Luty's "Jazz Ensembles' Era of Accelerated Growth," from the December 1982 Music Educators Journal. Feather's article, while short, describes his personal experience in establishing a jazz program at The New School in New York and the haphazard manner in which his first classes were structured. I will use this article to gain an understanding of how jazz performers handled the transition of the means of learning the art into academia. Luty's article is the second of a two-part series. It chronicles the progress of jazz education through the 1960s and 1970s, looking specifically at the ensemble component of jazz programs. I will use it to gain a perspective on the indoctrination of pedagogical practices in jazz, looking specifically at how the University of North Texas and other universities significantly contributed to the development of these programs, and how the formation of the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE) affected the field.

Bill Milkowski's article, "The Evolution of Jazz Education," from the 2001/2002 JazzTimes' Jazz Education Guide, provides a broad overview of key events in the establishment of jazz education, beginning with the first school dance band programs at the University of North Texas and the first instructional books on jazz (such as How to Play Bebop by Billy Taylor and How to Play Jazz Piano by John Mehegan). The article focuses on the efforts of Billy Taylor and Stan Kenton to extend jazz to a wider audience and convince college music departments that jazz can in fact be taught in an academic setting. I will use this article for the arguments Taylor and Kenton made to music departments that jazz theory involves more than playing by ear. They made a compelling case for bringing jazz to academia, and they were integral in the transition from learning by ear in night clubs to learning by theory in classrooms.

Colin Mason's 2005 DMA dissertation for the University of Texas at Austin, "A Comparative and Historical Survey of Four Seminal Figures in the History of Jazz Education," explores the impacts of some of the unsung pioneers of jazz education: Leon Breeden, Clem DeRosa, Dr. William Lee, and Fr. George Wiskirchen. The author points out the abundance of published material on jazz history, theory, biographies, and techniques, while histories of jazz education are rare. I will use this source to determine how the jazz curriculum was developed under each of these educators. I will look at which textbooks the instructors introduced (such as American Music and Jazz by J.T.H. Mize, 30’s Studies in Swing by David Gornston, and New Method for Orchestra Scoring by Frank Skinner) and their theoretical approaches to improvisation.

Dr. Warrick Carter's "Jazz Pedagogy: A History Still in the Making," from the February/March Jazz Educators Journal, is cited in Colin Mason's dissertation as one of the most important articles on the early history of jazz education. Highly detailed, the article includes a timeline of important dates and eras in the establishment of jazz programs in high schools and colleges. It also highlights the most significant educators of each decade. I will use this source for its detailed account of which programs were integral to the advancement of jazz in higher education. Course textbooks and theory curricula are out of the article's scope, but I can use it to narrow my investigation into specific early programs.

In the writing of his two-part article, "Jazz Goes to College," appearing in March 1971 and April 1971 Music Educators Journal, Paul Tanner visited and investigated the jazz programs at over 100 colleges, universities, and conservatories. The first part focuses on issues surrounding jazz history courses: course structure, length, materials, content, attitudes from music and other departments. The second part discusses courses in jazz performance and composition. The author reveals methodologies common to many of the schools, and relays a wide range of opinions on the challenges, solutions, and best practices for teaching beginning improvisors and composers. I will use the author's findings on the prevailing methodologies in teaching jazz improvisation and composition. The specific concept of chord-scale relationships is only briefly discussed, and the author indicates that many instructors employ it heavily.

One of the first jazz theory books written, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation by George Russell, organizes music theory as it relates to jazz around the Lydian mode of the major scale, as opposed to the major scale itself. Russell refers to his approach as the "Lydian Chromatic Concept." Written while jazz education was still new, this provides early documentation of the theoretical approach of applying specific scales to individual chords. I will use this book to understand how chord-scale relationships were introduced to jazz theory. I also intend to research the extent of its influence, looking for educators who have taught directly from this book or adopted its concepts.

Dieter Glawischnig's "The Present Boom in Jazz Education: A Trap for Creativity?" from the 1996 Jazzforschung / Jazz Research, is a critique of educational resources used in modern jazz programs in universities. The author addresses concerns that jazz education stifles creativity. Noting that individual students can lack the initiative to expand their horizons, he primarily blames educators who utilize limited materials and give the impression that there is but one path to learning jazz. The author suggests and summarizes several landmark jazz educational resources, including George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept and Dave Liebman's approach to harmonic substitutions, outside mainstream teaching materials. I intend to cite the author's opinions on why these resources are so often left out of jazz curricula. Specifically, the author contends that the establishment of jazz curricula took place before and during the development of modern stylistic devices since the 1960s. I will also utilize the author's ideas on what each resource could bring to the field if adopted.

Dave Liebman's A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody outlines his personal approach to improvising, turning it into a viable teaching methodology. It functions as a workbook more than a textbook, guiding the student through techniques of employing traditional tonal devices of melody and harmony in a superimposed manner. This facilitates polytonal sounds and alternative methods of effecting tension and release. Liebman's technique makes minimal use of traditional chord-scale relationships. He instead opts for direct implication of superimposed harmonies. I intend to use his personal notes included throughout on how he developed these ideas. Although the concepts in this book are advanced, this will contribute to my understanding of how jazz theory can be taught without reliance on chord-scale relationships. I also intend to survey prominent institutions of jazz education for an idea of whether this book is generally included in undergraduate curricula in jazz studies, and whether it is regarded as fundamental to the idiom or an advanced offshoot.

Ed Byrne's Linear Jazz Improvisation: The Method explains the foundations of the jazz teaching method he developed. The method intentionally avoids the concept of chord-scale relationships, focusing instead on developing a melodic vocabulary and targeting important notes from each chord with specific chromatic devices. The author claims that his method is closer to those employed by the pioneers of jazz, before the teaching of improvisation approaches moved to the classroom, and before the use of chord-scale relationships became widespread. I will use this book to understand how jazz can be taught without chord-scale relationships and how the alternative techniques provided can benefit a student of jazz. I will also compare these techniques with the accounts of how jazz was learned before college jazz education in the cited articles by Luty and Milkowski.


In this project, I will investigate the process by which the concept of chord-scale relationships was established in American jazz education and present arguments for and against the concept as well as proposed alternatives.


My aim is to assess different methodologies of teaching jazz improvisation, not to assess personal approaches of specific musicians. While many of the sources to be consulted for this study make extensive use of the improvisational strategies employed by jazz musicians prior to the establishment of jazz education, this study will not look directly at such strategies.

To gain a context for the arguments for and against the chord-scale relationship concept, I will look at specific examples of its introduction in jazz education. I will investigate early course materials at the first jazz studies programs in higher education, specifically at those indicated by Dr. Carter as influential in the early years of jazz education: North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), Indiana University, Millikin University, University of Illinois, Berklee College of Music, Southern University, and Los Angeles City College. I will focus on these institutions for the purpose of illuminating the pedagogical origins of the  chord-scale relationship, where it was first put to use, and how it came to pervade jazz education. I will conduct this research on a time frame of the establishment of these programs to present day, examining how the teaching of this concept evolved and whether it was dropped from any specific curricula.


Analysis of early course materials will require direct contact with those involved in the history and development of these programs, as the details of course curricula, such as required textbooks, are rarely available outside an institution. I intend to conduct interviews with those faculty members most knowledgeable of their school's early curricula in jazz improvisation. I will examine textbooks used in the early courses to gain an understanding of how the chord-scale relationship was introduced and how it caught on.

In addition to revealing the process by which the concept of chord-scale relationships was established, the above interviews will also be used to collect the educators' opinions on the effectiveness of the concept as a teaching tool. To this end, I will conduct additional interviews with today's prominent jazz educators who have expressed strong opinions on using chord-scale relationships. Such educators include Jamey Aebersold, Rick Helzer, Shelton Berg, Jimmy Bruno, and Ed Byrne. 


chord-scale relationship

This concept instructs the jazz improvisor to assign a certain scale to each chord type and employ the appropriate scale over each chord in a song's harmonic progression.

improvising technique

A jazz improvisor engages in instant composition. Just as a composer learns composition techniques to facilitate the creative process, an improvisor may learn a number of different approaches to spontaneously generating melodies.


Byrne, Ed. Linear Jazz Improvisation: The Method. Byrne Jazz, 2001.

Carter, Dr. Warrick. "Jazz Pedagogy: A History Still in the Making." Jazz Educators Journal 18, no. 3 (February/March 1986): 10–13, 49–50.

Feather, Leonard. "How Jazz Education Began." Jazz Educators Journal 13, no. 3 (February/March 1981): 20–21.

Glawischnig, Dieter. "The Present Boom in Jazz Education: A Trap for Creativity?" Jazzforschung / Jazz Research 28 (1996): 77–81.

Liebman, Dave. A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody. Rottenburg N., Germany: Advance Music, 1991.

Luty, Bryce. "Jazz Education's Struggle for Acceptance." Music Educators Journal 69, no. 3 (November 1982): 38–39, 53.

______. "Jazz Ensembles' Era of Accelerated Growth." Music Educators Journal 69, no. 4 (December 1982): 49–50, 64.

Mason, Colin. "A Comparative and Historical Survey of Four Seminal Figures in the History of Jazz Education." DMA diss., The University of Texas at Austin, 2005.

Milkowski, Bill. "The Evolution of Jazz Education." JazzTimes' Jazz Education Guide (2001/2002): 34–43.

Russel, George. The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation. New York: Concept Publishing Company, 1959.

Tanner, Paul. "Jazz Goes to College, Part I." Music Educators Journal 57, no. 7 (March 1971): 57, 105–109, 111–113.

______. "Jazz Goes to College, Part II." Music Educators Journal 57, no. 8 (April 1971): 49, 85–93.


1 Dr. Warrick L. Carter, "Jazz Pedagogy: A History Still in the Making," Jazz Educators Journal 18, no. 3 (February/March 1986): 12.

2 Leonard Feather, "How Jazz Education Began," Jazz Educators Journal 13, no. 3 (February/March 1981): 20.

3 Dr. Warrick L. Carter, "Jazz Pedagogy: A History Still in the Making," Jazz Educators Journal 18, no. 3 (February/March 1986): 12.

4 Ibid., 13.

5 Ibid., 12.