Jazz and Popular Arranging

The next course I am taking in Boston University’s Online Doctoral of Musical Arts in Music Education program is MT781: Jazz and Popular Arranging for the Summer I term. The program asks us to take four electives, two of which must be in Music Theory or Musicology. The recommended sequence for our cohort had us taking electives in Spring II and Summer I and MT600: Analytical Techniques I for this term. I was more interested in taking this arranging course than the other options in Spring II—Advocacy & Policy or Community Music. The other options available for Summer I are Intro to Music Technology and American Music History.

Course Description: CFA MT 781 is a beginning course in jazz and pop arranging. The lectures introduce a new skill (or skills) each week, with a corresponding arranging assignment that makes use of the new technique discussed in the lecture. While the course is primarily weighted towards jazz, these techniques are applicable to any type of arranging.

For those with little or no experience in arranging, or with limited exposure to jazz, the assignments might seem a bit daunting at first. They are, however, based on musicianship skills that you have already mastered. In addition, as new skills are added, you will continue to develop the basic skills discussed in previous weeks. By the end of the course, you will have enough expertise to begin writing basic, effective arrangements for your school or personal projects, regardless of your chosen genre. This topic could be added to current courses you are teaching, or could be developed into a new course offering for your students.

Course Objectives Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to create basic arrangements for a school combo by means of mastery of the following skills:

  • Translating the rhythm of a melody into a swinging style with proper rhythmic notation

  • Applying knowledge of the ranges and transpositions of the trumpet, trombone, and saxophones to your arranging

  • Applying knowledge of the timbres of various horn combinations to your arranging

  • Applying knowledge of the roles of the members of the rhythm section and how to notate simply and effectively for each

  • Basic two-part writing for horns

  • Basic four-voice voicings for background horns:

In Boston’s online program, “weeks” begin on Tuesdays and end on Mondays, likely to give us long weekends to complete assignments. For this course, we have three weekly components: readings, discussion board posts, and assignments. Readings will consist of online lecture material and content from Boras’ Jazz Composition and Arranging. Other recommended materials include: Sher’s The Standards Real Book, Bierman’s Listening to Jazz, and Wriggle’s Blue Rhythm Fantasy: Big Band Jazz Arranging in the Swing Era (Music in American Life). I have also learned that when writing about music theory, rather than using the American Psychological Association’s Style Guide, scholars use the Chicago Manual of Style, so I also purchased the recommended Turabian A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Seventh Edition: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing). Our first discussion board post is due on the Friday of each week, with responses to our classmates due on the Sunday of each week. Assignments are due on the Monday of every week. The course was developed by Dr. Benjamin Bierman, Associate Professor of Music at John Jay College, City University of New York, and our instructor is Dr. John Wriggle, lecturer of music theory at Boston University and composer, arranger, and trombonist in New York City.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.