"Objective" questions
Listening questions: musical
Listening questions: historical
Make-Up Policy
Helpful Hints


There are two formal in-class examinations in MUSI 2120: the Midterm and the Final. The Final Exam is cumulative. The Midterm normally covers Chapters 1-10, and the Final covers all the chapters in Jazz. (But NOTE: actual coverage for the midterm will be announced in class before the examination.)

All tests will be given in Maury 209.

Each of the in-class examinations will be a Scantron examination, offering questions in the standard multiple-choice format. One section of the test will involve listening, in which you will hear brief excerpts of recorded performances (from the required listening) and be expected to answer questions pertaining to those examples.

"Objective" questions

Questions in the multiple choice format will cover a wide range of material, including:

  • Terms and definitions. E.g.: "A riff is best defined as: a)...... b)....... c).......", or "The form of the piece is: a)....b).....c)......"

  • Historical information. E.g.: "Which of the following musicians appeared on recordings with Duke Ellington in the 1920s? a)...... b)....... c)......." or "This club was on New York's 52nd Street in the 1940s: a)....... b)........... c)........."

  • Style. E.g., "The style of this piece is best described as: a) avant-garde jazz b) bebop c) fusion d) New Orleans jazz"

  • Musician identification. E.g., "Duke Ellington was: a) a swing bandleader b) a New Orleans clarinetist c) a student in MUSI 212"; or "The swing bandleader who composed 'Concerto for Cootie' and 'Mood Indigo' was a) Duke Ellington, b) Jelly Roll Morton, c) King Oliver, d)

  • Content of required reading. E.g.: "To which major jazz figure was Gary Giddins referring when he wrote:.....(etc).?"

Because multiple choice questions are inherently deceptive—asking you to sort out the one right answer from three or four plausible wrong answers—I often prefer to ask the questions backwards. I might, for example, ask: "Which of the following was not involved with the modern jazz movement known as bebop?" In this case, I will provide you with several right answers (i.e., musicians who were involved with bebop), and will expect you to correctly identify the single wrong answer.

Listening questions

A significant number of the questions asked on each test will refer to musical examples played at the time of the examination. These examples will drawn from the required listening on the web.

The questions will be of several different kinds.

Listening questions: musical

In the first two assignments (Basic Musical Concepts and Forms), you will learn a number of musical ideas, many unique to jazz. I will expect you to understand these ideas well enough to answer "objective" questions about them (as above). But it is not enough to memorize definitions of "riff," or "polyphonic texture," or "blues form." I also expect you to hear these ideas. You must be able to recognize the presence of these musical concepts when they occur in your required listening. This is as true for their presence as for their absence--i.e., when a piece does not use riffs, does not have a polyphonic texture, or does not use blues form.

The format for such questions will be multiple-choice. E.g.:

  • The form of this piece is: a) AABA b) blues c) other

  • All of the following techniques are featured in this excerpt except: a) blues form b) polyphonic texture c) riffs

Listening questions: historical

Beginning with the first historical assignment, we will shift the focus away from musical technique per se to understanding the music from a historical perspective. When you listen to the listening required for all subsequent assignments, you will still be expected to recognize musical concepts. But you will also need to recognize important jazz figures and the distinguishing characteristics of major jazz styles, and to situate these styles and performers within a historical framework.

Please note that what follows does not apply to the listening for the first two assignments (Basic Musical Concepts and Forms). For that music, you will only need to answer questions about musical technique, including form (i.e., blues vs. 32-bar AABA).

1. performers

As we proceed through the course, I will highlight the contributions of major jazz artists. Please note the word "major": I do not expect you to memorize every artist on every recording! But I do expect you not only to recognize the names of the major figures in jazz history, but also to identify them when you hear them.

For all performers, the format will be multiple-choice. This may seem difficult, since some performers sound very much like one another. But in general, I construct the question carefully. I do not include two musicians on the same question whose styles are too closely related. So please bear in mind that if you cannot immediately identify the correct artist, you may well be able to narrow the field by removing those who seem implausible.

2. style

Throughout the course, I will be situating the music within broad concepts of "style"--the broad artistic movements that have marked jazz's history. Examples of such styles are New Orleans style, classic blues, boogie-woogie, swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, avant garde, and fusion.

Many of the examples on the examinations will be specifically chosen to exemplify one of these major jazz styles. In this case, the format will be multiple-choice. E.g.: "The style of this excerpt is best described as: a) classic blues b) swing c) bebop d) New Orleans style."

3. date

All of the performances you will listen to on the required listening have clearly established dates: i.e., the year of recording. I do not expect you to memorize all of the dates of these recordings! But I do expect you to fit the evolution of jazz within a chronological framework. You should know that recordings of New Orleans jazz are most likely to come from the 1920s, swing dance-band recordings from the 1930s and 1940s, avant-garde recordings after 1960; and so forth.

The usual format for testing such knowledge is multiple-choice, contrasting the actual date of a recording with several obviously wrong dates. E.g., for a recording of New Orleans jazz from 1923, the question might read: "The date of this performance is: a) 1907 b) 1923 c) 1936 d) 1949 c) 1960."

4. titles

In general, I do not expect you to be able to identify a tune by title from listening to it! It is sufficient to know that a given performance is, say, by Duke Ellington, or an example of New Orleans style. I do expect you to be able to associate major performers with some of their most famous recordings--to know, for example, that Duke Ellington wrote and performed "Mood Indigo," while Coleman Hawkins recorded 'Body and Soul." But I do not expect you, on hearing (for example) Duke Ellington's "Conga Brava," to come up with the title.

Make-up Exam Policy

The date of the midterms and final are given in the syllabus. Students should make every effort to accommodate these dates in their schedules. There is no right to a make-up exam for the midterms, although in most cases an alternate date can be arranged.

If conflicts between exam dates and important scheduled activities arise (e.g., travel to official University functions, family weddings), the student should notify the instructor as early in the semester as possible. Other circumstances (serious illness, family emergencies) cannot be so carefully managed. But it is again the responsibility of the student to notify the instructor as soon as possible. Beyond a certain point (usually after the exams have been returned), make-up exams will no longer be scheduled. In some cases, students may have to withdraw from the course.

The date of the final exam cannot be moved. In an emergency, a student may receive an incomplete for the semester and take the examination by the deadline mandated by the University (usually by the beginning of the following semester). It is up to the student to apply for the incomplete with the Dean's Office (or appropriate officials in other Schools). Furthermore, it is up to the student to schedule the make-up examination before the required deadline. Failure to complete the requirements of the course before this deadline will automatically result in the grade of "IN" [incomplete] turning into an "F."

Helpful Hints

A. General

  • Organize your studying around the listening, which after all is the primary source material for the class. The various verbal materials (readings, class notes) are only meaningful in relationship to the music.

  • Make a habit of relating the written material on musical style directly to the sound. If you try to place a particular recording in its historical context while listening to it, you will remember it better—and you will understand the historical and/or technical aspects better as well. At the same time, don't take all the fun out of it. You should listen to the music at least once purely for the aesthetic experience before trying to place the music within the cultural and technical contexts discussed in class.

  • Concentrate on mastering musical concepts. For many students, this will prove the most challenging aspect of the course. Remember that you are primarily responsible for the evolution of the music, which requires understanding how each style differs from the next. Social and cultural context is vitally important, and will receive its proper emphasis in the class. But make sure that you grasp the musical fundamentals.

  • Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of material in the xeroxed readings. I have provided you with a sampling of the finest writing on jazz, and it necessarily contains more material than you can reasonably be expected to master. Rely on the lectures for a sense of what the important issues are on a given topic.

B. Listening

  • Remember: you don't need to learn everything about a given recording. It's not important to know the exact date as long as you can place it within 5-10 years. In most cases you will not be asked for specific titles. You don't need to know the names of all the musicians on the recordings as long as you know the most important performers.

  • You should continue to ask yourself technical questions as you listen: what is the form of this tune? what techniques (call and response, riffs) are being used? what kind of improvisation is being used (melodic paraphrase, harmoic, modal, "free")?

  • When reviewing the listening: don't try to listen to the music straight through—it will all "run together" that way. Approach the material topic by topic. Decide, for example, that you're going to review material on New Orleans jazz. You should then listen only to examples of New Orleans jazz, and relate them to the written information that you have (from the web site, the assigned readings, and class notes).

  • Do not put off listening until the last minute! Almost every student I have talked to who has tried to do that has found that after a while, everything begins to sound the same—not a recipe for success. Listen to the material as it is discussed in class.