View Full Version : Aprroaches to Learning Jazz Standards

widdly widdly
09-29-2005, 01:01 AM
My current goal on guitar is to get to a point where I can sit in with a local jazz trio when they have a jam night.

My theory and sight reading are up to scratch however I don't have the repotoire and jazz vocabulary down pat. So I'm trying to learn a bunch of standards and transcribe some solos for them. Here is how I approach it...

1.) Learn the Melody.
2.) Play the melody along with Band in a box in a bunch of different positions.
3.) Learn the chord progression.
4.) Play the chords along with BIAB in a bunch of different positions.
5.) Break the chord progression down into sections and practise improvising over the sections with BIAB.
6.) Practise improvising over the whole chord progression with BIAB.
7.) Transcribe a short solo from a recording.

So far I've gone through Autumn Leaves and I am working on some of the solos from Miles Davis' version on the Something Else cd. I'm also working on a fingerstyle arrangement of the tune which really helps with memorising the chords and melody. I think at my current rate I can learn 1 standard a week.

Is this a good approach to learning Jazz?
Suggestions for other tunes are good for someone starting out with Jazz?
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09-29-2005, 03:15 AM
You've got your practice method down. Next is just a matter of approach, arppegios/scales, chord voicings, etc..

widdly widdly
09-29-2005, 05:32 AM
I figure if I practice the chord progression to each new song in different positions then I will be forced to use different chord shapes and inversions. For example if I play it at the 5th position and limit myself to the 5th-8th frets, then the chord inversions are different to if I play it in the first position. I find I'm starting to use some chord voicings that I wouldn't have tried if I didn't apply the restriction.

Same goes for playing the melody and improvising. By limiting myself to a particular part of the neck then I'm forced to use the scale and arpeggio patterns at that part of the neck.
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09-29-2005, 06:32 AM
That is exactly the point to good practicing, forcing yourself to do what you are not good at, like playing the scales, arppegios and chord voicings that you don't generally use. If I have any other advice for you, it would be to also practice being creative. For example, your chart says to play Amin7 D7 Gmaj7 and Cmaj7, how can you make the chords more interesting? For example, your Cmaj7 chord is a IV chord, therefore, where could you slip in a #11? If you will be playing with a bassist, you won't need a root so you can think: 3,5,7,#11 or 3,7,9,#11 in any order. What about the other chords, what extentions could you add. See if the melody gives you any hints. When you comp for the soloist what should you do to the D7 chord (V)? By playing in the same position, how should you voice lead?

Over the same chord progression, what other scales could you use, especially since the guy playing chords for you is probably going to play a D(alt) chord. Rather than a Amin, D7, Gmaj7 and Cmaj7 arpeggio, what else could you substitute.

This kind of practice will also give your brain a workout.


widdly widdly
09-29-2005, 08:27 AM
Thanks for the tips Chris. Good to know I'm on the right track.

I've just been checking out your site. Certainly a lot to take in there, especially the Improvisational Theory - The Complete Improvisation Guide bit. That could keep me busy for years!
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09-29-2005, 08:33 AM
Yup, you are on the right track.

The "guide" is what I've picked up from different players all over the planet. I still haven't gotten through half of it myself so don't be discouraged. You wouldn't believe how many hits that page gets everyday. Use it at will.

09-29-2005, 05:02 PM
learning to play the melodies on 1 string has always been benifitial for me.

I'm big on learning stuff in 12 keys, but you can't really do that until you learn a whole wack of songs, but 1 thing you can do is learn how to say the progression in 12 keys. That way it forces you to think of the progression in terms of function and figure out the roots as an after thought rather then thinking in terms of 1 chord to the next which is very easy to get stuck doing.

So for autumn leaves it starts out with a IIm-V7-I-IV in the relative major. so in Cm that would be Fm-Bb7-Eb-Ab or in Fm that would be Bbm-Eb7-Ab-Db...then it moves to a IIm7b5-V7-Im in the minor key. so in Gm that would be Am7b5-D7-Gm or in Bm that would be C#m7b5-F#7-Bm.

I find this is a great way to get to know your 12 keys, you can memorize songs as a series of longer sections (for autumn leaves what I just mentioned is all you really need to know, except for the ending) and you can practice all this without your instrument...in fact it's probably better if you don't have your instrument.

widdly widdly
09-30-2005, 05:26 AM
I'm with you on learning things on a single string. I've been doing that a lot since reading the mick goodrich book. Really opens all sorts of doors for moving around the neck and for harmonising things.

Unless you are using open strings, I don't see the difference in playing 12 different keys since you could move your patterns and shapes up and down a few frets and play the same thing. I would have thought playing it in 7 different positions in the same key would be more usefull. I can understand wanting to learn the chords by I ii ii names instead of C Dm Em names.
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09-30-2005, 08:32 AM
Unless you are using open strings, I don't see the difference in playing 12 different keys since you could move your patterns and shapes up and down a few frets and play the same thing. I would have thought playing it in 7 different positions in the same key would be more usefull. I can understand wanting to learn the chords by I ii ii names instead of C Dm Em names.

and that's exactly why a lot of people have underlying angst towards guitarists playing jazz. You have to admit that just moving a shape around without thinking about what you are doing is taking the easy way out. If someone calls a standard in Eb and you only know it in A it is going to be way easier if you just know your keys well enough that you can figure the chords out as you go along rather then taking some shapes that you know and trying to transpose them up an augmented 4th. All you have to know is where the root is and the notes on the fretboard. I suppose if you started with a very limited chord vocabulary and were happy just playing the same voicings every time you play a certain song and were also able to visualize a jump of an augemented 4th without knowing the notes, this could be benifitial...although I don't know how many improvisors are going to want to hear the same voicings every chorus.

09-30-2005, 02:53 PM
For what it's worth --- a friend of mine uses the Roman numbers instead of chord names on the fake chord sheet music he makes for his band.

That way when the vocalist calls out a different key they just move and play the Roman number. I've sat in with them a time or two and it does take a little getting used to, however IMHO, you do become a better musician because of it.

10-01-2005, 12:49 AM
that's exactly how I memorize songs...just use a roman numeral formula and then apply it to whatever key you decide to play the song in.

10-01-2005, 02:15 AM
Wow! I had the same question!!! Thanks guys! I do follow a similar approach, I can't tackle a standard a week though (my schedulle is too crazy to allow me to get the chord melodies down that quick) but I still work steadily until I'm happy with my arrangements. Now the bebop stuff is another story... just getting the head down up to tempo (Confirmation? anyone?) it's tough enough... I haven't even tried improvising over those yet.

Thanks a lot for the insight guys, you rock!

widdly widdly
10-02-2005, 03:12 PM
This weeks tune is "I Got Rhythm". Hopefully I'll be able to get a lot of mileage out of the changes :cool:

So I've taken on board the advice here and learnt the chord progression as I,ii,V etc. I'm wondering do you guys play the heads of tunes in different keys also. Do you write out a transcription of it or do it on the fly?

@forgottenking2 - I'm working at learning a new head and the chords each week. My fingerstyle arrangements are going to take a lot longer to get sounding nice. I can do a pretty vanilla version in a week though which helps with memorising the tune.
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10-02-2005, 07:32 PM
well if you are going to learn the progressions in 12 keys you should learn the head in 12 keys as well. If you get it down for about 10 songs you wont have a problem doing it on the fly after that. It can be very challenging at first because the melody will sound completely different in another key, so it may be difficult to hear if you are actually making mistakes. You mentioned BIAB which makes this way easier. For something like autumn leaves I think of the melody in the first 8 bars as starting on the root going up to the b3rd and jumping to the b6th then it just repeats down a scale degree until you hit the 5th which is a bit different with the natural 6th and 7th. Again learning them on 1 string is very helpful for this. Also learning to sing the melody is key and one way that has always helped me is knowing the lyrics...which oddly enough every jazz standard has, even parker heads...I believe that somone even wrote lyrics to the entire 'kind of blue' album...solo's and all.

just take it real slow. I'd recomend trying to play the same melody in 12 keys each day until you have it. Then slowly taking it down to say 6 keys for a while then 3 or 4 keys a day until you get to the point where it is firmly in your long term memory and you only have to play it in a random key about once a week. I try and set aside sundays to run through all the ones I've learned...although the harder ones will never get to that point, which I've only recently realized when I thought I had ornithology in 12 keys down...but it has since been lost...

widdly widdly
10-03-2005, 01:16 AM
Thanks for the tips silent-storm. Like you said, for Autumn Leaves, transposing the head on the fly shouldn't be too hard because the melody is fairly simple, easy to sing and doesn't jump around too much. I was thinking more for harder tunes. I can imagine some of the fast bebop tunes would be a good deal harder to do on the fly. You are right about BIAB being helpful. It's really great for all this stuff. It's a pity the thing is so counter intuitive to operate!
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10-03-2005, 11:00 AM
Some good tips on this thread. I just thought I'd add my two cents...

When playing head/chords through all 12 keys I like to go through the keys in circle of fifths/fourths. Or some other common modulation like whole step down. It helps you get those modulations in your head.

Also, sometimes it's interesting to transcribe a few different solos over the same tune to see how different artists handle a tune.

I agree with what someone else said here that knowing the words to a tune helps. Also, you can make up yr own words or use solfege if you have no words or they are too corny:) Words are good because they help you know where you are at in a tune, particularly when phrases repeat themselves but they have different words the second time around.