Tag Archives: jazz guitar songs for beginners

3 Stupid Mistakes You Should Avoid When Learning A Jazz Standard

I had started really spending time practicing scales and arpeggios and even gotten them to where I could use that in my solos and could go beyond just playing pentatonic licks, but the first time I tried to learn a Jazz Standard, I failed completely, and was pretty much, doing Everything wrong.

A the time I had no idea what a Jazz Standard was, and if I had known that they were mostly songs written for musicals in the 30s and 40s then I would probably have run away screaming

My introduction to this was also a bit odd, and this is really the story about me being clueless and fumbling around in the dark while making every possible mistake., and hopefully helping you avoid that.

At the time I was still studying mathematics at the university, and I was hanging out with a bass player friend of mine that I knew from high school. I hadn’t seen him for a few years and we were jamming and improvising. Because we were improvising he told me about Jazz and played me some fusion albums.

I was not really impressed with the fusion stuff, it sounded like instrumental pop music with chorus on the whole album to me. The music I was listening to at the time was more blues-based and really not produced like the 80s fusion was. At the same time, I was still really curious to learn and to try to play Jazz because I wanted to become better at improvising. That part fascinated me because improvising was what I had the most fun doing when I was playing in rock bands, which I did next to studying at the university, and I was quite lucky that I played in bands where I had a lot of space to improvise like that (especially given how bad I probably was at it). I had been checking out some Satriani and Steve Vai, but when I realized that they were not improvising their solos then I lost all interest in their music and went looking for other stuff. It took a long time until I started to appreciate their playing, it is strange how pretty random things can influence our taste, I somehow also ignored that a lot of the rock bands that I listened to did not really improvise either.

Luckily Johan, the bass player, had an Aebersold album that I could borrow so that I could try to learn to play. If you don’t know what an Aebersold album is, then it is a book with sheet music for some songs and backing tracks for all those songs which is great to practice with if you know how to read and interpret a lead sheet.

 

At that time I had never listened to Jazz and the only Jazz song I had played was Mood Indigo where I had managed to teach myself a G7(b13) chord,

but I had absolutely no idea what to do with all the chords in that book, the most Jazzy song I had improvised on was probably T-bone Walker’s Stormy Monday which is still just a 12 bar-blues.

 

I started listening to the Aebersold cassette and the first song was Green Dolphin Street. Of course, I only had the backing track so I listened to the groove in the bass intro (which was a bit confusing) and especially the chords which sounded amazing with a lot of colors and it was moving around in ways I wasn’t used to which I found really interesting. I immediately set out to try and learn to improvise over that song.

Listening To The Song

If you want to learn a song then one of the first things you want to do is to listen to the song, that seems obvious. When I am working on a song then I usually check out several versions and also try to figure out what the “famous” versions of that song is.

But I was in the situation that I had ONLY the backing track album, and this was in 1994 without any Spotify, YouTube or iTunes then I had no idea how people played the song. Remember that I had no experience with listening to or playing Jazz, and the only source of music I had available was the library where it was hard to find specific songs if you did not know what album it was on or who had recorded it, which is really a pity because the Coltrane/Miles versions of this song would probably have been really cool to check out and would have made the whole thing a lot easier.

Learning the Melody

From the Aebersold book, I could spell my way through the melody, even though Eb was not exactly a key I felt familiar with. I might have had an advantage because I had been playing with my guitar tuned down a half step, just like Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn and I had had to sometimes play in fairly odd keys because of that when I was playing with other people, but reading the melody of the song was certainly a challenge and something that I could at most spell my way through. This meant that I did not spend a lot of time on it, since that was anyway not what I wanted to do, I wanted to improvise, I wanted to solo on it.

What I did not know was that, If you want to learn to improvise over a Jazz standard then one of the first things you want to learn is the melody. The two main reasons for this are:

#1 The Melody is what you use to hear the harmony

So you hear the melody note and from that note, you hear the rest of the chord that is around it,

that is much easier than hearing 4 beats of Cm7, just try…

#2 The Melody is what gives you the form

Instead of counting bars while you play you hear the melody as a guide through the form so you don’t get lost.

Not having the melody internalized made that VERY difficult, mainly I then had to count to keep track and the chord progression, which was anyway completely new to me. I had never heard of a II V I or a III VI II V anyway. I actually think that I could have gotten a lot further if I had learned the melody first and if someone had told me to do that, but nobody did, so I tried to count and keep track while I was improvising, which was a very poor strategy.

Modal Improvisation And Scales Sucks for Changes

What really drew me to Green Dolphin Street was probably that it had the A part with shifting maj7th chords that sounded both complex, surprising, and still pretty smooth or natural, and that was also what felt was the easiest to solo on, or rather possible to solo on.

That part of the song feels more “modal” and is not really a typical jazz progression. The 2nd 8 bars with the two II V I progressions with an altered dominant were impossible. I didn’t know what a II V I was, so I certainly had no vocabulary for that, and altered dominants were also pretty far out of my reach even if I knew what scale it was.

The way I had been taught to improvise at this point was to look at the chord progression and then figure out what scale to use and play something with that scale.

The skill of really spelling out changes was not something I was really aware of, and combining that skill with a chord progression so that your solo would flow through the changes was also not something I had heard of. Everything was per chord, and not about playing specific chord progressions. The other approach I knew was to have one scale that fitted the entire song and just use that, but I could not find a scale that had an Ebmaj7, a Gbmaj7, a Fmaj7, and an Emaj7 chord in there….

I could barely figure out what to play on the chords and had no idea how to tie together those melodies then 200 bpm is pretty fast! Those parts of the song were mostly just crash and burn, and often I would get completely lost trying to count and just play something.

This is really why you want to learn some vocabulary and also work on soloing over specific progressions like II V I and turnarounds, which will then give you much better tools to handle blocks of chords within songs, it isn’t just one scale per chord, and knowing the building blocks of turnarounds and cadences helps you hear what is going on. That way you are moving towards improvising more freely over the progression.

The Weird Paradox Of Difficult and Easy

The way I learned to improvise using chord scale relationships, is not that uncommon, and it is also sort of a logical next step if you deal with shorter progressions where you don’t have too many chords. Often that means that the first songs you are given by a teacher are modal, so different chords next to each other with no really harmonic connection. Songs like Cantaloupe Island or So What are typical examples.

This way of learning improvisation is useful because the songs are easier to play over, you don’t have to think about a million chords, scales, and arpeggios, but they do have a problem if you want to later play songs like Standards and Bebop Themes.

Jazz as a language was not developed by playing over a static chord for a long period of time. It was developed by improvising over Jazz standards which have faster-moving progressions, and a part of the language is how the solo incorporates those chords into the lines. You need to learn to think ahead and also to play a melody that spans several chords.

That is difficult if you are trained to think about everything one chord at a time and not have an overview of several chords in one phrase. In that way, the modal pieces don’t really help you get better at playing faster moving progressions since the chords don’t move in the same way as they do with Standards and you are not working on what connects the two chords.

At the same time, it can be really useful for a beginning improviser to work on a modal piece because it helps develop a sense of period (so feeling the bar, and the 4-bar periods) and a lot of modal progressions have really surprising chord changes that are easier to hear so that you don’t get lost when you play because you can easily hear what is going on.

This can be much more complicated with a Jazz standard. So there are pros and cons to learning modal pieces in the beginning that you might want to be aware of, but of course mainly if you aim to learn to also play Jazz standards.

My Aebersold backing track was clearly way too fast for me to play over it, and in this first attempt at learning a Jazz standard then I did not sit down and make my own slower and clearer backing track which is what I did later, just recording me playing the chords, but there is a funny side effect to practicing slowly when it comes to Jazz.

Practicing Slowly – The Wrong way

Any song that you play slowly enough becomes modal. You can easily try, just play a II V I but make each chord 4 or 8 bars long, and then you will hear how the forward motion of the progression disappears. This is also how The 2nd Miles Davis quintet made songs like Stella by Starlight and My Funny Valentine into modal pieces: slowing them down so that the function of the harmony disappears.

So when you want to practice slowly on a Jazz standard, then maybe it is not about taking the tempo too far down that will work against you because you can’t hear the flow of the harmony which is as important if you want to develop your jazz skills. Instead, you can slow other things down so that you internalize the harmony and learn to improvise over the chords. I have other videos on improvising with chord tones and in my course, I even reduce that as a starting point before gradually helping you develop your playing so that includes arpeggios, scales, chromatic phrases and octave displacement.

Another important aspect is to focus on the short chord progressions that are the building blocks of a Jazz standard progression. That is what makes it both easier to remember the chords and also what will make it easier to improvise over them because you have those shorter building blocks in your ears and in your fingers.

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Make it Easy To Learn Jazz Standards – Important Chord Progressions in Minor

In this lesson, I will go over the most important harmonic building blocks in a minor key, which will help you learn most Minor Jazz standards and give you a ton of options for your own songs.

When you learn Jazz songs, you need to memorize the chord progression, and if you try to do that as a long string of chords, that is NOT going to be very easy. Instead, you want to recognize the smaller building blocks of the song, making it 5 or 6 things to remember instead of 30.

It is a little like going from looking at a row of letters to recognizing the words and reading the meaning, and I am sure that you can see how reading words and remembering the meaning is much more useful than spelling everything.

This lesson will show you how that works.

Hearing The Chord Progression

The way I am going to do this is also important, because it will help you learn and remember songs a lot faster! I will play the different building blocks but I will also play some songs they are used in. Hearing how they sound in a song is probably more important than recognizing them on a piece of sheet music.

If you think about the chords in blocks like this you can use the songs you already know to learn new ones because you recognize how they are similar.

And more what is more important: You know how it sounds

#1 The Most Important Progression

As I will show you later in the video, minor keys do things major keys don’t, like having chord progression that is only one chord but still moves.

But of course, the most common progression is the cadence of the key, the minor II V I.

You have that in most minor songs like Alone Together or Yesterdays. And actually, the next progression is a very common variation on this II V I but it is a little hipper.

A funny side note with the minor II V I is that in the pure form, you use all 3 minor scales, one for each of the chords:

Dø from Natural minor, G7(b9,b13) from Harmonic minor, and Melodic minor on the Tonic chord being m6 or mMaj7. This is, of course, a part of why these are considered more difficult than the major counterpart.

But let’s check out a very common variation that just screams minor.

#2 The Most Minor Cadence

This Chord progression is extremely common in minor and includes a tritone substitution, which is maybe a little surprising since that is mostly seen as a type of reharmonization, but here it sounds surprisingly natural and I will explain why in a bit.

You know this progression from Minor Blues or songs like You Don’t Know What Love Is.

There is a reason that this tritone substitute doesn’t sound so crazy or out of place. The chord consists mostly of diatonic notes, so for Ab7:

Ab C Eb Gb

Is mostly diatonic to C natural minor: CEb F G Ab Bb C

This progression is probably the most common final cadence in minor Jazz Standards. Next, let’s look at an important progression that doesn’t resolve to minor at all.

#3 Another Common Cadence

You don’t always go back to the tonic in a song, there are other places you want to move to or visit in Minor. The relative major is a very common destination. You come across this in songs like Beautiful Love: – First minor cadence then major

or the other way around in Autumn Leaves, first to major then to minor:

It is a nice variation to have, as is the next one which is also a cornerstone in the tonality

#4 We Need To Go To The Subdominant

Another place that many songs go is the IV in the key. You don’t want to just cycle around the tonic all the time, that gets really boring. An example would be Alone Together. It first moves around on the tonic and then before it gets boring it goes to the IV chord.

So a cadence to the IV in the key is useful:

Before we get to the One-Chord-Progressions then let’s look at a few great minor turnarounds.

Should I Make A Major Version?

The minor songs tend to be a little simpler than many major progressions, mainly because there is less use of modal interchange and fewer modulations. But would it still be interesting to make a similar video for major keys?

#5 Turnaround Variations in Minor

There are turnarounds that almost only work in minor, but the two most common and important version is of course the I VI II V in minor:

And the version with a secondary dominant for the II chord, which is again a tritone sub:

 

Another turnaround that is used almost exclusively in minor is the Andalusian Cadence:

But in minor, you only need one chord to create progressions.

#6 Chord Progressions With One Chord

You know both of these examples since they are incredibly famous. These are really just voice-leading tricks that sound great and are often used in the minor.

The first is the “Stairway to heaven/My Funny Valentine” line-cliche which has a static minor chord where the root is moving down in half steps:

Often we forget the other variation of these which is the line-cliche from the 5th which you find in songs like Cry Me A River and of course most famously the Theme from James Bond

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7 Easy Jazz Standards In Minor You Need To Know

Most Jazz songs are in a major or a minor key, and Minor songs are a great place to learn several things that you need in Major as well, so it is a good idea to really dig into studying some minor songs.

In this video, I am going to go over 7 songs that are in a minor key that you want to have in your repertoire because knowing them will improve your playing.

I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but most Jazz standards are in a major key. Some pretend to be in minor but then turn out to be in major. I don’t want to single anyone out, How Deep Is The Ocean, You’d Be So Nice To Go Home to, What Is This Thing Called Love.

Anyway… The first song you probably already know, but maybe a few of the other ones will be a surprise, and later in the video, I will also talk about why So What is not on the list.

#1 Autumn Leaves

Probably one of the most well-known Jazz standards, and even though the old Berklee Realbook has it in Em, then the most common one in Jazz is G minor.

A little fun trivia is that the Miles Davis “riff” is actually also a part of the original arrangement with that clear m6 sound.

Lesson on Autumn Leaves as a Chord Melody: Easy Chord Melody on Autumn Leaves

What do you learn?

When you are working on Autumn Leaves then you are working on the two main cadences, the major tonic and the minor tonic cadences (highlight in sheet music). It is also a great place to explore how to play tonic minor since you really have the melodic minor sound in both the melody and the arrangement with the Gm6 riff.

#2 Blue Bossa

Another famous and simple song that is often among the first 3 tunes that you learn is Blue Bossa. Mainly because it is a short 16-bar form and has really basic harmony in the key of C minor only taking a short detour to Db major, which you could describe as a cadence for the Neapolitan subdominant, even though the melody maybe suggests otherwise.

Learn Blue Bossa: Blue Bossa Getting Started Soloing

Famous Versions

There are quite a few famous versions of this song to check out beyond the original recording by Joe Henderson. Especially George Benson and Pat Martino’s interpretations are worth checking out!

#3 Bernie’s Tune

I think this is maybe the least known tune in this list. It was actually difficult to find songs that are in a minor key and also not too difficult, but this song is really pretty simple and covers some basic chords in the key that you want to master, especially the tonic minor and the tritone substitute of the V of V. The chords are also lasting a little longer so you have a bit of space to develop your vocabulary and really get into those melodic minor sounds and how beautiful they are.

The melody of this song is also based on a great swinging riff using 3/4 on top of 4/4. Lots of stuff to learn from this one.

Lesson on Bernie’s Tune: Getting Started With Melodic Minor on a Jazz Standard

#4 Softly As In A Morning Sunrise

This is in a way a minor version of Rhythm Changes, mainly because the A-parts are built around a minor turnaround, which is of course the most important progression in the key. It is usually played in the key of C minor.

There are many fantastic versions of this song, both Jim Hall and Emily Remler are important Jazz guitar versions to check out. Emily Remler also includes a beautiful reharmonization of the melody going away from the minor turnaround, but still going back to the usual progression later in the solo.

The bridge is a short trip to the relative major: Eb and then with a few diminished chords back to Cm.

Lesson on Emily Remlers Solo: Emily Remler on Softly as in a morning sunrise

#5 Minor Blues

The Minor blues is really the re-invention of the 12 bar blues of the Hardbop era. The most famous examples are probably Coltrane’s Mr. PC and Equinox, but of course, there are other great examples out there. Mr. PC and Equinox are great examples of the extreme range of tempos that you play blues in with one being very fast and the other very slow.

While the minor blues is a great progression to check out how to use different minor sounds, so really dig into melodic minor or Dorian and it is also a great exercise in playing the most common variation to the minor II V which uses a tritone substitution for the V of V instead of the II chord

Minor Blues Lesson: Using Minor Blues to learn Melodic Minor

Similar to Bernie’s tune this is a great progression to explore tonic melodic minor, Lydian dominants, and altered dominants (high light or call out)

#6 Summertime

Gershwin’s Summertime is a beautiful song that is actually a bit modal in the sound. It is a great example of a short-form song that still manages to get around the tonic, subdominant, dominant and relative major. It is also a good vehicle for other meters like Jonathan Kreisberg’s amazing 5/4 version of the song, also an awesome example of dynamic solo guitar performance.

And what many people don’t realize is that Wes Montgomery’s song Four on Six is in fact written on this chord progression with some common reharmonizations.

Lesson on Wes’ Four on Six: How To Make Simple Sound Amazing – Wes Montgommery

#7 Solar

In a way this is a Parker Blues version of the minor blues. It is actually also a Bebop composition written by Chuck Wayne and then later stolen by Miles Davis, who we all know as the composer, and even has a bit of the melody on his tombstone.

Solar is a great song to study because it has a melody that is quite clearly using tonic minor and also a lot of typical bebop movement with a long series of “how high the moon II V I” meaning that the tonic chord becomes a m7 to become the II in a II V going down a whole-step.

The famous recordings of this song would probably be Pat Metheny trio and Brad Mehldau trio both are amazing! A great composition on these changes is Jerry Bergonzi’s On Again Off Again with some interesting shifting melodic minor scales by Mick Goodrick in his solo. He also recorded it with John Abercrombie on a later album.

Chord solo lesson on Solar: Easy Chord Solo Exercise

Honorable Mentions

As I already said, most Jazz standards are in minor, and I actually asked a few colleagues about suggestions for this list and didn’t really get something that I thought was easy and famous enough. Maybe it was because they were both bass players?

Some of the songs that are very common, and in a minor key that is maybe not precisely easy would be Alone Together, Beautiful Love, Angel Eyes and You Don’t know what love is. They are all worth checking out because even if they are not exactly what I consider easy

Alone Together

Beautiful Love

Angel Eyes

You Don’t Know What Love Is.

Please let me know if you have other suggestions for easy songs in a minor key! It is always great to have suggestions for songs!

Why No “So What”?

So why isn’t So What on the list? I get the question “what about So What” very often on my 10 easy standards video, and I understand why that would seem to fit both there and also here, it is a song with very few chords for a jazz song. But to me, it is more logical to have a list of songs where studying one will help the other, and So What is a completely different type of sound and song than these. In fact, it is not really in a traditional key. There are no cadences or really moving harmony, so in that way, it is something else.

That does not mean that it is not a good song, that I don’t like it or that it won’t be useful to study, but, to me, it is something else and not anymore related to these songs than it is to How High The Moon.

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50 Jazz Standards – The Songs You Need To Know

Jazz Standards are the songs you need to know to learn to play Jazz. I always say “Learn Jazz – Make Music” in my videos and the Jazz Standards are the songs that play when you make that music.

This video is a list of 50 Standards that are really useful to have in your repertoire. I have split them up in some different categories because that is practical for when you are playing. You don’t want to play 5 medium swing songs in F major next to each other in a set, you might find yourself playing the wrong theme at the end (true story!) Having variation in a set is very useful.

Content:

0:00 Intro

0:57 Easy Standards

2:03 Intermediate Standards

2:23 Don’t be like AC/DC!

2:37 And it goes for Jazz as well…

3:23 Difficult Standards

3:47 Ballads

4:05 Don’t be like Dutch Audiences

4:18 Samba & Bossanova

4:45 Jazz Latin (and a little modal)

5:14 Blues

5:45 Waltzes

6:27 Jazz Standards in a minor key

6:56 Bebop Themes

7:27 Is your favorite missing?

7:42 My favorites (that I couldn’t put on the list)

9:08 Like the video? Check out my Patreon page!

Learn important Jazz Standards

Download the list here

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How To Learn a Jazz Standard – Important Exercises

Learning Jazz Standards is essential to learning jazz, in fact learning the repertoire is everything with any genre of music. There are of course many ways to go about this, but since it is important and you want to learn a lot of songs then it is also useful to do this in an efficient way.

The first time I started to learn a Jazz Standard it took me about two months, and there are better ways to do that how I did it. And that is what this video is about.

If you want to check out my other video on the 10 first Jazz Standards to learn, you can do so here: The First 10 Jazz Standards You Need To Know

If you want to check out some more videos on the topic of studying songs then check out this short playlist: Learning Jazz Standards

Content:

0:00 Intro

0:07 Learning Jazz is Learning Jazz Songs

0:28 Take a better approach than I did

0:44 A Method or a Checklist

1:10 #1 Pick A song

2:02 #2 Listen

2:29 Learning By Ear and using vocal recordings

2:54 #3 Analyze the Song

3:35 Join the FB Community

3:54 #4 Playing The Song

4:13 Play the music, not only exercises

4:31 #5  Pick a Position

5:12 #6 Learn The Melody By Heart

6:04 #7 Play The Chords

6:44 #8 Learn The Arpeggios

8:01 #9 Other Exercises

8:50 Like the Video? Check out My Patreon Page

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The First 10 Jazz Standards You Need To Know

I say it all the time: Learn Jazz – Make Music, and to do that you need to know some songs, so in this video, I am going to go over 10 jazz standards that you want in your repertoire and are great places to start learning jazz. This is In terms of playing changes and knowing all the chords and scale but also about the form that you want to know which is going to make it easier to learn more complicated standards.

When talking about the songs I will try to reference great versions of them, and also talk about whether this song may be a good place to start for you if you are looking for songs to learn.

If you already know a lot of songs and have some other suggestions for this list then let me know about that in the comments to this video. Sharing information like that is really useful for everybody checking it out! I’ll talk about the first standards I learned later in the video, none of those are on the list.

Get started learning some of these standards: Learn Easy Jazz Standards

For example Blue Bossa or Autumn Leaves

If you want to check out some of the important progressions that make up Jazz Standards then check out this video: Chord Progressions as Building Blocks

Want to learn how to analyze standards? Then see how I do that in this playlist of videos on Jazz Standards and music theory: How To Analyze Jazz Standards

Get a PDF of the list

You can get a PDF of this list by filling in your e-mail here, your browser will go to the download page automatically.

Content:

0:00 Intro – Learn Jazz Make – Music!

0:24 10 Typical Standards and Forms

0:36 The Form Of Songs is Important!

0:56 Where are you coming from?

1:12 Something missing?

1:37 #1 Take The A train

2:04 AABA forms

2:52 #2 Cantaloupe Island – Modal Jazz

4:03 #3 Blues

5:28 #4 Satin Doll

6:12 The Ellington Bridge

6:23 #5 Blue Bossa

6:54 #6 Autumn Leaves

7:25 #7 Perdido – Rhythm Changes Bridge

8:02 No Rhythm Changes?

8:15 The First 3 Standards I learned

8:57 #8 Summertime – Four On Six

9:27 How To Use the list

10:00 Did I leave out a Song?

10:05 #9 Solar – Not by Miles Davis

11:23 #10 All Of Me – ABAC Form

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