The way I learned the first two Jazz Standards when I was starting out is almost a perfect example of how to screw up everything I am going to talk about in this video, and one of those things is especially tricky the way we often practice now.
#1 The Song Is Too Difficult
The first two songs that I learned were Stella By Starlight and There’s No Greater Love. Both are incredibly beautiful songs and they are also very common standards so they are useful to have in your repertoire. But they are not really beginner songs, so it was a lot of hard work to learn them and maybe I did not get as much out of the process as I could have.
What I did was that I recorded the chords of the song and spent hours every day improvising over them, gradually finding ways to go from one chord to the next and finding something to play everywhere on the song.
It took me more than two months to learn the songs.
These two songs were much too difficult. There are so many different chords and chord progressions that you don’t get the opportunity to develop different options, and you don’t start working on making variations of what you are playing. This really means that you are not developing your ability to improvise and you are not building a flexible vocabulary which is what you want to do because then learning more songs gets a lot easier. Stella by starlight is also a pretty difficult progression to analyze which means that you end up just playing from chord to chord and not really trying to sound like real piece of music.
So you want to make sure to choose easy songs when you start out. Think about it like this: You will probably learn a lot of songs and you might as well ease into it, so If you are looking at a song and think: “I have absolutely no idea what is going on with the harmony” then keep looking for another song to learn. Nobody starts training for a marathon by running 42 km.
#2 Learn The Melody
One of the blessings of using apps on your phone is maybe also something that is really slowing you down in learning Jazz. Here I am, of course, talking about iReal, which is a great very practical app to have if you have to play a song that you don’t know. But there is one really huge problem with it:
A Song is not a row of letters, and if you focus too much on learning songs with iReal then you are probably very often ignoring the melody. Keep in mind that the melody IS the song, it is rarely just the chords and in a lot of songs then the chords are open to interpretation and there are many variations available, so if you only know one set of chords and you don’t know what other options fit the melody then you might get in trouble later.
So you want to spend time learning the melody because:
If you know the melody you always have something to play in your solo
The melody is a great starting point for a solo, and if there is one difficult spot to solo over, then use the melody in that spot.
If you know the melody you have a guide so you don’t get lost.
It is difficult to hear a chord progression in your head, like 1 bar of Gø, one bar of C7 to two bars of Fm6, but it is easier to have the melody playing in the back of your mind because that is a lot less abstract
If you know the melody it is easier to hear other chord changes because you can hear the melody against the chords
When you are playing a standard then sometimes the band plays other changes than what you know, but having the melody in your head helps you to hear those chords. For example, here is the opening for Stella,
and if I change the first chord like this…
you can hear that the melody is the maj7th of the chord so the 1st chord is now a Bbmaj7. (Stella with Eø on chord 1 + Stella with Bbmaj7 on chord 1?)
A bonus from this is that eventually, you want to start learning songs by ear, and the easiest place to start is to learn the melody by ear don’t worry about the chords, just learn the melody and maybe check out a few different versions. Then you can transcribe the bass and combine those two to figure out what chords are played.
#3 Learn To Play The Chords
I am actually surprised how often I have run into this. Imagine a student coming into the lesson to a lesson and we play a song he or she had to learn. The theme and the solo is ok, but playing the chords is not working at all. Whatever song you play, it really pays off to just learn to hear the harmony and to feel how it is to play that harmony. Not only for you to learn the song but also because you want to play with others. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be there.
There is one thing that is going to make this a lot easier, and that is what I will talk about next.
#4 Think In Blocks Of Chords
Starting to think about chord progressions like this is such a gigantic step up. You can save tons of time and open up your playing really a lot. And this is just doing the same thing as we do whenever we read a book or a newspaper article.
Whenever you read a sentence, then you read the words but you don’t spell them, you read them as complete words.
“Scandinavian People Are Always Fantastic”
And that is something you also want to strive to do when you learn a song or even while you are reading and improvising. Make it into chunks of information that help you play over it. Something you can sum up in a few blocks instead of 30+ different chords.
And actually, there is a next-level of thinking related to this where you also start to realize how different chords are actually the same, but maybe that is for another video.
#5 Have The Material Within Reach
When it comes to improvising over a song you are still learning there is one part of the preparation you want to get right:
You need to be able to have all the scales or arpeggios that you want to use within reach. It is pretty much impossible to have any kind of melodic continuity or freedom if you need to skip up or down 3 or 4 frets to have material for a part of the song.
And this is probably not something that is impossible to overcome with a bit of practice, and if you are not at home over the entire neck then pick a place and start there. Once you have one position under control you can expand from there taking the positions next to the one you know..
Get the PDF and GuitarPro on Patreon:
You can get the PDF and GuitarPro files on Patreon here:
Get a free E-book
If you want to download a Free E-book of 15 II Valt I licks then subscribe to my newsletter:
Get the PDF!
You can also download the PDF of my examples here:
Jazz Guitar Insiders Facebook Group
Join 7500+ Other Jazz Guitarists 🎸Join us in the Facebook Jazz Guitar Group Community: http://bit.ly/InsidersFBGroup
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for topics then, please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.