Best Way to learn tunes/transcribe

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by ABlueJazzBassist, Dec 26, 2012.

  1. ABlueJazzBassist

    ABlueJazzBassist "Always play beautifully."

    Dec 26, 2012
    I ask this with a tentative addition to the above. Realistically. I want to learn tunes in a legit way, but I also do want to point out that I can't afford to spend a week on one tune. So with this modifier, what's the best way to learn tunes. I know many advocate learning only by ear, and by no means reading out of a fakebook. If that's the recommended way, how do you go about it? Do you nail the root movement first, then chords, then melody? Or do you read the changes out of say a fakebook, but listen to many versions of the tune? I have a similar question about transcription. How do you do it? I have a book full of Paul Chambers transcriptions, and my theory is to get to the point where I can sing the solo, then figure it out on my instrument with the notes in front of me. Or is better to just work out what I can sing without the notes? Lastly, how do you keep all that information in your noggin? I'd hate to forget something I worked so hard to learn. Is using a slow downer acceptable?
  2. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Most people (including myself) can't learn a tune in a legit way under a week at least at the beginning. You get better at it as time goes along. IME, nothing beats learning the melody and the lyrics if you want some real retention. I can learn the chord changes in a couple days but it's wasted if I don't learn the melody. Chord changes alone don't make for good retention.

    Of course if you're just starting out, if you don't know how to walk through a lead sheet, you have to start there first before going any further.

    Anyways, Ssee this thread:

    Same goes with transcriptions. The more you do it the faster you get.
  3. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Tunes that you like or that make an impression on you are the easiest to learn, I would pick them first. You won't retain any tune you learn if you don't play it enough to the point that you can clearly hear it in your head. People that know a lot of tunes, have played and listened to a lot of tunes, a lot, and that's how they know them.
  4. hgiles


    Nov 8, 2012
    Memorize the circle of fourths
    Learn the root, third, fifths of maj, min, dim, aug chord types
    Learn to recognize and identify a non-diatonic chord tone in a tune

    ...Then you can learn a tune a day...

    Seriously though. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it'll help you memorize chord patterns. MOST chords move around the cycle. MOST are diatonic...RARE is when a tune doesnt and those are the few things you really need to memorize.

    FWIW, I am a saxophone player and I regularly get nothing but a chord sheet and get asked to improvise over something ive never heard before and I am using the technique I describe above. It works.

    I memorized the chord sheet to WAVE on the bandstand using works.
  5. I remember being in your shoes and asking the same questions...memorizing the first 20 took me about a year. After that it gets faster especially when your ears develop. What really helped me was on the job training. I was fortunate to have gigs with older musicians that made me "sink or swim" on the bandstand. I remember my first gig back in high school was subbing for my teacher/mentor with a pianist. He didnt call anything, no key, no tune. Just played and told me to listen and hang on!! I found myself in many of those situations through out my early years and that is how I learned so many tunes. When on "low pressure" gigs and a tune was called that I didnt have memorized but have "heard" I would say "sure" and learn the tune on the first chorus to two. Also, by learning the tune by ear, I find that I remember it way longer then by reading.
    As your ears progress you will find that all tunes are the same as the "basic 20" with little twists. (I am talking about American Songbook standards)

    I could speak any higher about transcription. Check this out....

    David Liebmans Video on the Lennie Tristano approach to transcription
  6. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    If you don't play a chordal instrument, this process of tune learning is a lot harder and far more abstract. It really doesn't take much time to learn enough to be able to use the piano (or guitar) as a very effective tool for learning and writing tunes.

    Regarding transcription, use this process religiously-
    WRITE... then practice it and eventually play along with the recording, copying every nuance.

    Most of us have used tools to slow passages down. The important part is to be honest, and just work on one note at a time if you have to.

    Both chordal instrument study and effective transcription are means to an ends which are irreplaceable, IMO. The hard work is the best part of it.
  7. James Judson

    James Judson

    Jul 16, 2009
    I first go to youtube and find the song for a couple listens. Then I go to a lyrics sight and copy the lyrics into a word program then print out the lyrics. Next I go back to the youtube sight and verify the lyrics are correct. Then I play with the recording and write down the chords over the words. If its a complex chord pattern I might look that up on the internet as well. Now I start rehearsing the song with bass/guitar till I think its about there. Then I sing along with the tune several times w/o my instrument. Then I sing and play with the tune a few more times. Then I solo sing and play the tune some more. If there is an intro or lick I need to play I may just write down the notes or tab it out. Now its just all about practice.

    If the guys I'm playing with have changed key I then transpose the song and now it needs more practice. I rarely go note for note cuz by now I have a good sense of style and I can improvise and make it work.

    An easy song (like a 1-4-5) will take me about an hour. A couple hours if its more complex. I'm probably good at this cuz I've done a couple thousand songs.
  8. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Or even bass guitar, which is what I use.
  9. ABlueJazzBassist

    ABlueJazzBassist "Always play beautifully."

    Dec 26, 2012
    I love all of the enthusiasm and appreciate all your answers, however I feel I should have elaborated on who I am some to aide your answers. I do also play piano and guitar, both on a level good enough to comp and solo on most changes at a decent tempo. I have gone through AP theory with honors, done part-writing, and am one of the top students in my composition class. I understand the theory behind almost all the tunes in say, the real book, and have no trouble analyzing chord relationships and transposing changes. If I want to, I can memorize the changes to the tune, if they are on paper in front of me, in about two minutes. With melodies, if I'm reading, I can get most if they aren't too technically demanding in under an hour, and begin transposing. I have about 70 tunes memorized already, and have done some transcribing.

    My question is more this. Given that I can learn tunes by reading very quickly, would it be better to say, build a repertoire of 200 tunes fairly quickly through reading, or perhaps only get to 125 because I was learning more slowly by ear training? I realize the ear training will grow fairly quickly with practice, perhaps this is really just a complaint about having to work hard.
    Mostly my question is to method? How do you go about learning your tunes by ear? What helps? Same with transcribed lines.

    I appreciate the comment about lyrics, I've been very lazy about learning those, and will from now on include them in my learning process. Thanks again guys, I don't intend this as a put down, I hope your responses will help people out a ton, but I need something a little less on the newb side and a little more on the getting serious but with a limited time frame.
  10. WillyJake


    Jul 6, 2009
    Hey if you're looking for some additional resources on learning tunes / transcribing, I have 2 articles about these exact subjects on my website:

    first one is about tunes and where to go to find applicable arrangements, harmony and melodic interpretation.

    The second one is about transcription and practical application of jazz language.

    I think both articles will be most helpful to all up-and-coming jazz musicians.
  11. GrowlerBox


    Feb 10, 2010
    Nude Zealand
    Thanks, Willy -- I enjoyed those. Good looking website, BTW.

    For anyone else looking for these, they're in the "Blog" section. Probably no-one else would have any trouble finding them ...
  12. Fenderfellow

    Fenderfellow Banned

    Dec 27, 2012
    as an old-timer once told me - the first thousand are the hardest. in other words, just keep learning songs.
  13. sludgelord3000

    sludgelord3000 Supporting Member

    Oct 24, 2012
    Los Angeles, CA
    Other than that it's a useful skill and develops your ears, there's no advantage to learning tunes by ear over learning it by reading. As a learning tool it's great, but if your intention is to learn songs -- not train your ears -- then the most expedient way is the best way.

    If you do recording sessions you'll probably be expected to site read quickly. It's a valuable skill that also needs developing, unless your only musical goal is to jam standards at Joey's Jazz Hut.
  14. hgiles


    Nov 8, 2012
    Well, just keep memorizing tunes, sounds like you got it under control. Sounds like you know all the theory you need.

    As far as memorizing melodies...I wouldnt try to remember every pitch. Just remember the starting and ending pitch of each phrase if you need to. You know the chords and you know how the melody sounds... Youll never be far off.
  15. WillyJake


    Jul 6, 2009
    Haha! nice one. I agree - we should all strive towards becoming "total" musicians. It's easy to get deterred by short term goals taking up our practice time. Learning 50 tunes in 3 days for that cover band gig that pays $700 is never what I actually want to do, but being able to grind that amount of music in such a short period is a skill in itself, right?

    Anyway I dig what you're saying and agree. I think that - when you need to practice something, practice that. When you are just "practicing" for the sake of "becoming better", you should work on everything, which includes repertoire, sight reading, time, ear training (always through transcription), etc
  16. WillyJake


    Jul 6, 2009
    Thanks man! They are also on the little box thing on the front page.

    I'm always working on it and open to suggestions if ya got any.
  17. contrabart


    Mar 19, 2010
    I've seen one problem with lots of musicians that hasn't been mentioned here. Which is hat a lot of people aren't used to writing music, as opposed to reading. So a good way to start is to take an easy tune that you know, and try to put that on paper. That takes away the hearing part.
  18. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz

    It sounds like you're on the right path already. Be aware that training your ear is every bit as important as training your hands.

    Re: specifics of learning rep... If you want to be a working bassist, there are a core set of tunes you have to know. Do you have a working group? Put together a list and learn them together. This makes it more fun. Play with older, seasoned musicians and don't bring a book. Force yourself to learn the changes on the stand. There's a recent convo here on this. Do a search.

    BTW, there comes a certain point in the development of a quality jazz bassist where the ears should become the primary tool for this art. Once you learn the way the basic building blocks work, you should never need a chart again to figure out changes to a standard. Aspire for that, spend time with the working guys, go hear the best people in your area as much as possible, be nice, and stay humble. There's always more to learn.
  19. Honestly for me, the best way to learn a tune is to just play it over and over again. I know this isn't really a method, but for me it works very well. Sorry if this isn't the answer you wanted and this is just the method that works best for me. Your results may vary.
  20. ABlueJazzBassist

    ABlueJazzBassist "Always play beautifully."

    Dec 26, 2012
    Hey sorry for the rudeness guys. Thank you for all the answers. ChicagoDoubler, you're right. I think I'm going to just drop the book and force myself to learn everything for the rest of the year by ear. I feel like my ears are super weak. Thanks guys!