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How should I go about learning Donna Lee?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Fassa Albrecht, Feb 16, 2008.

  1. I've finally decided to learn this piece of music and I've got the sheet music already.

    Now I tried to learn it a month or so back but ended up giving in completely. now I want to play it again, and want to hopefully memorise it as well.

    Whats the easiest way to learn this piece.

    Any tips and advice for this piece will be helpful.
  2. I learned Donna Lee out of the "Bird" Aebersold. I took it phrase by phrase and learned each one VERY slowly. Once I had all of them, I started playing the entire head slowly with a metronome (also with a drum loop) and gradually increased the tempo as I was comfortable.

    Remember, a slow and accurate version of Donna Lee sounds better than a sloppy fast one, IMO.

    Don't get discouraged.
  3. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005

    The answer is "slowly".
  4. bottomend!


    Oct 23, 2007
    This is a good one on a number of levels.
    The cool thing about it is the song is in two sections with the second part being 60% identical to the first, so you have that aspect to look forward to after you've worked your way through most of it ( it's like a built in reward for behaving and being good!).

    Heres what to do if you want to learn the melody;

    Take each bar individually and play it individually until it becomes like a little exercise unto itself. You'll need to find a fingering that works for the entier bar. Dont really worry or concern yourself at this point whether or not the fingering from one bar will connect to the next bar, just contend with one bar as it's own little island of joy/pain at this point.

    Practice this one bar by being able to;

    1st find a fingering

    2nd say the names of the notes

    3rd say the names of the fingers ( "one, two, three, four")

    4th sing the note names

    4.5th sing the finger names.

    ...then once you can do that and not goof up, move the pattern (it should "feel" like a pattern now and not just an arbitrary set of notes)
    a half step in either direction. Work on being able to move it as far away as possible from the original.

    added practice;

    (this might be a little or a lot over your head at this point, I'm not sure) you should also be able to say the function of the note against the chord. For example; the first bar is a Abmaj7 and the first note is a "g". You would say "seventh". The next note is an "Ab". You would say root. You have to know the function of the notes incontext with the chord than are played over. This is slow and tedious but this is how real learning is accomplished. This type of practice cements the information into your jellified brain nice and solidified. Lots of stuff happening here cognitively so you're not just depending on one sense to pull you through. It imperative that you actually SPEAK the words out loud, not just "think" them. This technique ties alot of the loose ends together.

    If you take a bar a day you'll be through this in no time at all. It's 32 bar tune but like I said, there is alot of it thats repeated so it should take about three weeks to get to the end. At that point you will not of actually "learned" the song so to speak, but you will be READY to learn it as a piece of music. While you're working on this exercise, you should also be listening to a good recorded version of it ( Charlie Parker being the obvious choice) and also be listening to the Jamey Aebersold play along version ( Ron Carters walking lines are pristine). Dont practice along with it yet, just listen to the rhythm section and... wonder. Very shortly you'll be in the ring with these guys and then the fun starts!
  5. PocketGroove82


    Oct 18, 2006
    If you DO start learning Donna Lee, let me give you a word of advice (since you asked for it).

    Once you learn the melody, don't be the guy who plays it in front of me in an effort to impress me. Because, I will ask you what key you are playing it in.
    And if you can't answer that question...well, you didn't really learn Donna Lee.

    I feel that there are 100 other standards you should have memorized before trying to tackle Donna Lee. Rest in Peace, Charlie Parker.
  6. Hi everyone. I've just started to study Donna Lee seriously as well. I've decided to stick to the original (Bird) and not listening to any other bass players' versions (Jaco, Wooten, Caron...) for a while, until i have everything figured out. First, i try to learn each section just by ear and analize how different fingerings change the articulation and swing feel. Then, when i have completed analizing chord-scale relationships, repetition of patterns, etc, i'll read the chart and check for errors. I have to slow down many parts with a wave editor, although that's something Janek Gwizdala doesn't recommend. It's a long term process, but it's fun, develops a lot of skills and i don't need to just walk through the changes to survive tonite's gig. By the way, i don't think there's anything wrong in trying Donna Lee before memorizing more standards. Nothing wrong in facing a challenge. The worst thing can happen is realizing it's not the right moment for you to try: let it aside a couple of months and try again. The really stupid thing is just studying Donna Lee 'cause that's what Jaco did, and everyone else does it. And stop investigating any other standards.
    Anyway, i'm just an amateur with very limited experience
  7. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    +1 learn each phrase at a time. Learn it slow and focus on good phrasing. Listen to Charlie Parker and learn to sing the head of the tune. Then sing along when you practice playing it. That will get so breathing space and again help get the phrasing down. Learn to play it in more than one position on the neck that could be simply about the 12th fret and below, or two fingering patterns. That not only is good tech and fretboard practice, but makes you focus on the notes and their sound.

    Then when your fingers get tired while resting start analyzing the melody in comparison to the chords. Analyze the chord progression. Later after learning the head start transcribing one of Parkers solos. Taking one tune and learning it inside out and dissecting it can teach more than learning 100's or licks or lines. Trying to discover how a legend thought about a tune is a like taking a masters program in music.
  8. doctorjazz


    Oct 22, 2006
    Wilmington, NC
    Yeah, basically what everyone's been saying. Very slowly, phrase by phrase with a metronome taking plenty of time out to work out good fingerings. You might also want to listen to and play along with a record to try and cop Bird's phrasing and the way he accents notes.
  9. Zebra


    Jun 26, 2005
    If it's any help, here's a pretty cool youtube vid of someone breaking it down into slower tempos.
  10. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    I started putting this into practice, and am curious about what's going on melodically.
    It's not quite easy to understand how the melody fits over the changes, at least for me.

    It seems like Mr. Bird put a lot of b9's over the dominants. Is he playing a sort of diminished scale over them?

    Any pointers and things to look for so I can better understand this harmonically would be great.
  11. matthewbrown

    matthewbrown Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    Harwich, MA, USA
    Donna Lee requires some really interesting fingerings and shifting. Jaco didn't slur many notes (if any) as I recall, but I developed a fingering that allowed me to do a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs that work with the tune's phrasing (I think). It's a good challenge for technical reasons, but I agree that there are so many melodies to learn that it may not be the most significant, especially if you haven't done many of the easier standards. I learned it before I could really HEAR it, and it took me along time to wrap my ears around it. On the other hand, it was a real milestone for me, and I think it's well worth doing.
  12. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Mr. Bird played lots of b9s as well as #9s because he liked to "surround" target notes with chromatic upper and lower neighbors.

    If you're seeing a +9 or -9, +5 or -5 then he might be playing superlocrian (7th mode of the harmonic minor scale), but since you can play anything you want on a V chord and it will work as an alteration he could be playing anything.
  13. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    Tritone substitution.

    The thing that makes the V-I cadence work so well is the tritone interval between the 3rd and 7th of the dominant chord. The dissonance begs for resolution. The inversion of that interval gives another tritone, and you can use these notes as the third and seventh of another dominant chord a tritone away from its original root. This, again, resolves very nicely to the tonic.

    So instead of:

    ii - V7 - I

    you have:

    ii - bII7 - I

    The root and fifth of the tritone substituted dominant chord act as the b5 and b9 of the original dominant chord, and the two can be superimposed to give an altered dominant chord.

    One of the features of the dominant chord is how they are often extended by the addition of 9ths, 11ths and 13ths.

    If the tritone subsituted dominant is extended to a ninth chord, you get the #5 of the original dominant, the 11th gives the major 7 of the original dominant (which is an avoid note), and the 13th gives the #9:
    Dominant chord in C major:
    G B D F
    1 3 5 b7
    Tritone substitute:
    Db F Ab Cb
    1  3  5 b7
    Function in G7 chord:
    Db F  Ab Cb
    b5 b7 b9  3
    Db F Ab Cb Eb Gb Bb
    1  3  5 b7  9 11 13
    Function in G7 chord:
    Db F  Ab Cb  Eb  Gb  Bb
    b5 b7 b9  3  #5  [COLOR="Red"]7[/COLOR]   #9
    [COLOR="red"]AVOID!!! Clashes with b7[/COLOR]
    The reason the altered (superlocrian) scale works so well on a dominant chord is that it mimics the tritone substitution by using notes that function as flattened and sharpened fifths and ninths.
  14. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    First, why do you want to learn it? If it's as an exercise to improve your bass playing, I wouldn't necessarily start with 'Donna Lee'. Jaco indicated that he practiced a lot of Charlie Parker's music in an effort to improve his bass playing... 'Donna Lee' was the culmination of this effort. If you want to follow his example, I'd start with some of the easier Parker tunes, like 'Now's the Time', learning both the head and the solos and trying to work out what Parker did and why. Concentrate on the harmony that Parker's playing with and take notice of what he does with the dominant chords.

    This stuff is hard to transcribe, so it might be an idea to get a hold of the Charlie Parker Omnibook. I'm pretty certain you can get it in bass clef... mine is in treble clef, but that's okay. Just make sure you get one for C instruments!

    Work your way up to the more difficult tunes like 'Donna Lee'.

  15. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    dlloyd - thanks. I'm going to reread your post a couple of times, with the head in front of me... Especially playing with how the tritone substitution works (as opposed to how it sounds- I've used it and liked it but only "sort of" understood it, based on the 3rds and 7ths).

    Superlocrian - that's kind of an unholy marriage between half-whole diminished and whole tone scales? That's what it looks like when I map it out.
    I've played with using straight half-whole diminshed over dominant chords, and like that sound a lot. Now I will play with superlocrian as well. I've never really given melodic minor scales their due work...

    Thanks again. Got a big chunk of new material here to explore.
  16. MD


    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.
    A slightly more up tempo version.

  17. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I tend to agree. I can't recall a gig where someone called Donna Lee.

    To answer the OP's queastion, the best advice has been given - slowly.
  18. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    you'll get more use from learning how Donna Lee works than where to put your fingers in order to play it
  19. Scot


    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    Memorize the changes and learn to improvise good walking lines first.
  20. Yeah they do have them in bass clef. I transcribed this song and others for sousaphone and the book really helped alot.

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