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How to free myself from reading Lead Sheets

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Jonas J, Oct 13, 2004.

  1. Jonas J

    Jonas J

    Jul 2, 2004
    Oslo, Norway
    Hi all!

    This is my first post to this fantastic and knowledgeable forum, so here it goes:

    I know how to construct a working bassline for a given set of chord changes, but my problem is that I'm having trouble freeing myself from constantly looking at the lead sheet. So, I was thinking that the jazzers at this forum perhaps can give me som advice on how to really "learn the changes and then forget them" as I think Charlie Parker once said.

    How did the old masters do it? Were they playing along with records and figuring things out by themselves, or did they have lead sheets or other resources that they memorized?

    I find it quite a big task memorizing lead sheets, does anyone have any advice?

  2. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Learn the tune. Different folks have different things that they focus on to do it, but melody is a good focus as is form. If you know your harmony, digesting the music numberically in light of the form works pretty well.

    Here are some steps to consider:

    Learn the melody. Be able to hum the thing all the way through. Then play it.

    Learn the changes and be able to play the roots and hum the tune.

    If you have access to a guitar or piano, then do the above on these.

    Put the tune in a few different keys. With me as well as my students, the magic number seems to be three. The first three keys for anything are the hardest and then transposing gets pretty easy after that.
  3. Hi there!

    I've also only recently started playing bass (just over a year) and, coming from playing 12 years of classical violin sheet music, had the same problem. (Well I still do, but at least have a better way to work on it)

    There are guys who are much more experienced than I am, with much better advice, but what I do helps me:

    My aim is to be able to actually hear the chord progression in my head. So that I know the sound of the next chord, not only the name of it. With this in mind, I:
    Play the root notes of the progression only. Semi-breves, then minims, then finally crotchets.

    Usually after a few times, I've got the sound pretty down pat. By learning a tune by how it sounds, it's much easier to transpose, if need be. All depends on how good your ears are.
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The answer is simple: good memory and a fast ear.

    The "old masters" learned mostly by ear from records. They had one advantage, though...most "standards" were just pop tunes of the day so they already knew how the melodies went.
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I have to disagree with you, Brian. To easily memorize music you have to understand its construction.
  6. jcbassomatic

    jcbassomatic Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    Raleigh, NC, USA
    I'll add that an interesting thing happens after you learn a few tunes - it gets easier to learn the next one. The harmony of jazz tunes has a lot of common features.

    - common forms - blues, rhythm changes, 32 bar, etc
    - ii-V7 or ii-V7-I in different combinations
    - common turnarounds (1,6,2,5 or 1,6,2,5,3,6,2,5)

    After a while you'll quickly sort out the common sequences and the differences between tunes which will make memory easier...

    The scary thing about depending on memory (for me at least) is I have a horrible memory, so I'm inadvertently training my ear to survive through a tune or gig. A great example is playing 'all the things you are' or 'stella' late in a 4 hour gig when my memory is shot and I have to rely on the sounds to guide me. I've screwed it up a bunch of times, but I never really screw it up too bad (at least I get called back) and I seem to be screwing things up less and less the more I do it.

    Being guided by ear is a great experience. I feel like I'm doing a better job making music when I'm reacting to sounds I hear rather than symbols I see. Its amazing how many nuances I didn't notice when following the page (chord substitutions, simplified harmony, etc)

    Jumping in head first and playing gigs or jam sessions with other people works well for me. There's no better way to really learn a tune than to butcher it in front of people and then go home to figure out how to avoid the embarassment next time...
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I like my teacher's method.
    1. Find the straightest, most white bread version of the melody and changes.
    2. With the nome set at qnote=60bpm, learn the melody. Play it over and over and over and over and over til it gets in your ear on you get off the sheet.
    3.Put together a CHORD LINE over the changes. A CHORD LINE is just the arpeggiation of the chord change, but with 2 ideas in mind
    A. PROXIMITY - use ALL INVERSIONS as well as root position to maintain proximate voicings for the line.
    FOR EXAMPLE: D-7 to G7 to Cmaj7 instead of using all root positions D F A C to G B D F to C E G B
    use root D F A C to 3rd inv D F G B to root C E G B.
    Do you see how you keep two voices constant in each chord?
    B. RHYTHMIC PLACEMENT each arpeggiation will fall "in time". In the above example, if the harmonic rhythm is one chord change per bar, each note in the arpeggio will be a quarter note. If there are two changes to a bar, each note of an arpeggio will be eighth notes. If the chord change lasts two bars, each note will be a half note.

    In the above example if the harmonic rhythm was

    // D-7 G7/ Cmaj7 //
    that is, two beats of D-7, two beats of G7 and four beats of Cmaj7, then D F A C would be 8th notes, D F G B would be 8th notes and C E G B would be quarter notes.

    So now you have the melody in memory and your chord line in memory.

    4. With the nome set at qnote=60bpm play one chorus of melody, play one chorus of chord line, play one chorus of melody, play one chorus of an improvised walking line, play on chorus of melody.

    Pick 4 tunes that you do this with. Believe me, the more concentrated work you start doing with 4 tunes, the more this bleeds over into all the tunes you play.

    When I was starting out, I was in the same boat. I wasn't hearing anything, it was just memorizing where to put my fingers or where the roots went. Having some concept of functional harmony is good, because you can read something and see how it fits together and that can give it some meaning and direction for you (oh, this all is just pointing to the IV chord).
    But you really have to work at getting to a point where you aren't limited to the page or what you've played before. The sounds you are hearing eventually have to hold some meaning for you. There are tunes i play the I've never heard before, if the piano player knows it well and can give me some basic info (like the key, the first chord and the key center and first chord of the bridge) there's a bunch of stuff I can make it through. If I have to read something, I want to be able to get off the page after a chorus or two. Sure that ain't gonna work to well for me right now on something like PINOCCHIO, but for most stuff in the standard repertoire. So whatever you are doing to work on learning tunes, you should also be spending a lot of time working on ear training - singing and identifying intervals, triads, 4,5 and 6 part chords. Transcribing lines and solos. The goal is to be playing what you hear in response to your musical environment, always with the idea that your input provides direction as well as support.

    It ain't enough that you learn how to read a map, you gotta be the one driving the bus.
  8. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    What Ed & Ray said. And this:

    Take the leap. LOSE THE PAGE. When I read, I often put the sheet on the floor, so that after once or twice through the tune I'm looking up and away from the stand. When I'm working on stuff with my kid, I've been known to spin his stand around.

    And welcome to the double-bass board, Jonas. Speak right up!
  9. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    If I'm trying to learn the head, I like to do it vocally first, away from the bass. Usually, I'll just leave the lead sheet laying around and learn to sing it in whatever size chunks I can remember. It isn't long before I have the whole thing internalized, and of course you get better at it the more you do it. Then, assuming you can play anything you can sing, you're in there. The added advantage is that you should be able to play it in any key at this point since you didn't learn it from the usual muscle memory/"correct key" approach. Instead, you learned it intervallically, and it shouldn't matter what key you start in.

    I'm doing this very process with Clare Fischer's "Dulzura" as we speak. Tomorrow, I'm gonna go for Mingus' "Bird Calls" :eek:

    PS...this works for building bass lines, too...just sing through the changes vocally for awhile, and internalize them. When I do this, by the time I pick up the bass, I pretty much know where I'm going.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Make a decision to start learning by ear. Make sure you can sing both the melody and the bass line of the changes before you try to play. In the end, you want your hands to be guided by your ears, not your eyes. Once you can sing the tune, play it in different keys without concern for the "names" of things - just let what you hear guide your hands. It sounds difficult, but it gets easier once you start doing it. In short, SING!
  11. What everybody said. However, I must add one thing and a word of caution about others.

    First, find ways to get the tune into your head using aural devices - get as many recordings of the tune as you can, including versions with vocals. Try to pick up versions by great jazz artists and singers - the "classics", generally the more straightforward treatments, will be more of an immediate aid than abstract versions, but those can help too. Sit down with the chart while you're listening and follow along. As your looking at the music, say the names of the roots as they change. At the same time, envision where those notes fall on the bass. Eventually you can construct a point to point map or diagram in your head, of the sequence of notes as they occur on the fingerboard. Then you can sing the roots with their note names as you listen, follow the chart, and visualize the fingerboard. Now do the same thing but without the chart in front of you. Next, pick up your bass and play whole note roots along with the tune, while singing the note names. Once you can do this comfortably, go ahead and add the rest of the walking line.

    I suggest this because it creates a succession of aural, visual, and tactile stimuli to imprint the necessary info into your brain, and all the while you're listening to a real version of the tune, picking up other valuable tidbits along the way (whether you're aware of it or not!)

    To reinforce and solidify, it's no big secret - repetition! This can come in the form of practice with generic play-alongs, jam sessions, calling the tune regularly on gigs, etc.

    I have to say, while learning a tune in several keys can definately take your understanding of that tune to a deeper level, it makes more sense to me to first memorize the tune in one key before trying to transpose it to others. In fact, the more I think about it, these are separate skills. The ability to memorize tunes is one thing. The ability to transpose a tune that you know is another. You should eventually be able to do both, but let's not put the cart before the horse. I know a bunch of tunes, and I'm fairly adept at playing them in any key. But I never found it necessary or even helpful, in terms of the initial memorization, to play them in more than one key.

    Ed, I am a little suprised at the "theoretical" thrust of your suggestions, as you profess to be such a "hear it then play it" guy. As I read your post, it seems that your teacher's method is quite useful for understanding a tune, but other than "play it over and over and over" does not address the question of how one is going to remember the tune once the written music is removed.

    But that's why they say there's more than one way to skin a cat! ;)
  12. flatback

    flatback Supporting Member

    May 6, 2004
    All these cats talking about the melody are spot on. When you learn the melody to a standard(and most of them are fairly sing-able and repetitious...easy to remember) the side of your brain that was made to memorize gets activated.(think twinkle twinkle little star) Once you know the melody your intellect can drop a whole bunch of info onto that framework and it will stick (like chords, subs, key centers etc.) because it is useful info in relation to something you already know. The theory has a chance to naturally lay itself out on the structure of the tune.
    I really dig learning the roots as a melody too. They are more jumpy, but if you sing the melody and play just the roots (dig I fall in love too easily or When I fall in Love) it can be just so nice to dig that counterpoint and really hear those two lines and how they were built.
    If you CANT sing the melody of a standard and memorize it, then you need to really ask yourself what you are playing over and where you want to be with the music because ALL the cats who can play have this fundamental ability and knowing melody is a step in learning to play the bass over chord progressions that doesn't have a work around. It does not mean you haveto learn every melody, but it means that the ones you work on you really know...you'll quickly see that it is easy and full of repetition...take "what is this thing called love" for starters the whole melody is just variations on a fragment, but what a tune.
    (Listen to Gary Peacock worble out melodies on his video...We are not talking becoming a singer here just accurate pitch and melody)
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Great thread with lots of useful perspectives - just to say that this is big thing for a lot of people, so don't feel alone there! ;)

    At the Jazz Summerschool I aattended in July - none of the bass players there, wanted to get up and play a tune without a lead sheet. So there was this situation on the Sunday night before the week started where it was case of "Open Mic" at the nightly Jazz club with a fair-sized audience - so a few horn players had Bb Real Books and som called standards, but no bass players were prepared to get up and play without something in front of them - although during the week to come, they did some good stuff!!

    Needless to say - playing by ear was heavily emphasised by the tutors and in the following week, our tutor only gave us one lead sheet and that was for a Paul Motian original that was very much "non-standard" !! ;)
  14. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Agreed. I think that transposition is sort of the "litmus test" of whether you actually know a melody, or whether you've only memorized the physical motions which produce it. In other words, once you think you have it memorized, then try to transpose it, and you'll soon find out if you really do.

    Coming from a background as a pianist, I am still wary of all of the "knowledge" that I amassed that was really nothing more than ingrained muscle memory. I always found it disappointing to think I knew a song because I could play it, but then discover that I was fuzzy on some of the details when I'd try to sing it. Playing in different keys was my way of making sure that my ears owned the tune, rather than just my fingers. But yes, you do have to memorize first, then transpose later.
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I think it's more the inability to communicate this methodology typing. Because Joe's method is about getting the tune in your ear (play the melody over and over), the harmony in your ear (play the chord line over and over) and by doing some specific improvisational exercises (that are impossible to communicate effectively except by being in the same room with somebody week after week- you start by improvising a line built of half notes and progress through rhythmic variations in a specifc and progressive way, using rests and melody in a specific and progressive way etc.) so that you reach a point where you hear (internally) the rhythmic pulse, the melody, the harmony and your improvised line all at the same time. Rather than "understanding" theoretically what's going on with the changes.
    All i can say is it got me from speaking gibberish to being able to convey some kind of simple meaning in my line and in my solos. And like I said, the work you do on getting deep into 4 tunes spreads out over all the tunes you play. It becomes easier to HEAR where stuff is going, it's easier to internalise form and changes after a chorus or two.
  16. Adrian Cho

    Adrian Cho Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2001
    Ottawa, Canada
    I don't have anything magic to say other than to repeat what Sam said - lose the book. Force your to play all the time without the book and just look at it occasionally if you need to. At gigs, I have my Pocket Changes on top of the amp and if there is a tune I'm not sure about, then I'll glance at it out of the corner of my eye from time to time. You'll be amazed also, when you are absolutely forced to play without music (i.e. someone calls a tune and you have no music and there's not even time for someone to call out the changes to you), you will just have to listen and work it and you might be surprised how well you do especially if you've already learnt a bunch of other tunes and know some of the basic building blocks. Playing the melody and repeating a particular digital pattern (e.g. 1235) over every chord are all good things.
  17. This is a great thread and I completely agree with the notion of loosing the book. If you've played a tune 3 times try playing it without the book. It took me 2 years to believe that i really knew Dolphin Dance because I never attempted to go without a lead sheet. As soon as I did loose the sheet it made a huge difference, now I never look at it and my time, intonation, and ideas are all better for it.
    There is one thing I'd like to put in the air though. I feel as a bass player I CAN'T take the risk of not knowing the changes. If I'm the slighest bit unsure of how a tune goes I want the sheet, I've had my fair share of angry horn players at jam sessions glaring at me because I've missed a change.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    But doesn't that reflect more on those horn players - that they are relying on you to feed them changes - maybe you should mention, that it would be quite legitimate for you to drop out for a few choruses to give them more space? ;)

    I know what you mean though - when you are playing with others who are less than totally confident, then they are looking to you as bass player and quite often, I have the lead sheet to confirm to myself that I'm right and they've lost it!! :)
  19. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    A lot of horn players will tell you that they listen to the bass for harmonic orientation, not the chording instrument. I guess they're expecting to hear plain old roots and fives down there.

    Sure it says something about their knowledge of the tune, but it also speaks to the bass' role playing that kind of music. I'm with mike on this -- when you sign up to be bass player you are saying "yeah, I can drive the bus. Not to worry." I like to make sure I deliver on that promise...
  20. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    It ain't just that, BRUISED. It's one thing when somebody plays a note because that's what they hear in relation to the tune and what everybody is playing. What MOOKIE is talking about is playing a note (or line) that you are NOT hearing in relation to the tune, because you are not hearing the tune at all. It's not that the horn players a relying on hearing you "feed" them the chords, it's that you suddenly aren't doing anything that relates to the subject at hand.
    Imagine crossing a cold river by jumping from stone to stone. There are a bunch of different ways to get across, you can choose which path to take. But not if one of those "stones" turns into a bubble. You go right through. It stops your path.

    But it's almost as bad playing with somebody with the sheet in front of them who doesn't know the tune and isn't listening. They keep playing THAT CHANGE THERE through every chorus, even if it's NOT the change that pianist is using, even if it's NOT the direction the soloist is pointing to, even if it's from the "Berklee" Real Book and is the wrong change entirely. It's on the page in front of them, so you hear it every chorus. I know I've said it before, but here it is again the harmonic progression of a tune is just a FRAMEWORK for improvisation, NOT a straightjacket. Listen, listen, listen. Use your ears. If you don't know it, get the key, the first chord, the key center and first chord of the bridge (or where the second ending goes if it's ABAC) and have the chordal instrument player go through a chorus rubato up front. If you still can't hear it, use the sheet but try to get away from it after a couple of choruses.
    And LISTEN.

    And DEMON, I don't know if that they are listening for "roots and fifths" so much as they are looking for your line to make some sense. It HAS to convey how you are hearing the tune, not just be notes chosen at random. You have to convey sense, logic, meaning. Not a smear, not the same thing over and over, but "I'm playing that note there, cause that's the note I MEAN to play. Followed by THAT one and THAT one and THAT one, ad infinitum. And the thing I continue to affirm from my studies with Joe is that, based on the amount of work with arpeggiation exercise and ear training coupled with the improvisational exercises, the more you put your ear in charge of your fingers and not your eyes or your head, the more your line grows in a meaningful and "organic" way.

    There are lots of charts I have to look at - originals, Miles tunes, Wayne tunes. But the work I do on my ear and approach help me to get away from the chart earlier and, while reading, keep my ears open for the "deviations" from the framework.