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How to Memorize Standards

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by rodoherty1, Mar 11, 2004.

  1. Hi Guys,

    In the last month I have started joining in open-mic Jazz Sessions in South Dublin. 6 Weeks ago I didn't know any standards at all and I'm now able to stumble through a chord-chart without too much pain or disgrace.

    Having got to the point where I can survive a gig, I now want to start connecting the chords into groups of chord-progressions so that I can play like I actually understand what's going on.

    Currently I'll typically play a II-V-I by starting on the root of each chord and then outlining the 3rd, 5th or 7th. This is primitive stuff, I admit.

    I think the first step is to start memorizing the standards ... How do you jazz-cats memorise a tune? Do you think "key of C II-V-I, key of Eb V-IV etc" ... or do you simply remember each and every chord and mentally assign certain progressions to a scale as you play?

    Any tips would be very welcome because I think this is my next hurdle in my journey into jazz.

    Thanks in advance ...

  2. Hmm ... I'm not hearing much in the way of replies. It's either a dumb question or I've phrased it badly.

    I'll rephrase and then leave it go ...

    Consider LadyBird ... a pleasant tune.

    C I (2 bars)
    Eb II V
    C I (2 bars)
    Ab II V I (2 bars)
    G II V
    C II V
    Turnaround?? C Eb Ab Db

    Should I be thinking in scales degrees (is that the Nashville way?) or should I first concentrate on learning the chords in one key and assume that the different progressions through the changing keys (in the tune) will eventually dawn on me?

    I'll go away now ...

  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    You're probably not going to get many replies on this in Bass Guitar - but this very subject has only recently been discussed extensively on the DB side - I think there is a lot more Jazz discussion generally over on the DB side as most Jazz has Double Bass rather than BG.
  4. BustinJustin

    BustinJustin banned

    Sep 12, 2003
    NYC, LI too
    read the Pino Pallidino (sp?) interview in BP. he discusses his "memory chops" theroy...... might help ya.
  5. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Well, if it helps, I generally look at a chart as harmonic function, but in one key, unless it shifts just too darn much. So, let's take the A section of AFTERNOON IN PARIS, in Cmajor.

    Imaj7 / Im7 - IV7 / bVIImaj7 / bviim7 - biii7 /
    bvimaj7 / iim7 - V7b9 / Imaj7 / iim7 - V7

    It's obvious that the second bar is a ii-V-I leading to Bbmaj7, the bVII. It's also obvious that the 4th bar is a ii-V-I leading to Abmaj7.

    To be honest, I don't know if this is the world's most effective technique. The true jazzbos probably have a great deal of advice in hearing the changes, hearing the harmony, and knowing where the tune would naturally go. My ear is not that mature yet. Also, I don't have nearly as many tunes memorized as I should. That's one thing I really need to work on. The thing I like about this method is it's ability to easily play the tune in any key. I think if you can recognize ii-V-Is or the like, in different places, like I'm talking about before, then that would help.
  6. bassmantele


    Jul 22, 2003
    Boston MA USA

    For a start, I'd just memorize the changes in the standard key. Then analyze it to recognize the functions

    C E7 Am7 D7 G = I III7 VIm7 II7 V

    With that reference, you can transpose if necessary.

    Then look for modulations - the E7 is the V7 of Am, the D7 is the V7 of G, etc.

    Now understand that the two way of looking at progressions - referenced to the original key center and as modulations to new keys - are the flip side of the same coin. You need to see them both.

    Also, you should be able to read changes and transpose on the fly by interval. To transpose from C to E, just raise all chords up a major third.

    The exercises mentioned above are great work - transposing a song to every key is a great way to really learn it, and learn your instrument at the same time.
  7. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    IME most standards work in this way - that's to say, "stacking" ii-V-I progressions. (I don't memorize standards either, but I should).

    If the tune is more harmonically complex than a simple ii-V-I, I wouldn't suggest the "assigning scales" method. If you work with each chord individually, you will better understand what is going on. Plus, you will be more prepared for any "curves" that will get thrown your way at a jam.
  8. Funkateer


    Jul 5, 2002
    Los Gatos, CA
    How long does it take you to work through all of this for a new song?
  9. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I was gonna say, it'd take me a lifetime to get throug a tune performing all those excercises. It sounds like a damned good routine, but I simply dont have 3 hours per day to practice, let alone 6!
  10. Funkateer


    Jul 5, 2002
    Los Gatos, CA
    This has been a very helpful thread so far. Would you mind expanding on your arpeggio etude suggestion?
  11. chardin


    Sep 18, 2000
    Please post your etudes so all can learn. Thanks. :)
  12. chardin


    Sep 18, 2000
    Good response! ;)
    Personally, I'm more interested in what rhythms you are using than the notes. I have a hard time making scales and arpegios sound musical.
  13. Hi Guys,

    Thanks to all who replied to this thread. It was interesting to see how some of you experienced Jazz Heads approach the standards in different ways.

    I had a go at Bassart's practice routine and, there's no doubt, it's a very long exercise. I'm having dreadful trouble learning to improvise so I decided to apply this routine to "Blue Monk". My head was a mess after an hour despite the fact that Blue Monk is probably the simplest tune on the planet.

    Maybe "All the things you are" would be a little more appropriate for this routine?

    Anyway, I hope to continue working at this for a while and we'll see how it works out.

    All the best, Lads/Ladies,

  14. DaBassman


    Mar 25, 2002
    Oneonta, NY
    do you remeber which section???? I looked but didn't see it..thanks!! Bill
  15. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Bassart1 - This is a most interesting exercise. I'll try to add it to my practice routine. I've been in need of finding ways to improve my walking basslines, improvisation, and memory and with this and the "Elevating Oneself" thread over on the DB side for inspiration I'm quite sure I'll succeed in doing so.


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