Method for learning jazz standards

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Michal Herman, Nov 7, 2016.


  1. Michal Herman

    Michal Herman

    May 31, 2013
    Hi all,
    I wanted to learn some jazz standards in a way - that when someone will call a standard during jam session I will be able to make bass line to this tune.
    I have some problems, because there are a lot of standards and usually they have quite a lot chord changes in them. After learning chord progressions to about 15 of them I have trouble to add more to repertoire without getting messed up with ones, that I already learned.
    I found this method online: Dropback Overview
    Has anybody tried this method? Or maybe you can recommend some other method?
     
  2. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    Chances were pretty good the first respondent to this would point you to Ed Fuqua's classic post on learning tunes. It's daunting but it's the real deal.

    REALLY Learning a tune
     
  3. Michal Herman

    Michal Herman

    May 31, 2013
    Oh... right then. So I think I will have to start all over with tunes, but in the "proper" way.
    So, maybe it's better to know few songs very good than a lot but "in glance". What do you think?
     
  4. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    I think the harder you work at getting as far into a few tunes the easier all the rest of them start to become on the bandstand. But there are better people to ask about playing standards...I worked at it hard for many years but I've let it slide.
     
  5. It took me ages to figure out that learning tunes, standards in particular, is not about memorizing a series of separate chords in a certain order, but more about how those chords relate to each other in terms of the harmony. Now I mostly hear standards as a series of destination points (generally the tonic of the various tonal centers within a tune) and how I'm going to reach those destinations (generally a ii - V7 progression of some variety). Doing this also opened things up for me in terms of using chord substitutions. Once you know the entire map, rather than the one route Google Maps gives you, you can find different more interesting ways of getting to the place you need to be.
     
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  6. madbass6

    madbass6 Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    I do not give consent to use any of my photos ! please respect that. thank you.
    I agree 100% !! I would much rather play 5 songs solid then 30 half ass!!
     
  7. Well, that won't help you much as a bass player on a jam session, usually.
     
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  8. madbass6

    madbass6 Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    I do not give consent to use any of my photos ! please respect that. thank you.
    it will if you don't halfass the he'll out of the songs !
    Jamming is one thing playing songs the rite way is another! & yes there is a huge difference! Just like there's a big difference between jamming and making noise!
     
  9. Of course there is a difference. Still: You won't be playing a lot on a jam session if you only know 5 tunes.
     
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I don't use that method, but on peeking at the site a bit, it appears to be a method for seeing the "big picture" of the harmony and not getting caught up in the details. I'm not big on having to learn a lot of new terminology to attach to music, but the concept itself is sound and if it helps you it might be worth using; obviously, if it doesn't , then move on. Interestingly, the sample tune "Bye Bye Blackbird" is the same one John Goldsby and I covered in our "Theory In Practice" video last summer. In that video, we spent a lot of time talking about foundational "load bearing" harmony and how important it is for being able to play freely over a song.

    The default song learning process I have used for some time now is summarized here. These days I try to do as much of it as possible without any written music, since it is easier to understand sound in terms of sound than in terms of symbols that represent sound. I advise my students to do the same, and only use the written music near the end of the learning process to help fill in holes and details that the ear wasn't able to completely absorb. Students who learn tunes this way tend to sound much more natural and flowing in performance, solo more melodically, and are able to transpose the tune more easily.
     
  11. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record posting ad nauseum about my recent epiphany the piano. But learning a song on the piano brings a much deeper more immediate sense of the harmony which makes remembering and playing it on the bass a LOT easier. The process of finding voicings then working the melody and lyrics over the chords embeds it more solidly than just arpeggiating the root motion and learning the melody separately like I've done on the bass my whole life. In retrospect learning a song only on the bass seems kinda abstract and incomplete....like it's skirting the issue somehow. I'm simply not able to come as directly to the point and hear it as vividly without the piano. And hearing more vividly makes it easier to play things I don't know that get called on the bandstand which may be most to the point of the original question.

    It's kinda the "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" principle.
     
  12. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    If you're gonna be a working bassist, you gotta know lots of tunes. Learning a few inside out ala the Fuqua method is great, and will help you learn other tunes in the future, but kinda sorta being able to play lots of tunes should also be in your program. A horn player can focus on a handful of tunes, but we're accompanists and if we want to get gigs we need lots of tunes and need to be able to play them in lots of keys too.
     
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  13. lurk

    lurk

    Dec 2, 2009
    The lots of keys thing is because a lot of the gigs you'll wind up playing will involve singers. Audiences like them, and they do things in odd keys. The key to playing in strange keys is knowing your harmonies by function - Roman numeral stuff.
     
  14. Lionel Albert

    Lionel Albert

    Jul 24, 2015
    France
    A great thing is to play Rhythm Changes and everything around that, nowadays a lot of people play standards but quite never a Rhythm Changes, there are many versions and it's interesting, try to study it and transpose it.
    To assimilate the chord changes easily, I recommend you two or three standards.

    First : Rhythm Changes
    Two : All The Things You Are and Autumn Leaves (circle of 5th)
    Three : How High The Moon

    In these three standards you have everything you need to learn easily other tunes.

    It is my simple opinion.
     
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  15. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Just make sure you are thoroughly working on at least one tune, the way @Ed Fuqua lines out. People have said and it can be said again that the words will tell you a lot about a tune and even give clues to the harmony. They will really help you keep the form and phrase the melody properly. When I work on a tune with my students I use lyrics to point out where things like intonation and phrasing could be better. Working on My Funny Valentine with a student I recently told a student to make sure their fingering was clear for "Greek", "weak", "speak" & "smart".
     
  16. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Agreed; the lyrics are huge signals letting us know when the major changes and accents on the tune are about to happen. SOOOOOOOOO much easier than trying to make up a mental que for the thirdminorsevenflatfiveonmeasure14.

    To me the struggle is the bass..... ( bring on the flames....)

    When I learn a jazz standard tune on the guitar, the chordal structure and the melody compliment each other in a way that is often very natural and easy to learn in a short time period, it is enjoyable, and I learn the full range of the tune. On the bass, often the emphasis is on only one part of the song's structure; I get yelled at all of the time by soloists for overstepping their zone and trying to spice it up, so it takes a bit more tedious practice to learn to lay it down it well....

    I'll say it again just for Damon, get a looper pedal for practice. (He loves those things!) You'll learn to lay down the chordal structure and the melody much better than a quiet room working out one part of a book or a chart and it will be more fun. Leave it at home on the gig day and please turn it off when other people enter the room so you can hear him yelling at everybody to get off his lawn.....
     
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  17. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I would say my objection to looper would not be in the practice room - provided it was left there. I think the less gadgets we rely on the better (though I have taken to using drones, lately!).
    If you learn all the aspects of the tune besides the bass part, the melody and arpeggios arco and at least three note versions of the chords on piano, guitar, bass guitar, then work on the root movement, then start to work on various solutions to the bass line you will be in a better place.
     
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  18. Lionel Albert

    Lionel Albert

    Jul 24, 2015
    France
    The piano is an open book. You see better how it works.
    But the most important thing is to keep the form, the structure, you can be a philosopher of music, you can create a lot of lines.
    If you can't keep an AABA, AB, ABCD and others no one will trust you, a good bassist is someone who keeps the form, not a diva.
    Be simple, you're the rhythm section and learn where you are.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2017
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  19. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
    Not if you're working a five or six night a week gig with a singing pianist at a NYC bistro.
     
  20. Lionel Albert

    Lionel Albert

    Jul 24, 2015
    France
    He'll give you a list, he's talking about jam sessions, it's different.
    A singing pianist who plays all the time, cuts songs, etc.
    Doesn't need a bassist, he doesn't need problem.