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Tips for memorizing jazz charts?

Discussion in 'Music [DB]' started by WillBuckingham, Oct 27, 2005.

  1. WillBuckingham


    Mar 30, 2005
    Does anyone have any advice on committing standards to memory?

    This is always a slow process for me, and even on tunes that I know really well, my lines are not as good as when I have the chart in front of me.
  2. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I'm not an expert on it, but here's how I was taught.

    Learn the melody
    Arpeggiate the changes
    Play the roots and sing the melody
    Play the melody and sing the roots
    Walk the changes

    Repeat in at least one other key.

    On top of that, for me it's somewhat mental. Once I've played it on the stand without a chart, I know I can do it and I'm usually good. Until I do, I always doubt. If have the chart out, just in case, I end up glued to it.

    Hope that helps.

  3. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    +1. Also, I like to put on my favorite version of the tune and keep playing it til I get sick of it. After that comes doing all of what KeyKen said but away from the instrument by singing/humming it all. After a while I'll be able sing a solo over that while still hearing the changes in my head.

    Yeah, I have alot of voices going on upstairs. :D
  4. WillBuckingham


    Mar 30, 2005
  5. Take a standard & play it in 3 or 4 different keys. You'll memorize the progressions (ii V I's, etc.) not the chord changes. It will commit to memory real quick that way.... Or maybe I've worked with too many singers :crying: I can't even remember standard keys anymore! Try playing Stella By Starlight in Eb or G live & on the fly! That will bring tears to your eyes :bawl:
  6. Chrix


    Apr 9, 2004
    Agreed. I find it easy to learn tunes by way of chord progressions and moreover, learn the tune as a series of ii-V-I's.

    Take the tune 'I Love You' for example. Here's how I remember it:

    ii-7(b5) - Vb9 - IMaj7 (a minor ii-V-i, but goes to Maj I)

    ii7 - V7 - IMaj7

    ii7(b5) - Vb9 - I - ii/III-V7/III

    IIIMaj7 - ii/III-V7/III - IIIMaj7

    ii7 - V7 - IMaj7

    ii7(b5)/II - V7(b9)/II - II7 - V7

    ii7(b5) - Vb9 - IMaj7 - ii7(b5)/II-V7/II

    II7 - ii7-V7 - IMaj7

    So if I know that basic pattern, I can plug those progressions into any key, cause God knows singers can't sing in real keys.

    The only challenge at after this point is making sure you can play the melody in all the keys.

    Just my two cents. Hope it might help.
  7. dex68

    dex68 Guest

    May 5, 2005
    These are all good tips. Also try to remember that music is primarily a right-brain (creativity, intuition, etc.) activity. Yes, there's plenty of memorisation involved, but also try to hear the abstract 'shape' of tunes. Actually, memorising standards is as easy as learning nursury rhymes. The difficulty is all in your head. How many Beatles songs can you sing all the way through? You could probably figure out how to play them, too. (Well, these days a lot of folks don't know who they were, but you get my drift.) I remember when I was a rock guy, when you joined a new band, they'd give you a tape, and you'd learn the tunes from that, by ear. There's something to that, I think.
    Anyway, standards are songs, which were written to be catchy, just like 'She Loves You' or 'Please, Please Me'. Transport yourself back to 1933, or whatever, and catch it. Once you have really internalised the the song, learning the changes is nothing, because you will hear them. Of course, there are often multiple alternate chords, but when you just relax and trust yourself, you'll get it. As you have no doubt noticed, most of these tunes follow a fairly predictable formula.

    Also, instead of listening to the Keith Jarrett or the Pat Metheny or (fill in the blank...) version first, try Sinatra or Nat Cole. Go from there, you'll get a much better understanding of the tune.
  8. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002
    A few things I've noticed:
    Learn the tune from a recording instead of a lead sheet.
    If you use a lead sheet, turn it over and stop looking
    at it - don't become "fakebook-dependent".
    Learn the lyrics - at least the first line or two and the
    bridge line if there is one. Helps retention and inspiration
    (I still wonder if all the folk playing "Days of Wine And
    Roses" uptempo square it with the mood of the lyric).
    If you REALLY want to know a tune, learn the verses
    of the Broadway show standards (you get extra credit)!
  9. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Scott hit the nail on the head. The lyrics are really key to helping memorize a tune. An added advantage to learning the lyrics, even if you never intend to sing them, is that it gives you an opportunity to listen to any number of great singers interpreting some fantastic poetry. If any of that "vocal" sensibility creeps into your playing, all the better.
  10. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    This is a big challenge for me as I am trying to solidly get at least two tunes a week learned: that means the changes, the melody, and being able to decently solo on it, and be able to do this all by memory in playing situations.

    I think the most helpful info I have heard is to focus more on learning the tune from a good recording, using the Real Book chart only as a quick guide, and to really learn to hear those common progressions. When I listen to the recording, where are the ii-V7-I's, and I ask myself, does this modulate up a step somewhere, which is often does, and where is that point in the tune (as there often is) where there is that major, then minor change on the same pitch that often goes into a ii-V7-I. Sometimes I just listen to tunes, hopefully with my right brain engaged, and I just hear those progressions and I can almost anticipate where they are going next. When I start thinking that way, I know I am on the right track. Also, when I am in a playing situation, I make the point of using a Real Book chart as little as possible. It is amazing sometimes how much I can trust my ear to let me know where I am going and then I can get through most of the rehearsal/gig without charts at all. Can also try this with recordings, or just playing the changes of the tune solo, with our without a metronome.

    I'm trying to get a solid core of common standards committed to memory, keeping it mind that there's realy no way one could possibly learn every song tune by tune. I am learning to trust my ear. It is sometimes amazing to me how much I end up just being able to play by memory. There are really only so many possible progressions, and so many of these tunes have common progessions. Get those ii-V7'Is and you're more than halfway there, and once your ear catches on to this, you'll be playing Girl From Ipanema and maybe thinking, oh, these are the same changes to the begining of Take The A Train.

    I learned a lot of these concepts from Kristin Korb and Carol Kaye (on her jazz soloing DVD). They both are great players/teachers and they think in terms of chordal progressions and could probably play just about any jazz standard just like that. And, thinking in terms of chords, it is not that difficult to play in other keys, because that's going to happen in playing situations too.