Jazz Guitar: How to Learn a New Tune




Introduction: Jazz Guitar: How to Learn a New Tune

When playing with a jazz band or combo you will have to learn many different tunes. Not only will you be expected to comp over the cord changes but often times you will need to improvise over them or maybe even play the head. With this instructable you will not only be learning new tunes but learning them correctly.

This is intended for intermediate guitar players who can read music moderately well (sight reading not required) and who know the basic jazz chord shapes and how they are constructed.

Materials required:

  • Guitar (duh!)
  • Tuner
  • Metronome
  • A music sheet for the tune you want to learn (I'm using The Real Book)
  • A way to listen to the tune you want to learn (I use Spotify and YouTube)

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Step 1: Listen to the Tune!

  • Put away your guitar and music chart and just listen to a recording of the tune.
  • I mean really listen to it.
  • If it has lyrics memorize them.
  • Listen to different recordings of the tune if possible.
    • Each recording will probably be slightly different. That's okay, this is jazz and rules aren't as strict for jazz musicians.
  • You want to listen to it until the head is ingrained into your memory.

Step 2: Follow Along With the Tune.

  • Leave your guitar in it's case or on its stand and take out your sheet music.
  • Take note of the key and time signature.
  • Listen to the tune again but this time try to follow the melody on the sheet music while it's playing.
  • After you've followed the melody a few time follow along with the chord changes.

Step 3: Practice the Chord Changes

  • Now you can finally take out and play your guitar!
    • make sure it's in tune
  • At first do not worry about rhythm or time, just go through the sheet music and hash out the chords.
    • try playing around with different chord voicings to minimize how much your hand and fingers have to move
  • After you have the chords down and know what voicings you want to use, take out your metronome or go to your metronome app and set it to a fairly slow tempo.
  • Play the chord changes with the metronome, slowly increasing tempo as you get better.
    • This is probably the most important part here.
    • JUST DO IT
  • Okay, now that that's finish (sorry for the outburst) play the chord changes along with recordings of the tune.
    • Each recording will likely have a slightly different rhythm. This is good. Try to play those rhythms.

Step 4: Practice the Head

Now you might be thinking "But I'm just the lowly guitarist. All I do is comp and improvise. Why do I need to learn the head?" My first response is this: BECAUSE IT'S FUN! The real reason is because it helps you familiarize yourself with the tune and knowing the head makes improvising soooooo much easier (though improv is for some other instructable).

  • Just like when practicing the chord changes, don't worry so much about time or rhythm as you first learn the head. Us guitarists are not known for our sight reading skills. (Though sight reading is extremely important for musicianship, but that's also for some other instrucatable)
    • try taking 4 bars at a time and getting those down before moving on.
  • After you've gotten the notes of the head down pretty well it's time to practice with a metronome.
    • take note of the kind of rhythm if it is listed and try playing using that rhythm.
      • in the real book the rhythm is in the top left corner.
  • Again, set the metronome to a reasonably slow speed so that you aren't rushed and flustered while trying to play along.
  • Slowly increase the tempo as you get more proficient at playing the head.

Step 5: Play With a Baking Track

  • Try finding a backing track of the tune you're trying to practice that's in the same key as your sheet music.
    • You can find a backing track for almost any jazz tune on YouTube.
    • If the backing track is in a different key, no big deal. All you have to do is slide the notes and chords up or down the neck depending on how many steps the key is different.
  • At first just play the chords along with the backing track.
    • try mimicking the rhythm in the backing track.
      • then try adding in your own comping embellishments with the backing track.
  • After playing along with the chords it's time to play along with the head.
    • I like to think of backing tracks as a metronome with chords being played.
      • I hope that you're understanding the importance of practicing to a metronome.

Step 6: Conclusion

Now that you've learned a new tune it's time to get together with your band or combo and jam.

Remember that practicing takes time. Do not rush anything or you'll likely end up kicking yourself for it later. Also, not all tunes are created equal. Some easier tunes like Autumn Leaves might take just a few hours whereas a more complex tunes like Half Nelson might take a few days of practice to get down. Don't sweat it.

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    3 years ago

    Great jazz guitar information! Thanks for sharing!