Autumn Leaves is one of the most popular jazz standards on record and is a must-know tune for any jazz guitarist. Because of this, having a strong hold on the melody and improvising is essential learning. While other instruments, such as sax, trumpet, and vocals, often play the melody on a gig, you never know when you’ll be called up to play the head in or out of a tune.
In this lesson, you will learn to play the melody of Autumn Leaves, combined with chords to fill up the gaps.
Next, you will learn a guitar solo over the chords of Autumn Leaves, and the scales needed to play that solo.
Learning the melody is an important part of studying any jazz standard. Even if you are excited to dive into the solo, take the time to learn the melody, it builds a strong foundation of the form and tune in your ears and fingers that will make soloing easier over these changes.
Have fun learning this Autumn Leaves melody and solo. Study it over the backing track, incorporate licks and ideas from the solo into your own playing, and dig into one of the most famous jazz tunes in the repertoire.
Autumn Leaves Video
Autumn Leaves Scales
Jazz guitar scales are an important tool for improvisation and essential learning for every jazz guitar player.
In this section, we will have a look at the basic guitar scales needed to solo over Autumn Leaves. There are other scale options besides the ones on this page, but in this lesson, we’ll stick to the basics.
G Major Scale
You can get away with playing over the entire chord changes of Autumn Leaves with just one scale, the G major scale (aka G Ionian mode), although there’s a great chance you’ll sound boring after a while.
That’s why you will learn to combine the G major scale with other scales.
Here are the notes of the G major scale:
|G Major Scale||G||A||B||C||D||E||F#|
Here are the notes of the G major scale mapped on the entire fretboard:
If the major scale is new to you, start with this position:
E Minor Blues Scale
Another scale that you can use over the entire chord changes of Autumn Leaves is the E minor blues scale.
The minor blues scale is almost the same as the minor pentatonic scale but has one more note, called a blue note (#4 or b5).
|E Minor Blues Scale||E||G||A||A#||B||D|
Here is a common fingering for the E minor blues scale (the blue note is colored… blue!):
To bring variety to your solos and sound interesting to your listeners, you’re going to need some other scales as well.
The Harmonic Minor Scale
The most common scale of choice to play over dominant 7 chords that go to a minor chord is the harmonic minor scale.
There are two dominant chords like this in the chord changes of Autumn Leaves, B7 and E7:
- Play E harmonic minor over B7 (goes to Em7)
- Play A harmonic minor over E7 (goes to Am7)
Here are the notes of the E harmonic minor scale:
|E Harmonic Minor Scale||E||F#||G||A||B||C||D#|
|Played over B7||11||5||13||b7||1||b9||3|
And here is a common position of the E harmonic minor scale:
Autumn Leaves Backing Track
Here is the backing track for this lesson:
Autumn Leaves Melody
Here is the melody arrangement, where I combine the melody with chords. An arrangement like this is called a chord/melody arrangement.
The voicings used in this arrangement are rootless chords. By removing the root and only playing on the higher strings, you don’t get in the way of the bass guitar.
Autumn Leaves Solo Study Chorus 1 [0:51 in the video]
In this solo, I combine scales with arpeggios.
To study this solo, start by learning in groups of 4 bars. Once you get that working, play the entire solo.
The first section of the solo concentrates on simple voice leading lines.
Voice leading is the smooth movement of notes from one chord to the next. Each “voice” is moved by the shortest distance possible and mainly the 3rds and 7ths of the chords are used.
Here I play a B7b9 arpeggio:
Here I use a Gmaj7 arpeggio:
Autumn Leaves Solo Study Chorus 2 [1:41 in the video]
Here I play a Cmaj7 arpeggio:
And an F#m7b5 arpeggio:
To learn how to make melody arrangements and improvise guitar solos like the one above, check out our Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar series.