Take The “A” Train

Take the “A” Train, composed by Billy Strayhorn in 1939 and first recorded in 1941, was the signature tune of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The title refers to the then recently opened A subway line that ran from Brooklyn to Northern Manhattan.

Take the A Train

The chord progression of Take the “A” Train is loosely based on another song called Exactly Like You (1930).

The standard is in the key of C major and has an AABA structure. The Duke Ellington version modulates to Eb in the second chorus.

Take the “A” Train starts with two bars of C major (on bar 5 in the sheet music below, after the 4-bar intro), before going to two bars of D7#11 (the #11 is in the melody), which functions as a II7.

For improvisation, use the D Lydian dominant scale over the D7, the fourth mode of the A melodic minor scale, which is closely related to C major.

It is said that the first two melody notes over the D7 sound like a train horn…

The B section begins on the IV (Fmaj7) which is very common for swing-era jazz standards (see Stompin’ at the Savoy and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore).

The ending of the arrangement is very recognizable and is known as the “Take the A Train” ending.

Recommended listening:

  • Duke Ellington – Hollywood (1941)
  • Dave Brubeck – Jazz Goes to College (1954)
  • Ella Fitzgerald – Ella in Hollywood (1961)
  • Kenny Burrell – Ellington is Forever Volume 2 (1975)
  • Joe Henderson – Lush Life – The Music of Billy Strayhorn (1991)


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Video & Guitar Tabs/Notation



Backing Track


Take The A Train Page 1

Take The A Train Page 2

Take The A Train Page 3


Take The “A” Train Guitar Pro FileGuitar Pro File

  • Tom Scharf says:

    Great lessons! Unfortunately, like a lot of us I’m sure, I haven’t got Guitar Pro 7, only Guitar Pro 6 and 5. I understand you could save your files in the earlier formats? GP6 or GP5 would be great!

  • John Slattery says:

    Thank you for this fantastic Ellington A-Train Arrangement….its superbly played by your good self,Great video ,and Tabs too! Whats not to like! Thank you Dirk…and stay safe.

  • jay says:

    Nice guitar arrangement Mr. Dirk.

  • KP Witt says:

    Great tune. Thanks for sharing all these lessons

  • G GETIN says:

    Thanks a lot for all the tabs you share !

  • Stephen says:

    Thanks again, great song and lesson.

  • Walter says:

    I am just working on this piece. This great lesson helps me a lot with chords. Thanks very much.

  • Rob says:

    Thanks greatly for this, at this moment this gem is even more precious and so well presented it’s easy to get to grips with.

  • David Godfrey says:

    Lovely arrangement

  • giovanni fusto says:

    ottimo lavoro grazie di cuore.

  • Philip Senior says:

    Epic … thank you once again … x

  • davebassx2@gmail.com says:

    Really appreciate you making these available – big thanks

  • Rob says:

    Another really great lesson. Thank you for your hard work and for your generosity in sharing this piece.

  • David says:

    I will use this immediately!

  • Marco says:

    I think you are The best. The lessons are vero well done. Many thanks

  • Colin says:

    Great and really smooth playing

  • Adolfo says:

    Excelente interpretación, transcripción y didáctica, muchas gracias.

  • Thom says:

    Very nice. Really enjoyed

  • Salvador says:

    Maravilloso standard y perfecta interpretación. Muchas gracias.

  • Aidan says:

    Another classic arrangement. Well done. Lovely quality backing track. Many thanks for these high quality lessons.

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