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  1. #1

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    I recently contacted a local community jazz band. I am a beginner-ish player. My note reading is slow and sloppy. I was thinking that I could handle playing 4 to the bar type rhythm playing. And, I can. The contact said that they can get me a PDF with the songs.
    I can easily handle this if they're like Real Book notation. The chords above the bar. She says that the charts are arranged and that they just read straight down. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I'm not sure that I know what that means "reading straight down".
    I know that I can play the chords and in something resembling in time. It's the reading part that has me questioning myself.
    Any insight?


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    You'll probably have to wait and see what you get.

    If you get the full score, you'll get charts that show each instrument per line. The guitar part wilk have its own line separate from the others. Each instrument will have its own line per page. Typically the rhythm section (guitar, bass, drums, piano) will be grouped at the bottom of the page. So one song can be many pages.

    Sometimes you'll get a "guitar book" or "rhythm section" charts which is a chart not unlike a real book chart that shows your part and key reference notes like a melody line, drum breaks, rehearsal letters, tacit sections etc. These help you follow cues.

    As to what you will be expected to read, that kind of depends on the arrangement and the arranger. You will probably see mostly chord symbols for comping but there will occasionally be single lines where you are doubling another instrument or places where you will have "hits" or tacit sections where you have to count measures you sit out. You may have short parts where you are featured for a few bars. These are just some examples of what to expect.

    It can be challenging. It's usually but not necessarily always more complex than real book chart. Depends on the tune and the arrangement.

    Sounds like you will get to check it out beforehand. Don't underestimate yourself if it looks daunting. Good luck.

  4. #3

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    Yeah, that all makes good sense. And, you're right, I should not underestimate myself. Even looking at something new in the Real Book, sometimes looks overwhelming and turns out to be very natural.
    I really want to challenge myself with this. I just don't want to hold back the group, or worse, any listeners.
    Thanks for your response.

  5. #4

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    You're welcome.

    Couple tips:

    Less is more. 2, 3 or 4 note voicings max

    Your ability to read a rhythmic figure is probably more important than reading notes.

    Don't step on the soloist

    Stay out of the piano's way. Simplify your voicings. You can't go wrong dropping extensions.

    Look up and smile. It's just a bunch of guys having fun!

  6. #5

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    Guitar is the fourth line up from bottom. It's hard to see details but you can follow along to get an idea of what to expect in a full arrangement.

  7. #6

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    Here's a really nice chart on a Stevie Wonder tune. Notice the guitar player and piano player embellishing their parts tastefully (playing more than what is strictly written)

  8. #7

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    Here's an actual page of a big band guitar chart of a Sammy Nestico arrangement. Very typical of what you might see.

    Last edited by cosmic gumbo; 03-17-2017 at 04:21 AM.

  9. #8

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    Good luck on your big band adventure. I play in 2 big bands and just love it, great fun! Especially the "Nestico" arrangements.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    Here's an actual page of a big band guitar chart of a Sammy Nestico arrangement. Very typical of what you might see.


    Those are the kind of charts I would expect to see ...

    I've played guitar and bass in some local swing bands over the years all the way back to high school and this is what I always encountered.

    Bass charts tend to require sight reading actual notes more than guitar, but are also often just the chords.

    If your playing classic swing music most of your guitar charts will be entirely chords. Only a few of the charts will have notes written out on the scale. Some more modern stuff is more likely to have single note lines written out or funky rhythms.

    Occasionally they may only have the piano chart and that's what the guitar player gets. You may need to work with the piano chords written out on the staff. The piano charts also tend to have about 2 or 3 times as many pages and can be hard to manage.

    As mentioned before ... I tried to keep my chords to 3 or 4 notes on the D through high E strings ... as you get the hang of it you will know better when to add things like the 9th or 13th and when not to. I liked to add those upper notes as much as possible, myself, which usually put me in line with the movements going on in the horns.

    Try to dig up recordings of the music you will be doing and get familiar with the guitar playing.

    In a lot of the old swing music the guitar seems to be more felt than heard chunking out 4 to the bar with the bass and drums, but you'll miss it if it's not there.

    More modern big band music often calls for a more modern approach to the guitar, sometimes even a funky or disco style.

  11. #10

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    A few more points to note:

    You will almost never get parts that are written 4 bars to a line, or even bars that are the same length on the page. This means you need to keep your eyes on the chart all the time as you can never rely on the fact that a section will start at the beginning of a line as real book charts normally do.

    Many are handwritten charts with all the problems that can imply.

    Many were written before chord symbols were standardised, so there will be ambiguities.

    They're generally 4 to the bar, but often specific rythmns are spelt out with notation.

    Cues for other solo instruments are sometimes written in for guidance.

    Identifying coda and sign placements is a big priority.

    Parts often don't differentiate between piano and guitar.

    Guitar parts can be as many as 5 pages long.

    Parts are sometimes annotated with previous incumbents' jottings, or instructions for previous arrangements not played for decades.

    Here's one we had last week.

    Big Band question-page-0-jpgBig Band question-page-1-jpg

  12. #11

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    I've been doing this for some time in different groups. The quality of the charts varies quite a bit. They're easy enough if the tune is 4/4 and all you see is a chord change per bar and slash marks. Then, all you have to do is figure out something that won't clash with the piano. Advice: don't be afraid to lay out -- but only so much as to look tasteful, not clueless <g>.

    Some other thoughts:

    1. Most basic, and often difficult, is to keep track of where the band is in the chart. First thing is to make sure you understand the "roadmap", i.e. the repeats, DS's and so forth. "Straight down" refers to a chart that has no such doubling back. That's easiest, although you might consider bringing two music stands to avoid page turning. But, bear in mind, they may cram odd numbers of bars, there may be those railroad tracks looking things instructing you to repeat the last two (or some other number of bars), so while you're eyes are reading what you're supposed to be playing, you also need to keep track of where the band is. Same issue when there are odd hits. Easy to get lost. Best thing is, don't play them if you aren't sure, and keep counting through the syncopated passages. There is hope if you know where you are!

    2. When you have single notes you may be doubling something that one of the horns is playing. Horn players generally read better than guitarists, so if that's the case in your situation, you want to listen carefully to when the horn starts, and stops, each note. Those little dots over some of the notes are important.

    3. When you see chords spelled out on a staff without a chord symbol, they may or may not be playable. Even if they are playable, you might not have the time to decipher them. Just play the top note. Two, if you can. I've been doing that for three years and nobody has complained yet -- although a good leader will hear it.

    4. Finally, bear in mind that rehearsals are for making mistakes and figuring things out. My experience is that the leaders don't expect the guitarist to read that well -- meaning they figure they'll have a hard time getting anybody better at it. If you can handle the repeated blow to your self-esteem that everybody else reads better, and just keep working on the charts, you'll be fine. And, over time, you'll get better.

    5. If they don't give you the charts to work on at home, take pictures.

  13. #12

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    I will say this, if the band is too damn cheap to pay for it's charts, there's no telling what kind of shit you might encounter...

  14. #13

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    The bands I play in all have members who are arrangers.

    Most of the music is fine, but the quality of the charts varies from adequate to awful.

    Bad chart: chord symbols, particularly alterations, are too small to read.

    Random numbers of bars per line with new motifs starting anywhere.

    Complicated roadmaps with a lot of doubling back, sometimes requiring page turns to find a coda.

    Text notations for roadmap or other instructions which are small, complicated and, often, inappropriate.

    No indication of what the rest of the band is doing, so that if you get lost, there's no way to recover. (The pro charts often contain notations of what the horns are doing that makes it easier).

    Penciled-in corrections which eventually become too thick to read.

    etc etc.