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  1. #1

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    I have learned several tunes but I'm not sure if I really learned them. I've listened to a ton of versions of them, can play the basic melody well and sort of improvise with it, I can only play each of them in 1 key, can only comp in the most basic way (charleston or 4 to the floor), my improvisation is not that interesting over them, and if I know a chord melody for a song then it is mostly a memorized arrangement with room to play with rhythm/dynamics/choices of chords for some chords. I have heard people saying that to really know a song you should be able to play it in every key, be able to comp it in multiple ways, and improvise well in any key. If I were to do this before moving on to the next song, it would probably take me a few months to learn just 1 song. At least at first.

    I guess what I am asking is when is it appropriate to move to the next song for someone in the more beginner stages of jazz? Should I try to work out a solo arrangement for each tune on top of knowing the melody, comping, and being able to improvise over it? Or just spend a couple weeks on one song, then move to the next one no matter how far I got?

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  3. #2

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    You should do what excites you and keeps you moving. It'll be a circuitous route, but it will be a joy, not a job. FWIW, the more tunes you learn, at whatever level, the easier they get.

  4. #3

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    Sing Happy Birthday. That's a tune you know :-)

    It's not a joke. Knowing a tune means it's embedded in you so that it's almost second nature. Almost, I said; it really doesn't matter that much. Jazz tunes are highly complex, there's no reason why one shouldn't need to stop and think a little. What are we supposed to be, supermen?

    I have heard people saying that to really know a song you should be able to play it in every key, be able to comp it in multiple ways, and improvise well in any key.
    Don't let people like that put you off. 99% of them couldn't do it. They probably read that kind of bilge in a book.

    Forget ideal, unrealistic descriptions of what knowing a tune means, just play it. You'll know whether you know it or not. And if you don't, play it some more :-)

  5. #4

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    If you can play/comp/improvise the tune so that people can enjoy it, you got the most important task done.
    All else will be a bonus. Endless bag of bonuses there.
    If you learned the tune in every possible way then the last thing to do is to learn it backwards and upside down. But only when all else is done.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jigglypuff View Post
    I have learned several tunes but I'm not sure if I really learned them. I've listened to a ton of versions of them, can play the basic melody well and sort of improvise with it, I can only play each of them in 1 key, can only comp in the most basic way (charleston or 4 to the floor), my improvisation is not that interesting over them, and if I know a chord melody for a song then it is mostly a memorized arrangement with room to play with rhythm/dynamics/choices of chords for some chords. I have heard people saying that to really know a song you should be able to play it in every key, be able to comp it in multiple ways, and improvise well in any key. If I were to do this before moving on to the next song, it would probably take me a few months to learn just 1 song. At least at first.

    I guess what I am asking is when is it appropriate to move to the next song for someone in the more beginner stages of jazz? Should I try to work out a solo arrangement for each tune on top of knowing the melody, comping, and being able to improvise over it? Or just spend a couple weeks on one song, then move to the next one no matter how far I got?
    To me you're asking about how to spend your practice time related to learning songs. E.g. it time better spent learning a song one knows in one key, in other keys, OR is that time better spent on learning another song? My guitar teacher took the latter approach; one song a week. We had weekly lessons, but before he would show me 'this week's' song he would have me play 'last-weeks' song. If I really just hacked at it we would skip the 'new' song and focus back on the prior one.

    Each 'new' song was related to the prior songs and their song structure introducing something 'new' but with most of the song's sections \chords 'relate able' based on learning those prior songs. This approach was like practicing those prior songs since, as stated, most of the 'new' song wasn't 'new'. So when practicing those 'old' parts I was practicing the concepts I learned by learning those prior songs.

    Based on my experience, the choice of what song to learn next is very important to meeting one's overall goal.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    the choice of what song to learn next is very important
    Absolutely. If it don't grab you, don't play it.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    Absolutely. If it don't grab you, don't play it.
    Not to sound contrarian (something I can over do), but my initial reaction was the opposite;

    Why? Because what may grab-one is likely to be very similar to what one is use to \ already knows. These 'safe' choices may not help one advance and it was my understanding the overall topic here was advancing as a guitar player \ musician.

    Funny, but I had such an experience with that teacher of mine; He showed me this week's song. It was a song I didn't like. He just laughed and said something like "well this song is part of your development,,, and I highly recommend you overcome your dislike since you need to learn what this song can teach you". I said OK. One of the reasons It didn't grab me was because I didn't understand (couldn't connect with) how the chord progression I.e. how they 'connected' to each other. THAT was why he picked the song. Learning it made me appreciate that aspect of the song and from that point forward it garbed me.
    Last edited by jameslovestal; 08-27-2019 at 10:21 PM.

  9. #8

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    I teach the guitar in music school. When the kids play tunes that they already know and like, it may seem they got massive talents... until they have to learn something completely new. Some give up before even trying to figure out whats there... damn the 1st of Sept is so close

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    Note to sound contrarian (something I can over do), but my initial reaction was the opposite;

    Why? Because what may grab-one is likely to be very similar to what one is use to \ already knows. These 'safe' choices may not help one advance and it was my understanding the overall topic here was advancing as a guitar player \ musician.

    Funny, but I had such an experience with that teacher of mine; He showed me this week's song. It was a song I didn't like. He just laughed and said something like "well this song is part of your development,,, and I highly recommend you overcome your dislike since you need to learn what this song can teach you". I said OK. One of the reasons It didn't grab me was because I didn't understand (couldn't connect with) how the chord progression I.e. how they 'connected' to each other. THAT was why he picked the song. Learning it made me appreciate that aspect of the song and from that point forward it garbed me.
    It's okay, I don't mind contrarian :-)

    I think you have a point but you may be confusing things that grab you with safe choices. They're not necessarily the same at all. When I was starting, for example, Summertime grabbed me but then so did Georgia. Summertime I found easy so I started on Georgia. And Georgia is NOT easy!! At least, not with the version I was doing. It took me a long time to get round that comfortably, if I ever did.

    Then came other tunes I liked, like Laura, Round Midnight, even Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Chelsea Bridge. From where I was then they were anything but safe choices. But I'm fairly sure that the only reason I persisted (and learnt a great deal in the process) was because I liked them and therefore wanted to do them.

    By the way, what was the song you didn't like? Just out of curiosity :-)

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jigglypuff View Post
    I have learned several tunes but I'm not sure if I really learned them. I've listened to a ton of versions of them, can play the basic melody well and sort of improvise with it, I can only play each of them in 1 key, can only comp in the most basic way (charleston or 4 to the floor), my improvisation is not that interesting over them, and if I know a chord melody for a song then it is mostly a memorized arrangement with room to play with rhythm/dynamics/choices of chords for some chords. I have heard people saying that to really know a song you should be able to play it in every key, be able to comp it in multiple ways, and improvise well in any key. If I were to do this before moving on to the next song, it would probably take me a few months to learn just 1 song. At least at first.

    I guess what I am asking is when is it appropriate to move to the next song for someone in the more beginner stages of jazz? Should I try to work out a solo arrangement for each tune on top of knowing the melody, comping, and being able to improvise over it? Or just spend a couple weeks on one song, then move to the next one no matter how far I got?
    It's a good question. I think of it this way. You're playing the last set of a wedding gig. A drunken guest comes up and insists on singing with the band. The guest begins some song and you can play it right then, in that key, including a solo, and without changing the bored expression on your face.

    But, you can't get there by memorizing one song at a time in every key.

    You get there by knowing the song in the way you know a Beatles song or Home on the Range. You just know how it sounds. That's all you really want to have to have in memory.

    But, the bigger part of it is to be able to turn that awareness of what the song sounds like into a guitar part. The bulk of that work isn't song memorization, it's ear training. So, that your hands find the next chord based on pre-hearing it as you play the tune. If you can hear the usual intervals used in songs, this skill will allow you to play lots of songs without working on them individually for long periods of time.

    And, if you can't hear the interval and you don't know what the next chord is, you can train your ear to allow you to find a note, or two, or three and then find the rest of the chord based on the sound compared to the notes you already know. Like, you slide up to a bass note that fits and from there you think major or minor? That gives you the third. Play the 5th and if it sounds bad, flatten it (that will work in most cases) and if you can hear major vs dominant, that gives you the 7th.

    So, it's knowing the sound of the tune without detail and having strong enough skills that you can fill in the detail on the fly.

    That may sound impossible, but people do it. Investing time in ear-training may be more important than spending the same amount of time learning one tune at a time.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jigglypuff View Post
    I have learned several tunes but I'm not sure if I really learned them. I've listened to a ton of versions of them, can play the basic melody well and sort of improvise with it, I can only play each of them in 1 key, can only comp in the most basic way (charleston or 4 to the floor), my improvisation is not that interesting over them, and if I know a chord melody for a song then it is mostly a memorized arrangement with room to play with rhythm/dynamics/choices of chords for some chords.
    Of course you are going to be inspired by various songs and styles that you hear which will cause you to keep at your instrument but STRUCTURALLY speaking there are certainly tunes you should know by rote, in all keys.
    Among the many would be: "Blue Moon" "Autumn Leaves" and yes not the least "Happy Birthday". Each one one these has basic harmonic structure "lessons" that must become part of your musical understanding.
    If you can distinguish between rehearsing and practicing...you're better than half way there!

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    Each 'new' song was related to the prior songs and their song structure introducing something 'new' but with most of the song's sections \chords 'relate able' based on learning those prior songs. This approach was like practicing those prior songs since, as stated, most of the 'new' song wasn't 'new'. So when practicing those 'old' parts I was practicing the concepts I learned by learning those prior songs.
    I think this observation is important. It reveals the path of identification of similar parts of different songs leading to abstract internalization.

    The beginning of learning a song is often noticing how much its form structure, progression harmony changes, rhythmic character, and melodic lines bear family resemblances to other songs which you know. Grasping these similarities in spite of only part of the forms being similar, or only some chord changes being similar and likely in different keys, or the rhythmic similarities at different paces, or the melodic similarities only partial because of different phrasing... integrating these comes from a kind of learning that comprises abstract internalization.

    The more songs one learns, the more instances where one may grasp these similarities. One day we play a new song and find we seem to already know most of it well because the parts and aspects of the new song relate to parts and aspects of old songs which we have already abstracted and internalized.

    One of the best ways to develop abstraction and internalization is composing your own songs (no matter how lame of goofy) because the musical objects one seeks to grasp in learning a new tune are the same kind of musical objects with which one composes a tune... in both cases the musical objects are abstract and the processes rely heavily on internalization.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jigglypuff View Post
    I have learned several tunes but I'm not sure if I really learned them. I've listened to a ton of versions of them, can play the basic melody well and sort of improvise with it, I can only play each of them in 1 key, can only comp in the most basic way (charleston or 4 to the floor), my improvisation is not that interesting over them, and if I know a chord melody for a song then it is mostly a memorized arrangement with room to play with rhythm/dynamics/choices of chords for some chords. I have heard people saying that to really know a song you should be able to play it in every key, be able to comp it in multiple ways, and improvise well in any key. If I were to do this before moving on to the next song, it would probably take me a few months to learn just 1 song. At least at first.

    I guess what I am asking is when is it appropriate to move to the next song for someone in the more beginner stages of jazz? Should I try to work out a solo arrangement for each tune on top of knowing the melody, comping, and being able to improvise over it? Or just spend a couple weeks on one song, then move to the next one no matter how far I got?
    If you don't know very many tunes and are also not a skilled improviser - yet, then I would say that you should learn to play the head and comp convincingly. Record yourself. Record yourself comping first, then record the head over that. Or use a looper.

    Then move on and learn other tunes. As a student you should have about 6 tunes in your "repertoire" at any given time, and every 4-6 months play a recital on 2-3 of the tunes (or just make a nice recording).

    Improv and solo arrangements:
    Learn other's solos, and arrange your own. Study and practice improvisation as a specific skill to build.

    Play other's chord melody/solo arrangements - but also arrange your own. Start simple with each and keep going.
    Last edited by Jazzstdnt; 08-18-2019 at 11:26 AM.

  15. #14

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    The most rigorous version of "Really Learning A Tune" I've seen comes from my e-friend and inspiration Ed Fuqua. If you learn a song The Few Way (which, coincidentally, 100% rhymes with Fuqua), you know the tune.

    Check here. Buckle up!
    "Don't worry about that. Everybody talks about finding your voice. Do your homework and your voice will find you." - Branford Marsalis

  16. #15
    Thanks for the responses everyone! This clears a lot of stuff up and it seems like I'm moving in the right direction. I have a lot of specific questions for learning songs, especially regarding comping but I will post them in another forum at some point.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    Sing Happy Birthday. That's a tune you know :-)
    Jerome Gray, a well known piano teacher from Seattle, ala Bill Evans, instructed to learn 'happy birthday' in all 12 keys.
    "You've got to be in the sun to feel the sun. It's that way with music too." - Sidney Bechet

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bornot2bop View Post
    Jerome Gray, a well known piano teacher from Seattle, ala Bill Evans, instructed to learn 'happy birthday' in all 12 keys.
    When I want to evaluate a student's level, one of the first things I ask is for the student to start on a random string/fret/finger and play Happy Birthday. It seems to me that if you can't do that, you aren't going to be able to think of ideas and play them during a jazz solo. There are ways to get through a solo without that skill, e.g. by plugging in scales/modes/riffs, but it seems fundamental to me.

    So, the idea isn't to memorize Happy Birthday. Rather, it's to get to the point where you think of a melody or maybe just an interval, and your fingers find the correct note without thought. That's just repetition. I think a relatively painless way to practice it would be imitating every melody you hear, even when just watching TV with a guitar in your hands.

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    It's okay, I don't mind contrarian :-)

    By the way, what was the song you didn't like? Just out of curiosity :-)
    Mood Indigo.

  20. #19

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    I agree with RPJG. I would not learn every tune in all keys even if I had all day every day. I'd definitely know my keys and how to harmonize. And I might try a new tune an a couple of different keys just to work thru the chord STRUCTURE, the architecture of the harmony. But why torture myself to repeat what I know in all keys (unless I'm having fun)?

    The key thing (pun unintended) is to understand the tune...that the melody on this particular chord is the 13th and it drops down in steps to the #11 of the next chord, then the #9 of the next chord then the #5 of the next chord, etc. That's what I mean by the architecture. Knowing that and having a key center/mode/arpeggio at hand wherever you are, will enable you to play it in whatever key the drunken guest starts in. Once you understand the tune, you can do back flips with it.

    This thread started with a "SHOULD" question. I recommend changing it to a "COULD" question. Have a ball with all keys if you're getting something out of it. If you don't know your keys well enough, then maybe taking some sample tunes thru 12 keys is a fun way to learn. Once you get to a certain knowledge of all keys, then your time might be better spent working on other things.

    1 melody
    2 comping
    3 understand the harmony (chord melody helps here)
    4 jam until you're comfortable or bored.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jigglypuff View Post
    ...I guess what I am asking is when is it appropriate to move to the next song for someone in the more beginner stages of jazz? Should I try to work out a solo arrangement for each tune on top of knowing the melody, comping, and being able to improvise over it? Or just spend a couple weeks on one song, then move to the next one no matter how far I got?
    Once I feel I’ve beaten a tune to death and I’m not sure what more I can do with it I’ll set it aside, learn a few other tunes then come back to it a few weeks later. Some of the muscle memory will have worn off, which is a good thing if I want to improvise rather than just play an arrangement. Often I’ll try it another key to help keep it fresh. Or I might queue up several recordings in various keys and try to play along, which forces me to think of the changes at a higher, more abstract level rather than chord by chord. With each tune I learn, the next one gets easier. And when I return to tunes I haven’t played for awhile, I find new things in them. I don’t know if that’s an optimal approach, but it works for me.

  22. #21

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    You already had a wealth of great advice from members here.
    For what it’s worth, just adding my 50 cents...
    A great saxophone player (local hero) who already recorded albums and played festivals came to our music school to intern for his teaching degree.
    Advanced as he already was, his approach to tunes was very humble:
    “I study a tune for days on end until I can sing the melody (in my head) and hear the bass line at the same time. Then I go on to trying to imagine every shell on every chord (3rd and seventh of every chord) to get a grip on the harmony. I toss the sheet music and make sure I know the tune inside out.
    Then I try to play all seventh chords combined with notes of the melody, down from the seventh and up from the root. Then pentatonics, triad pairs and scales. Lastly I try to incorporate licks I hear other other players use. Only then I feel I can truly play the tune with confidence.”
    There I was thinking these very advanced players just took a tune, open the book and rip the tune to pieces.
    Nothing of the sort!
    you can find a lot of ebooks here on jazzguitar that can assist you in varying approaches to a tune.
    Other thing I learned playing with very advanced players. They too struggle with certain keys. If you call Autumn Leaves, as everyone does, sometime in their jamming life, even the boldest improvisors have a preferred key to play that tune.
    Only a very limited number of musicians really play fluently in all twelve keys. Turns out it’s mostly musicians with perfect pitch. Now, perfect pitch is a “rare condition” even amongst seasoned musicians.

    Last, striking advice I got from a great player: if I learn to play a tune I try arpeggios or pentatonics. Only if I can play 10 choruses in a row without one mistake, without sheet music, I know I can play the tune with confidence!
    Humbling?


    Have fun practicing.

  23. #22

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    Spend time with tunes. It will reward you. Learn to play them in a few keys, especially early on. This will make tunes easier down the road.

    I was driving home from a gig with a great sax player a year or two ago and he mentioned that it's a shame we didn't play Round Midnight that night....someone had mentioned that we might play it at the gig so the sax player had spent a few days playing it in all keys. He knows hundreds of tunes and can read flysh!t, but still sheds the heck out of tunes he's working on.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post
    Mood Indigo.
    Ah, not an easy tune, very subtle. I can see your point. I don't know, look on it as a learning experience!

    I wouldn't say it was that simple on a guitar, either. Probably a sax player or a singer could eke out that blues sound better than a guitar. Guitars are a bit plinky

    Some of it depends on how fast or slow it's played too.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    Ah, not an easy tune, very subtle. I can see your point. I don't know, look on it as a learning experience!

    I wouldn't say it was that simple on a guitar, either. Probably a sax player or a singer could eke out that blues sound better than a guitar. Guitars are a bit plinky

    Some of it depends on how fast or slow it's played too.
    Yea, my first reaction when I saw the chord progression and the teacher said it was a blues based tune was; this is NOT the 12 bars or even 8 bars blues I'm use to. Plus there is a lot of 'space' in that melody (half and whole notes) and I was used to more a more static melody (if 'static' makes any sense).

    I now enjoy playing the tune but when I play it we do it at a fairly fast pace which works well with two guitars or with a piano (the type of setting I'm used to as an amateur jazz guitar nut).

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by jameslovestal View Post

    I now enjoy playing the tune.
    I was going to say that but wasn't sure you'd go for it. Sure, after you've really got into a tune, turned it inside out a few times, then one can begin to like it, even a lot.

    Same with people sometimes :-)