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  1. #1

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    Is it better to study a large number of jazz standards (over 100) or concentrate on a few (maybe 20)?
    In the first case, can an amateur (and should?), who practices from half an hour to three hours a day, keep in mind more than a hundred jazz themes.
    And in the second case, can a musician consider himself a jazzman if his repertoire is so limited?


    (I am an amateur, playing blues/rockk on stage, but never giving up hopes of going to jazz jam someday).

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  3. #2
    There are different levels of difficulty and you can work with pieces that have a more fundamental harmonic structure (diatonic, not so many secondary dominant chords) and really get to know those pieces, melodically, harmonically, on different parts of the fingerboard and as you get to know them, you'll find out that other pieces have similar attributes. Then introduce yourself to pieces that present individual devices to the lexicon. Get to know pieces like those.
    Ex: Autumn Leaves, the theme from MASH (suicide is painless), The Shadow of Your Smile can make a decent starting point as your first explorations, one at a time so you can really get a lyrical and structural feel for the piece as a whole, and for its component parts.
    Next you might want to explore the idea of Secondary Dominants, or focus on turnarounds. Both very important principles. Find pieces that mix those sounds in and work on them in the same immersive way.
    Train your ear to recognize root movement, for example sing a root as you play a melody, play a root as you sing the melody, etc.

    I made a thread a long time ago where I introduced a piece a week, and each month would be an easy (more fundamental) piece, and getting more complex through the month. It was a way to see how pieces can be related and the ideas they have in common, and the vocabulary you'd need to make them more complex.

    It's a good thing to really stick with a piece and learn it well, in a compositional way. You'll find out that all pieces are really related in similar ways, different in fresh ways. Be patient. It gets exponentially easier each tune you learn if you do them in a gradual way, and it broadens your improvisational language in a gradual way so you can stay in control of your abilities as you grow as a player. As your ear gets better, you'll appreciate the solos of others, take ideas from them and let them inform your own creative forms. Take each step one at a time; you'll be running in a short amount of time.

    Good luck

  4. #3

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    You could do a lot worse than focussing on the ten tunes in Bruce Forman’s list as an initial repertoire:

    Bruce Forman's list of 10 tunes for beginners

    ive learned to become wary of being prescriptive as a teacher. So I can’t give you a recommendation. All I can say is learning a tune properly always takes longer than I think. OTOH we are playing the long game.

    The best thing is just to do it, and put yourself in the situation where you have to play tunes. You will work it out as you go, and meet other musicians. Theoretical information is easy to come by; playing experiences less so.

    Jam sessions and so on are a good place to start this journey. You don’t know how well you know a tune until you have to play it on stage.

    I would say that in general it is best to learn things by ear as much as you can. As Jimmybluenote says, it gets easier each time, so be patient. And do not be put off by negative or uncomfortable situations; you learn a lot from those.

    one thing you could do is go to a jam and check it out. Write down every tune they play and go away and learn the ones you don’t know.

  5. #4

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    same challenge i faced a few years back ..quite a few id say..so many songs to learn..band in a box program..jazz guitar solos folder . actually JG solos..has over a 100 standards..tab and notation....enjoy at your own pace...ignore the tempo markings ...slow them down till your comfortable... ..obviously some are harder than others..get yourself Real book for the melodies.... ..heres the list...GS001 Manha De Carnaval/Day In The Life Of A Fool EasierGS002 East Of The Sun Easier
    GS003 I Didn't Know What Time It Was Easier
    GS004 Rosetta Easier
    GS005 Pennies From Heaven Easier
    GS006 Sunny Side Of The Street Easier
    GS007 Nice Work If You Can Get It Easier
    GS008 In A Mellow Tone Easier
    GS009 Man I Love Easier
    GS010 A Foggy Day variation w/bridge ??? Easier
    GS011 Lady Be Good Easier
    GS012 Girl From Ipanema Easier
    GS013 It Could Happen To You Easier
    GS014 How High The Moon Easier
    GS015 You'd Be So Nice Easier
    GS016 I Love You Easier
    GS017 Ain't Misbehavin' Easier
    GS018 Alone Together Easier
    GS019 Wave Easier
    GS020 Someday My Prince Will Come Easier
    GS021 Satin Doll Easier
    GS022 Sweet Georgia Brown Easier
    GS023 Bb Blues w/variation Easier
    GS024 Corcovado Easier
    GS025 Autumn Leaves Easier
    GS026 Stella By Starlight Easier
    GS027 Honeysuckle Rose/Scrapple Easier
    GS028 Rhythm Changes Easier
    GS029 Green Dolphin Street Easier
    GS030 "Take The ""A"" Train" Easier
    GS031 My Funny Valentine Intermediate
    GS032 When Your Lover Has Gone Intermediate
    GS033 It's Only A Paper Moon Intermediate
    GS034 Our Love Is Here To Stay Intermediate
    GS035 A Foggy Day Intermediate
    GS036 This Will Be My Shining Hour
    GS037 My Romance Intermediate
    GS038 Have You Met Miss Jones Intermediate
    GS039 Advanced
    GS040 Like Someone In Love Advanced
    GS041 Just Friends Intermediate
    GS042 Shadow Of Your Smile Advanced
    GS043 It's You Or No One Advanced
    GS044 Blue Skies Advanced
    GS045 I Concentrate On You Advanced
    GS046 All The Things You Are Advanced
    GS047 Rhythm Changes Advanced
    GS048 I Remember You Intermediate
    GS049 There Will Never Be Another You Intermediate
    GS050 How About You Intermediate
    GS051 My Funny Valentine Easy
    GS052 When Your Lover Has Gone Easy
    GS053 Confirmation Easy
    GS054 Once I Loved Easy
    GS055 I'm In The Mood For Love Easy
    GS056 Old Devil Moon Easy
    GS057 Lazy Bird Easy
    GS058 Georgia Easy
    GS059 KTOBCTOI also 119 Easy
    GS060 I Thought About You Easy
    GS061 Where Or When Easy
    GS062 It Don't Mean A Thing… Easy
    GS063 Moonglow Easy
    GS064 Fly Me To The Moon Easy
    GS065 Don't Get Around Much Anymore Easy
    GS066 All Blues Easy
    GS067 Hello Dolly Easy
    GS068 Blue Skies Easy
    GS069 Bluesette Easy
    GS070 A Night In Tunisia Easy
    GS071 Darn That Dream Easy
    GS072 Deed I do???? Easy
    GS073 All The Things You Are Easy
    GS074 Perdido Easy
    GS075 On A Clear Day Easy
    GS076 Triste Easy Bossa
    GS077 Love Walked In Easy Swing
    GS078 Yesterdays Easy
    GS079 Back Home In Indiana/Donna Lee Easy
    GS080 Just In Time Easy
    GS081 That's All Intermediate
    GS082 Airegin Intermediate
    GS083 All Of You Intermediate
    GS084 Am I Blue Intermediate
    GS085 Blue Moon Intermediate
    GS086 There Will Never Be Another You Intermediate
    GS087 There Is No Greater Love Intermediate
    GS088 Jeannine Intermediate
    GS089 Jordu Intermediate
    GS090 Intermediate
    GS091 If I Should Lose You Intermediate
    GS092 Speak Low Intermediate
    GS093 Algo Bueno Intermediate
    GS094 Blue Bossa Intermediate
    GS095 Easy Living Intermediate
    GS096 Bye Bye Blackbird Intermediate
    GS097 Four Intermediate
    GS098 Joy Spring Intermediate
    GS099 Laura Intermediate
    GS100 Colors of Chloe???? Intermediate
    GS101 Falling In Love With Love Intermediate
    GS102 I Should Care Intermediate
    GS103 In Your Own Sweet Way Intermediate
    GS104 Alice In Wonderland Intermediate
    GS105 Just Friends Intermediate
    GS106 Up A Lazy River Intermediate
    GS107 Cherokee Intermediate
    GS108 Dolphin Dance Intermediate
    GS109 Doxy Intermediate
    GS110 Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me Intermediate
    GS111 My Funny Valentine Chord Solo
    GS112 When Your Lover Has Gone Chord Solo
    GS113 Confirmation Chord Solo
    GS114 Once I Loved Chord Solo
    GS115 I'm In The Mood For Love Chord Solo
    GS116 Old Devil Moon Chord Solo
    GS117 Lazy Bird Chord Solo
    GS118 Georgia Chord Solo
    GS119 Same as 59 Chord Solo
    GS120 I Thought About You Chord Solo
    GS121 Where Or When Chord Solo
    GS122 It Don't Mean A Thing… Chord Solo
    GS123 Moonglow Chord Solo
    GS124 Fly Me To The Moon Chord Solo
    GS125 Don't Get Around Much Anymore Chord Solo
    GS126 All Blues Chord Solo
    GS127 Hello Dolly Chord Solo
    GS128 Blue Skies Chord Solo
    GS129 Bluesette Chord Solo
    GS130 A Night In Tunisia Chord Solo
    GS131 Darn That Dream Chord Solo
    GS132 Deed I do Chord Solo
    GS133 All The Things You Are Chord Solo
    GS134 Perdido Chord Solo
    GS135 On A Clear Day Chord Solo
    GS136 Triste Chord Solo
    GS137 Love Walked In Chord Solo
    GS138 Yesterdays Chord Solo
    GS139 Back Home In Indiana/Donna Lee Chord Solo
    GS140 Just In Time Chord Solo
    GS141 Satin Doll Advanced
    GS142 Night And Day Advanced
    GS143 Lullaby Of Birdland Advanced
    GS144 Girl From Ipanema Advanced
    GS145 Advanced
    GS146 I Hear A Rhapsody Advanced
    GS147 How Long Has This Been Going On Advanced
    GS148 Wave Advanced
    GS149 It Had To Be You Advanced
    GS150 On The Street Where You Live Advanced
    GS151 Falling In Love With Love ????? Advanced
    GS152 Easy To Love Advanced
    GS153 Deed I Do Advanced
    GS154 Days Of Wine And Roses Advanced
    GS155 Come Rain Or Shine Advanced
    GS156 Bb Blues Advanced
    GS157 Am I Blue Advanced
    GS158 I'll Remember April Advanced
    GS159 All Of Me Advanced
    GS160 After You're Gone Advanced
    GS161 Yesterdays Advanced
    GS162 Autumn Leaves Advanced
    GS163 Back Home In Indiana/Donna Lee Advanced
    GS164 Tenderly Advanced
    GS165 Tangerine Advanced
    GS166 Summertime Advanced
    GS167 Stella By Starlight Advanced
    GS168 The Song Is You Advanced
    GS169 Just In Time Advanced
    GS170 On A Clear Day Advance

  6. #5

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    Just do one. Sufficient unto the day, etc. Then do another one :-)

    You know, sometimes I've done the same one for maybe a month. Even then one comes back to it later. You've got to get inside it, wring everything you can out of it, go on till you can't any more.

    I know people will say do ten, do twenty. See if you can do just one and get everything you possibly can from it. Then do another.

    Doing a whole lot at one time... what will you really get from them? Just play the tune? Not good enough. You'll see.

  7. #6

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    What Christian said is good.

  8. #7

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    I made a thread a long time ago where I introduced a piece a week, and each month would be an easy (more fundamental) piece, and getting more complex through the month. It was a way to see how pieces can be related and the ideas they have in common, and the vocabulary you'd need to make them more complex.
    I think this was the thread,I was just looking at it not long ago, it's worth taking another look.

    Commit to a song a week. What could a serious student hope to learn?

  9. #8
    Thanks everyone for the answers. About three months ago I concentrated in my practice on learning melodies (not only jazz, but for example, The Beatles, some pop songs e.t.c), making simple fingerstyle arrangements. And I would like to learn a fairly large number of them. But how to practice them without having 24 hours of free time? It only takes a lot of time to practice a large list of "heads" and not forget them ... and besides that, you also want to work on improvisation, comping and many other things... And on the one hand, it seems logical to limit your repertoire, but on the other ... firstly, I really want to learn a lot of my favorite tunes, and secondly, I want to approach the professionals in this. By the way, a question for the professionals - how many jazz standards could you play "right off the bat" and how do you practice them?

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kmatuhin
    Thanks everyone for the answers. About three months ago I concentrated in my practice on learning melodies (not only jazz, but for example, The Beatles, some pop songs e.t.c), making simple fingerstyle arrangements. And I would like to learn a fairly large number of them. But how to practice them without having 24 hours of free time? It only takes a lot of time to practice a large list of "heads" and not forget them ... and besides that, you also want to work on improvisation, comping and many other things... And on the one hand, it seems logical to limit your repertoire, but on the other ... firstly, I really want to learn a lot of my favorite tunes, and secondly, I want to approach the professionals in this. By the way, a question for the professionals - how many jazz standards could you play "right off the bat" and how do you practice them?
    At the moment pretty much none! I had someone come around for a play and it is painful!

    if I am comping in a quartet or something, hundreds, and some stuff I can just busk if I get some pointers.

    If I need to play the melody in a trio or something, fewer. Still quite a few though. I think that reflects on the way I used to learn tunes (eg chords up instead of really focussing on the melody first.)

    If I am playing a solo gig, fewer, but I’m aiming to get better at improvising this rather than relying on arrangements.

    Now I always focus on melody first and tbh if I get that down, a lot of the time the changes just fall into place. But I have a lot of experience. Everything is learned by ear and then I compare what I have learned to popular charts such as the real book, and note the differences.

    In general there seem to be about 20-30 tunes that are in general rotation in the overall jazz community at any time, tunes for in and out of fashion.

    Ive slowly come to the realisation that the ultimate object is not to learn tunes but learn how to learn them really quickly. A lot of the time it’s in and out of short term memory, and relearn relearn relearn.

  11. #10

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    Lots of good ideas. Here are a few thoughts.

    Everybody can sing a bunch of songs that they know from somewhere. They don't have to think about it, they just know them.

    So, as far as playing melody goes, can you play the songs you already know? If not, you can work on your ability to think of a melody (a song or your own improvisation) and play it instantly.

    Everybody knows what the chords of the tunes they know (from somewhere) sound like. If you heard, say, a Beatles song that you know well, played with the wrong chords, you'd instantly be aware of it.

    Musicians who know a zillion tunes can think of a tune and know what chords to play, from the sound in their minds. Most of us can do that with something as simple as a blues. You just feel where the IV chord is coming. But, a great player can do it with any tune in any key.
    This is not memorizing language (although that may help). It's recognizing the sound in your mind and knowing what the next chord is.

    So, getting good at this is about repeated exposure to songs and ear training.

    Unfortunately for many of us, not everybody is going to be great at this.

    For us mere mortals, I'd suggest the following.

    Learn, in what ever way works for you, the 20-30 (well, maybe 50) jazz standards which you simply must know to be respected at a jam. If you don't know Autumn Leaves, All The Things You Are, There Will Never Be Another You, Rhythm changes etc, you aren't going to get called back. If somebody calls a less familiar standard, you can find it on your phone without triggering any funny looks.

    Practicing them in every key is a good idea too, not because you're likely to have to play Autumn Leaves in Bmajor, but because it will help train your ear for tunes which modulate into different keys. You're trying to get to the point where you bring a song to mind and your hand seems to find the next chord on its own.

  12. #11

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    Can or should someone consider themselves a jazz musician with a ready to go repertoire of 10 to 20 songs? No. The gulf between amateur and professional jazz musician is enormous. If you live near somewhere with a strong jazz scene, the ultimate of that being New York City, and you go to clubs you will see musicians whom you have never heard of, who are new/young/relatively low ranking on the local totem pole, and even they know 100 or more tunes that they don't need a chart for and could play with any group of other musicians.

    Top drawer jazz musicians know hundreds if not thousands of tunes and seem to be able to summon them up at a moment's notice (no pun intended) in any key. Joe Pass, for example. I think in order to be able to do that you either have to be (a) remarkably gifted in terms of your musical memory or (b) somebody who doesn't do much other than work on music and so has 16 hours a day available. I know of people who can hear a song once and play it back for you, which I just simply don't seem to have the musical memory to do (nor the ear even if I could remember it). And if they don't know the song, by the end of the first or second course they have learned it.

    Pat Metheny tells of being a high school student and playing gigs with experienced musicians in Missouri; they'd be on the bandstand and ask him "do you know such and such a tune," to which he'd reply "no," and they'd count it off and he was expected to keep up. You have to develop the ears to hear the song as it unfolds and intuit where it's going, if you don't know it already. When I think about the development of these master musicians, they came up in a time and place when there were dozens if not hundreds of gigs almost every night of the week, often four or five sets, usually without charts, and it forced them to develop those ear skills in a way that is not available to most musicians today. When he was in his teenage years, Pat Martino played six sets a night six nights a week at places like Small's Paradise. Just imagine the development that forces upon you! Even the Grateful Dead had 200+ songs in rotation on each tour, so that every show was a different setlist and you could go 4-5 nights in a row with very few repeats- not a jazz band but a jazz approach to rock and roll.

    Learning songs by ear rather than from a chart, if you can do that, probably improves recall dramatically. Being able to sing the melody and the lyrics, not necessarily for anyone else to hear but as a way to orient yourself, also cements the tune in your head. Many standards have lyrics. Learning the melody and then transposing it into different keys to provide independence from fingerboard patterns would also be helpful- you should know the melodic phrase and be able to find it under your finger by hearing the intervals and knowing where they are (e.g., hearing the minor vs. major 3rd). Once you have the melody learned, in most cases that will give you the indication of the harmony structure. There are some tunes for which that is not as true, but for most Tin Pan Alley/show tune/Great American Songbook kinds of songs it's mostly true.

    And, so I am told although it would be difficult to prove by me as an example, as you learn more songs learning new songs becomes easier because there are common patterns that you develop an ear for.

  13. #12

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    What Cunamara said. I think people are getting a bit deskilled... iReal has a lot to answer for!

    In terms of busking a tune it is possible if you know what the usual tropes are. Those tough situated learning environments really made musicians good. You can't do it simply as an individual. That's a myth. You have to be in the right environment too.

    I did a few dance gigs with New York players. It was very much that - tune, tune, tune. Count them off. Knew about 30% of them. Wish I did it more! It's to the culture so much here. People are in their comfort zones more.

    I think part of it is learning to enjoy being slightly at sea and really listening hard.

  14. #13

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    If you know 20 songs, you aren't ready for a NYC style casual gig with no charts.

    But, that's not the only situation where jazz is played.

    Just before Covid, I got called for a corporate gig in a major hotel. Guitar, horn, bass trio. Horn player the leader. Well known local pro. I knew the bassist slightly. He'd toured with a name everybody knows and plays with some good players around here.

    I didn't know what to expect. I don't know hundreds of tunes. I added them up once, and got about 120 that I can probably get through without making egregious errors. I can play some of them in an arbitrary key, but will have trouble with others. So, I showed up with IRealPro on my phone and a Real Book.

    The horn player sat next to me and without asking, opened a book in Concert (not Eb,even tho he played alto) and turned to the first tune. It was a chestnut -- in fact just about every tune he called was. He had a chart open for every tune on the gig. The bassist surprised me. He had his own book and put a chart up for every tune, including tunes I think he could have played in his sleep.

    So, in this case, they didn't expect me, or themselves, to know a even single tune. They took no chances whatsoever. The guy who referred me has no idea how many tunes I know. That NYC zillion tunes thing was not simply not expected. My guess is they each knew plenty of tunes, but they didn't try to conduct the gig that way. It wasn't a concert. It was background jazz for a party.

    I've played in a bunch of situations like that. Guys playing standards who probably don't need books, have one anyway. But, at a jam, if somebody calls All The Things You Are, I think it would be embarrasing not to know it.

    Some of these guys could probably do fine in NYC. But, apparently, they don't expect everybody to be at that level.

    Can you call yourself a jazz musician if you need the book? I'd say that you can, if you're getting jazz gigs. If, otoh, you go to NYC and you never get a second invitation to anything, well, maybe you're not that kind of jazz musician.

  15. #14

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    I just think it varies so much. Like here there's a list of maybe 50 tunes everyone's expected to know. A lot of these lists are put together by the music schools, and graduates of those schools just play those tunes.

    But there's differences between little groups and cliques of musicians. They call something they think is obvious and I don't know it, but then I call something I think obvious and they don't know it. And some of these are really good players too, top end straightahead and bop guys in the city.

    The thing is; I have to underline this, you get used to whatever playing situation you are used to. If you are around people where it is taken as read that you need to be really good at sight reading, you have to get your reading together. Same with tunes. If no-one uses charts, you won't either. I used to do trad gigs and it was taken as read you would not only play without charts but be able to play everything in any key at a moment's notice. None of the modern players here would be expected to do that, but they all play tunes with harder changes... and so on. I know some music professors who barely know any tunes, but can read the most complex originals stuff without blinking.

    So with that in mind I'd say - find a playing situation and do what you need to do to participate in that. You don't retain what you don't use.

    ATM I record solo versions of Kenny Wheeler tunes and things that I've practiced, but I'm weirdly at sea when someone calls 'How Deep is the Ocean.' A lot gets rusty in 6 months. It's coming back to me after a few plays, but my god...

  16. #15

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    Another experience comes to mind.

    I play in a big band. The kb player asks me to warm up with him, "let's play a tune". He's a working pro. He asks me to call one.

    I call "I Should Care". He fumbles a bit and can't play it. Suggests All the Things You Are.

    Still another:

    I'm in a lesson with a Brazilian master who can play anything, any key and make it sound like he wrote the tune. Somebody calls Stella. The master knows the tune and starts playing in F. He isn't a jazz musician. He may not have known it's usually played in Bb, or may not have cared.

    Two pros are playing. One a name you probably know and the other a Professor of Jazz Guitar. Both great players. I won't create a searchable post with their names here. Neither of them could play Stella in F the first time. One took a chorus or two and the other a chorus beyond that. The NYC wedding musicians of my youth wouldn't have noticed anything unusual had occurred while they switched keys without changing their bored expressions.

  17. #16
    "find a playing situation and do what you need to do to participate in that. You don't retain what you don't use." This is the best advice I've heard. There are lists upon lists of standards everyone should know. But a lot of those include many swing-era standards that I've never heard called at an open jam.
    If your goal is to play at a jam, go listen to the jam and make a list of what songs get called and learn those. My modest experience at NYC jams (never made it to Smalls) is about 20-30 songs get called, mostly Parker, Coltrane, Davis and Benny Golson. But no one frowns at "All Things You Are" or "Without a Song", which may be more accessible to a beginning jazz player. And I've seen guys get up and say "I only know 'Bye-Bye Blackbird'" and the other players say "Sure, let's do that."
    My experience is learning to play the absolute heck out of five songs, is far better than learning the bare bones of 20 songs.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by TommyBrooklyn
    "find a playing situation and do what you need to do to participate in that. You don't retain what you don't use." This is the best advice I've heard. There are lists upon lists of standards everyone should know. But a lot of those include many swing-era standards that I've never heard called at an open jam.
    If your goal is to play at a jam, go listen to the jam and make a list of what songs get called and learn those. My modest experience at NYC jams (never made it to Smalls) is about 20-30 songs get called, mostly Parker, Coltrane, Davis and Benny Golson. But no one frowns at "All Things You Are" or "Without a Song", which may be more accessible to a beginning jazz player. And I've seen guys get up and say "I only know 'Bye-Bye Blackbird'" and the other players say "Sure, let's do that."
    My experience is learning to play the absolute heck out of five songs, is far better than learning the bare bones of 20 songs.
    Yea, that is simple but sound advise.

    I was going to say something similar; learn the jazz standards the people you are going to jam with tend to play. Of course this advise is only for amateurs like myself.

  19. #18
    Thank you, many interesting thoughts. One of them (as it seemed to me) is that studying jazz without the possibility of immersion in a jazz environment is a rather hopeless occupation...

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kmatuhin
    Thank you, many interesting thoughts. One of them (as it seemed to me) is that studying jazz without the possibility of immersion in a jazz environment is a rather hopeless occupation...
    just having a regular opportunity to play is super important.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kmatuhin
    Thank you, many interesting thoughts. One of them (as it seemed to me) is that studying jazz without the possibility of immersion in a jazz environment is a rather hopeless occupation...
    Indeed... When I had a gig that forced me to learn new tunes - I did, one way or another. Trying to learn without the pressure of having to perform just doesn't all that well for me.

    That said, the whole endeavor isn't necessarily hopeless in my view. I now tend to spend (much) more time working on a single tune, but reaping the benefits of developing my musicianship that spills over to other music avenues.

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kmatuhin
    Is it better to study a large number of jazz standards (over 100) or concentrate on a few (maybe 20)?
    In the first case, can an amateur (and should?), who practices from half an hour to three hours a day, keep in mind more than a hundred jazz themes.
    And in the second case, can a musician consider himself a jazzman if his repertoire is so limited?


    (I am an amateur, playing blues/rockk on stage, but never giving up hopes of going to jazz jam someday).
    My experience has been that no matter how much I shed a tune, if I don't at some point play it with other people there's a good chance I'll forget it. So at least for me, I've found it pointless to set a goal of learning some large number of tunes. I happen to know a decent number for someone who doesn't do this for a living, but that did not come from sitting down and learning a lot of tunes in isolation (something I have actually tried, to no great benefit). Rather, it came from playing tunes with other people.

    By "other people" I mean pretty much any situation where you interact with at least one other person -- jamming/practicing with a friend, accompanying your lady friend who wants to sing My Funny Valentine (they all do, alas, and nearly all of them butcher it), lessons, more formal practice bands, gigs, participating in some of the study groups here, even (something I've been doing lately) hanging out on Zoom and taking turns playing whatever you've been practicing with other people you used to jam with in person. So to be more responsive to your questions:

    1. No, it's not better to try to learn 100 on your own than to learn fewer more deeply. It's better to do neither and find some people to work with to start tackling tunes together. Don't wait until your reach some arbitrary level of proficiency and repertoire. Start playing with other people as soon as you can find some. That will get you much further than trying to memorize tunes on your own. If you do this for a while, you'll wind up with quite a bit of repertoire.

    2. Some amateurs can keep large numbers of tunes in their heads, and some can't. Ditto for pros. The more you play in real playing situations, the better you get at remembering tunes and/or being able to fake ones you don't really remember, but people's memories are all over the map. My guess would be that I know somewhere around 100 tunes well enough not to have to look at a chart to play them. But I can comp and blow over some multiple of this that I'm somewhat familiar with, or make it through most tunes I've never heard before because I'm attuned to the patterns that occur again and again in tunes (e.g., AABA forms, ii V I's, blues variants, rhythm changes variants, etc.). It's like driving -- if you have a sense of direction, know how to read road signs, and pay attention, you can often find your way from here to there without having to memorize all the turns.

    3. The short answer is that you can call yourself whatever you want to. The longer answer is that if you want to participate in a jazz scene or community, you should have enough repertoire and chops to be able to keep up. Exactly what that is depends on the scene. That said, there are about 20 tunes that get called all the time. You should know the bulk of those. If you're at a jam and someone calls Autumn Leaves, or ATTYA, or Blue Bossa, and you don't know it, you're gonna get the stinkeye in most parts of the world.

    John

  23. #22

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    Playing with others is best, but short of that you can play with backing tracks, a lot of people do.

    Just make certain that you play all the roles - play the head, comp, and solo.

    It's not the same as ensemble work but is better than playing strictly by yourself.


    A basic plan for building repertoire - bring 3 tunes up to performance level as a starter. Then add more tunes to the list - one at a time if need be - while maintaining the others.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kmatuhin
    Thank you, many interesting thoughts. One of them (as it seemed to me) is that studying jazz without the possibility of immersion in a jazz environment is a rather hopeless occupation...
    You don't have to "immerse yourself in a jazz environment". You just have to play with other people at least occasionally. Even a couple of time a month will get you somewhere. It's an inherently social and interactive form of music. To do it, ya gotta do it.

    John

  25. #24

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    I agree wholeheartedly with the comments about playing with others.

    The quickest way to improve is to play as often as you can with the best players you can get to play with you -- and on gigs as often as possible.

    That said, you can make progress if you just find a bassist who wants to work on learning tunes. Around here, SF Bay Area, that's not difficult to do. There are a lot of musicians around. Many are willing to play outdoors, masked and distanced. Once you start networking, it's likely to expand. So, you pick a tune or two every week. And, pick a strategy. Usual key or every key? Which older tunes to review ... etc.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    You don't have to "immerse yourself in a jazz environment". You just have to play with other people at least occasionally. Even a couple of time a month will get you somewhere. It's an inherently social and interactive form of music. To do it, ya gotta do it.

    John
    Yeah I think my wording might have been a bit hardcore. I agree wholeheartedly with this.

  27. #26

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    To address the problem of 'keeping them in mind' (repertoire maintenance) you can use a rotational system.
    I got up to about 150 songs. In any given week I learned to play melody and chords by heart (by playing along to each one looped in iReal) of 5 new tunes and add them on to the 'practice' playlist. On day 1 of the cycle I also play through songs 1-5 in the playlist once each as a refresher. Day 2 songs 6-10, Day 3 songs 11-15 etc. Each run through the cycle takes a little longer as the playlist gets longer, but then some songs you realise they are already well ingrained and you can drop them. Some times I cycle the playlist backwards from the most recent 5 for a change. Just change the numbers to suit the time you have or your learning speed.

  28. #27

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    Haha I don't have time to do that (apart from the obvious tunes). I think the main thing (for me) is to keep learning them, so when you inevitably have to relearn the older tunes the process is more refined, optimised and practiced.

    In the end... you get the point where you can wing tunes you've heard without necessarily practicing them...

  29. #28

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    I seem to have forgotten most standards I learnt... (being non pro an dnon regularly gigging player)...

    Eventually I came the point that in genral you just find your path/your way through any tune just because of the experience...

    then there are some song that you really love 0 and you dig deeply into them...

    Not long ago I saw an interview with Bill Frisell. Bill has a huge performing carreer that includes lots of gigs on standards of course and various tunes (remember those Paul Motian set of records)... and he has husge interest in American music... but he mentioned a few very popular standards and said that he played them many times but only now (during first weeks of pandemic) having time to sit at home with his guitar and dive into some of them he realized that he did not know them at all...


    Modern mentality is to find an efficient (preferrably scientifically proved) strategy.... as one of my friends said: 'most people only buy and make photos today while waiting for scientists to make another discovery")))

    Do not look for strategy (especially if you are an amateur - what for?) - it is not business...
    do what you love (choose songs that you really connect with), navigate in this ocean (try more from time to time... listen, sight-read, pickup -- it is fun)...

    Do not expect results in the future... all great things in music with us happen right now

    and enjoy, enjoy and enjoy...

  30. #29

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    I am repeatedly fall into the sin of too early jumping to the next standard, despite I know, that simply makes no sense to start learn a new one, before I really own the current one. But the current became a bit boring :-), also I stuck on a level with it, and it really takes me out my comfort zone to improve... the new one looks so exciting... :-)

    So being an amateur, where it does not matter how many standards I know, this is a very bad habit, but I can not change it.

    Bottom line: do not follow me :-), it is a real obstacle to improve.

  31. #30

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    Remember that when you are learning tunes you are practicing learning tunes. I sometimes think that’s more important than how many tunes you actually know.

    As Mike Moreno points out the average pro NYC player learns new tunes very quickly. I think that’s the ultimate thing to work on. Always be learning music.

    However at the start you may need to spend more time pinning things down because you aren’t yet so confident at winging it by ear and experience.

  32. #31

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    I sometimes wonder what you guys mean by "learning a tune". Learning the melody, and memorising it is simple enough, a few run throughs for most simple melodies, a few more for the more complicated ones. You'll probably forget it tomorrow, but a run through or two and its back.

    Now comping for tunes can be easy or very difficult - if you just learn the chords and play it in one position it's probably no harder than learning / memorising the melody, but flying around the neck playing inversions, subs and passing chords / notes at will (ie improvising constantly) is not easy!

    Single note improvising, again, can be easy, extremely difficult and everything in between. So what does "learning a tune " mean for you guys?

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    I sometimes wonder what you guys mean by "learning a tune". Learning the melody, and memorising it is simple enough, a few run throughs for most simple melodies, a few more for the more complicated ones. You'll probably forget it tomorrow, but a run through or two and its back.

    Now comping for tunes can be easy or very difficult - if you just learn the chords and play it in one position it's probably no harder than learning / memorising the melody, but flying around the neck playing inversions, subs and passing chords / notes at will (ie improvising constantly) is not easy!

    Single note improvising, again, can be easy, extremely difficult and everything in between. So what does "learning a tune " mean for you guys?
    - Being able to outline the changes of the tune while using the head as the theme.
    - Being able to go for adventurous paths, develop them and still be able to return to the main theme (most of the times )
    - Being able to feel and hear where I'm in the form. Feeling (or knowing) is the most important, but being able to "locate" quickly by hearing is necessary for recovery from lapses (at least before the form returned to the top).
    - Being able to comp using different rhythmic ideas and voicings so I'm able to interact with the soloist in the right moments and follow spontaneous artistic impulses.
    - Being able to play a decent bass line over the changes.
    - Having come up with general phrasing ideas that highlight unique or interesting corners of the tune.

    I can learn the melody and the changes quickly for not so difficult tunes but it takes a lot more "working on the tune" and internalizing it for me to be able to know the tune well enough to start doing all the above. I learned and played over 40 tunes in various jam and small gig situations but I KNOW may be 8 at this point.

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by princeplanet
    I sometimes wonder what you guys mean by "learning a tune". Learning the melody, and memorising it is simple enough, a few run throughs for most simple melodies, a few more for the more complicated ones. You'll probably forget it tomorrow, but a run through or two and its back.

    Now comping for tunes can be easy or very difficult - if you just learn the chords and play it in one position it's probably no harder than learning / memorising the melody, but flying around the neck playing inversions, subs and passing chords / notes at will (ie improvising constantly) is not easy!

    Single note improvising, again, can be easy, extremely difficult and everything in between. So what does "learning a tune " mean for you guys?
    What it means for me now is to spend a good amount of time listening to the song and learning to sing the melody unsupported (the time consuming bit for me). Then I pick up the guitar, and if it’s a straightahead jazz standard and if I’ve done the first step properly, play the melody and sketch in most of the chords by ear, basically right away. This is the ‘busking it level’ which is where I could give the tune a go on a low pressure gig.

    Then I spend some time working on the details, listening to other versions of the song and looking at variations in charts and deciding which of any I agree with for a specific version of the song.

    With a Wayne tune or something I usually have to spend a bit more time checking out the changes.

    That wasn’t what learning the tune was for me 20 years ago. for instance you really have to have learned (I think) a few hundred standards before you start to hear the most common chord patterns right away.

    BUT - I would suggest anyone at any level gets a proper handle on the melody before proceeding. It was my weak spot for a long time... still is a bit.

    Again the idea is not necessarily to learn the tune for ever and ever, but get to the point where I can remind myself of it quickly. The more tunes I learn the easier that gets. however for a beginner this is TOTALLY different so please don’t take this advice.

    the only advice I have is - always be learning music. Trust the process.

  35. #34

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    What it means for me now is to spend a good amount of time listening to the song and learning to sing the melody unsupported (the tie consuming bit for me). Then I pick up the guitar, and if it’s a straightahead jazz standard and if I’ve done the first step properly, play the melody and sketch in most of the chords by ear, basically right away. This is the ‘busking it level’ which is where I could give the tune a go on a low pressure gig.

    Then I spend some time working on the details, listening to other versions of the song and looking at variations in charts and deciding which of any I agree with for a specific version of the song.

    With a Wayne tune or something I usually have to spend a bit more time checking out the changes.

    That wasn’t what learning the tune was 20 years ago. for instance you really have to have leaned I think a few hundred standards before you start to hear the most common chord patterns right away.

    BUT - I would suggest anyone at any level gets a proper handle on the melody before proceeding. It was my weak spot for a long time... still is a bit.

    Again the idea is not necessarily to learn the tune for ever and ever, but get to the point where I can remind myself of it quickly. The more tunes I learn the easiest that gets. however for a beginner this is TOTALLY different so please don’t take this advice.

    the only advice I have is - always be learning music. Trust the process.
    Yeah I'm realizing the importance of the melody more and more. The bass player I play with often knows a lot of tunes and his time is spot on always. He told me, to him knowing a tune means knowing the melody. He said he never thought about chords, scales and harmony. He never counts but feels. All he needs to know is the melody. His feel for the form and pulse, harmony, improvisation ideas he develops all comes from the melody alone. It's been eye opening for me.

  36. #35

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    Another indication of knowing a tune, IMO, is being able to solo over the tune unaccompanied without messing up the changes, adding, dropping beats or getting lost. I found out that if I cannot do these unaccompanied then I cannot do them accompanied either. It's not the bands job to let anybody know where they need to be. That doesn't mean not listening and paying attention to what others are doing.

    Accompaniment by backing tracks are different. Because they are looped, you learn the landmarks that indicate the important moments of the form. Then it's easy to subconsciously rely on hearing those events. That's why being able to play well with backing tracks doesn't translate to playing with others.

  37. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Remember that when you are learning tunes you are practicing learning tunes. I sometimes think that’s more important than how many tunes you actually know.

    As Mike Moreno points out the average pro NYC player learns new tunes very quickly. I think that’s the ultimate thing to work on. Always be learning music.

    However at the start you may need to spend more time pinning things down because you aren’t yet so confident at winging it by ear and experience.
    This leads to the conclusion exactly the opposite what mine was, but I like it. This means, that now I have a great excuse when fast moving to the next standard :-)

  38. #37

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    There is no single perfect way to do it, but learning at least the melody by ear is IMO absolutely essential.

    Also essential for most of us is to then learn to play the tune (melody, chords, solo, etc) in at least one other key.

    If you're not sure what to practice, maybe after a bit of a lay-off when life got in the way or you were just in maintenance mode, learn a tune.

  39. #38
    Okay, I will elaborate on my question a little. Let's say I have an hour a day for practice. Now it happens like this: I spend 40 minutes studying the standard. I take a part (for example, 8 bars), play for 10 minutes comping, then play over these eight bars a melody in different positions on the fretboard or in chord / melody mode - another 15 minutes; and play outlines for another 15 minutes. The rest of the time I spend studying solos (now it's Herb Ellis's book "Swing blues"). So "learning the melody" for me means spending at least a month with one jazz standard. What to do with the rest of the repertoire is not very clear to me. Maybe such a practice routine will make sense: to practice improvisation skills (practice outlines, integrate licks into my improvisation, etc.) based on the harmony of one (or two / three) standards, and periodically scroll another 20-30 in memory favorite songs?
    What practice plan would you recommend? in conditions of lack of free time, I want to be focused on one thing, but then I have the feeling that I am missing something

  40. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kmatuhin
    Okay, I will elaborate on my question a little. Let's say I have an hour a day for practice. Now it happens like this: I spend 40 minutes studying the standard. I take a part (for example, 8 bars), play for 10 minutes comping, then play over these eight bars a melody in different positions on the fretboard or in chord / melody mode - another 15 minutes; and play outlines for another 15 minutes. The rest of the time I spend studying solos (now it's Herb Ellis's book "Swing blues"). So "learning the melody" for me means spending at least a month with one jazz standard. What to do with the rest of the repertoire is not very clear to me. Maybe such a practice routine will make sense: to practice improvisation skills (practice outlines, integrate licks into my improvisation, etc.) based on the harmony of one (or two / three) standards, and periodically scroll another 20-30 in memory favorite songs?
    What practice plan would you recommend? in conditions of lack of free time, I want to be focused on one thing, but then I have the feeling that I am missing something
    What you mention is somewhat, what I do now; I try to play the melody and then the chords of a song at least once every other month for the 80 or so jazz standards I have learned over the years. No lead sheet. This is done to keep sharp so-call muscle memory of said songs.

    To keep up on the solos I use backing-tracks I have created many that represent common type of changes found in those 80 or so songs. I will also focus on playing over common turnarounds (since an area of struggle was smooth \ fairly seamless transition from chorus to chorus).

    This way of practice has worked for me; E.g. I'm jamming with friends and someone calls out a tune I haven't soloed over in years. For my solo I can wing-it since I have practiced, fairly recently, how to approach said-changes, turnarounds, and the solo is melodic since I know the melody well.

  41. #40

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    What I think it should mean is this: you can play the melody and comp well in any key.

    That's my idea of the ideal.

    My reality is like that for simpler tunes, but not for more complex tunes. Here's some more detail.

    For melody, I know the tune when I can sing or play the melody reasonably accurately without getting derailed, for example, by confusing the bridge with a similar bridge of some other tune. If I know a melody, like if I can sing it, I can play it in any key without having to think about it.

    But, I can't do that reliably with chords for complicated tunes. So, for comping, the minimal level of knowing the tune is being able to comp in the key I learned it in and play changes that work, even if they're not perfect. The maximal level is being able to nail the changes in any key. And, for extra credit, be able to keep up with a kb player who plays his own version of the harmony, by recognizing it on the fly.

    If I've gotten that far, I can improvise on it. Implicit in that is being able to feel or pre-hear the changes so that I'm soloing entirely by feel and not having to think about which scales or chords to use.

    Getting to the "maximal" point has everything to do with a trained ear and a good musical memory. I believe that some people are more able to do this than others, but that everybody can improve to some degree.

  42. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gabor
    This leads to the conclusion exactly the opposite what mine was, but I like it. This means, that now I have a great excuse when fast moving to the next standard :-)
    i think it’s cool.

    i also think it’s also cool to sweat the details as well

    sometimes the best thing is changing the way you do things normally.

  43. #42

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    Quote Originally Posted by voxsss
    same challenge i faced a few years back ..quite a few id say..so many songs to learn..band in a box program..jazz guitar solos folder . actually JG solos..has over a 100 standards..
    Over a 100 seems daunting. Even the great George Shearing relied on no more than about 20 at any one time. If he was asked to play a standard which wasn't in his current repertoire, he simply refused to play it, presumably on the basis that while he might 'know' it he wasn't confident that he could extract as much as he wanted from it, at that particular time. I tend to agree. If you know 20 in depth, then playing over others will seem like skating rather than swimming (where did that come from?) Onwards!

  44. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175
    - Being able to outline the changes of the tune while using the head as the theme.
    - Being able to go for adventurous paths, develop them and still be able to return to the main theme (most of the times )
    - Being able to feel and hear where I'm in the form. Feeling (or knowing) is the most important, but being able to "locate" quickly by hearing is necessary for recovery from lapses (at least before the form returned to the top).
    - Being able to comp using different rhythmic ideas and voicings so I'm able to interact with the soloist in the right moments and follow spontaneous artistic impulses.
    - Being able to play a decent bass line over the changes.
    - Having come up with general phrasing ideas that highlight unique or interesting corners of the tune.

    I can learn the melody and the changes quickly for not so difficult tunes but it takes a lot more "working on the tune" and internalizing it for me to be able to know the tune well enough to start doing all the above. I learned and played over 40 tunes in various jam and small gig situations but I KNOW may be 8 at this point.
    just 'being able' would be fine for me

  45. #44

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    I like Bill's advice (see 2:35)



  46. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by alltunes
    I like Bill's advice (see 2:35)


    Yep. I think revisiting tunes I already know and getting deeper at each iteration is where I make the most progress.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 09-18-2020 at 09:02 AM.

  47. #46

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    I'm a fan of learning a lot of tunes at a basic level AND taking a few every month and going really deep. The first prepares you for situations...once you learn ten tunes, the next ten go faster...you start to understand form and structure....after a while you can get through a tune in a few minutes, or right on the spot.

    But obviously the goal is not to "get through" a tune, so you continue to go deep on tunes...one a week? One a month? whatever works for you. Really put those tunes through the paces, multiple keys, different approaches...and THOSE tunes will help you with the ones you learn quickly too.

  48. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    I'm a fan of learning a lot of tunes at a basic level AND taking a few every month and going really deep. The first prepares you for situations...once you learn ten tunes, the next ten go faster...you start to understand form and structure....after a while you can get through a tune in a few minutes, or right on the spot.But obviously the goal is not to "get through" a tune, so you continue to go deep on tunes...one a week? One a month? whatever works for you. Really put those tunes through the paces, multiple keys, different approaches...and THOSE tunes will help you with the ones you learn quickly too.
    Super! Thank you!

  49. #48

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    I think you learn a tune the same way a non-musician learns it. We all can sing popular songs.

    The musician, though, can play them too, not just sing the melody.

    Playing melody is a basic skill. Can you play a line you hear in your mind? If not, you practice it, mostly by having the guitar in your hands a lot, but you can work on imitating anything you hear or can remember.

    Playing the right chords is more challenging.

    The players who know a thousand tunes aren't remember chord names. They know the tune the way anybody learns it, and they can hear the changes. Anybody can hear changes -- or they wouldn't be able to tell a wrong chord -- but everybody can do that.

    The player who knows a thousand tunes can reconstruct the harmony from the sound in his/her head, on the fly, in any key.

    I think you learn that one sound at a time. I think Conrad Cork wrote a book along those lines.

    So, for example. You can probably tell when a blues moves to the IV chord.

    You can probably tell the sound of E7 A7 D7 G7 C

    You can probably hear Fmaj7 Gm7 Am7 D7.

    Maybe you've got Fmaj7 F7 Bbmaj7 Bbm7

    You'll need to be able to hear a chord going up a half step, or a minor 3rd.

    You can probably recognize Dm Dminmaj Dm7 Dm6.

    Fmaj F#dim7 Gm7 G#dim7

    The list goes on, but the point is that there are commonly used progressions that you can learn by sound.

    Then, there are some techniques that help you find the right chord on the fly.

    For example, you don't always have to play chords, just because you're comping. You can play single notes, double stops, guide tones, or a quick improvised line.

    So, to take an example, suppose somebody calls All of Me. You can hear the tune in your mind. Key of C, say. Hopefully,you can hear that it starts on a Cmaj. But what's the second chord? If you can play the melody (assuming you have that skill), you might realize that the melody starts with the notes of a C major triad. Where does it go next? If you can hear the melody, you may be able to recognize an Emaj triad. Or maybe you just hear that C go to a B. If you noodled a line on the C can you hear that the C drops to a B? If you play a couple of more notes in your noodled line, can you find another chord tone? If you have found 2 correct notes, you can play those. If you're lucky that day, you'll find the 3 and 7. Great comping? No. But no clams either. If you can hear or find the D going to C# (for the A7) then you may realize it's the usual E7 A7 thing. At that point, can you hear the upcoming V7 im to Dm? Can you noodle something and find it? The tune then does something a little less common. It goes from Dm to E7. You're going to hear that in the bass, if there is one. Can you recognize that you just played that sound?

    Maybe a little too far into the weeds, but this is my idea of how to be able to learn and retain tunes.