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  1. #1
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    How to learn songs efficiently through common chord progressions

    Not quite sure which subforum this should go in. I am starting a series for anyone interested about how to find common harmonic devices in songs that will make learning and memorizing tunes simpler. I have a handful of students I am doing this with now and see a lot of over complication, thinking on too small of a scale, not connecting things they hear in one tune to another etc. so I am making this to help them but figured I would try to let anyone else know too in case it would be helpful. This is just the first part but there will be at least 3 or 4 more, possibly more if it seems to be helpful and has people watching it.



    Edit: here’s part 2.


    Paul


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    Last edited by rio; 02-14-2018 at 01:43 AM.

  2. #2
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    Thanks for this. As I was watching I remembered your cat from another video and found a good tension and release there :-)

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by beardog View Post
    Thanks for this. As I was watching I remembered your cat from another video and found a good tension and release there :-)
    She was sitting down at my feet for the last five minutes or so before jumping up and I was honestly hoping she would decide to make an appearance haha


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  4. #4
    Thanks for the video. A great topic.

    A few thoughts.

    I have always doubted that anybody who knows hundreds of tunes is really remembering them in terms of roman numerals or intervals. I might be wrong about that.

    My impression is that they do it entirely by sound and having a connection between hearing the sound of the next chord in their mind and having their fingers go for the right chord.

    Most of us can do it easily enough on a 12 bar blues. And, probably most of us can do it with Blue Bossa or All of Me, meaning fairly simple tunes. Do you remember the second chord of All of Me by saying to yourself, the tonic goes to the III7? Or, can you just hear that the chord changes on "why not take (change) all of me? and your fingers jump to it?

    With more complex songs, it's harder. There is no easy linguistic mediation for Stella.

    With How High The Moon, I'd offer this alternative.

    If you know you're in Gmajor and that Gmaj is the first chord, start with x 10 x x 12 x. That's a G and a B, voiced as a 10th. Both of those notes are going to start descending, although not quite uniformly.

    At the Ebmaj you're playing x6xx8x. Still a 10th. Both notes drop a half step. Sounds like a D7.

    After that, you may be able to hear the D7 Gm cadence and the 3 6 2 5 turnaround. But if not, maybe you can slide that x6xx8x up to x 10 x x 11 x and hear that as Gm. Then, maybe you can hear that the Bb slides to the B to sound Gmaj and then hear the turnaround.

    The point of this, which I think may be a little different than the usual advice is this. My suspicion is that pianists don't necessarily know the name of the next chord. But, piano lends itself to picking out a note or two and then filling in the rest. I don't often hear pianists comping in block chords. More often, they're doing guide tones, fills, countermelodies, whatever.

    Guitarists, on the other hand, often think in grips. Perhaps that's not conducive to figuring out the next chord on the fly.

    But, if you can find a note or two -- particularly if it (they) are the notes that are changing from one chord to the next, you may be able to comp even without thinking about chord names, grips, intervals, or anything but hearing the movement of the important notes.

    And, it's entirely possible to effectively fake it by playing a little melodic line until you can figure out which notes are going to work.

    This approach may make it a little easier to play the tune in 12 keys because you aren't thinking, "okay, now the tune is in the key of the Iminor and the chord is the bVIm7b5, what's that in Db?" Rather, you're just sliding 10ths around.

    Or, stated another way, the key to memorizing tunes is having a well trained ear.

  5. #5
    Immersion. Much time is spent thinking of strategies of how to learn tunes and I really believe it's first and foremost a matter of ear and spacial identification. You learn the sound of a VI as the dark pocket of minor a little ways down from Do, you learn Re as a distinctive stepping stone of harmony close to the I. You can't think this, you learn it by playing and experiencing tunes as living things, then internalizing parts as a sensual thing, then you can identify and name these harmonic and melodic entities with roman numerals.
    I've found this immersion method really works if you commit yourself to the power of the song, regularly and with a feeling of enjoying the process. Songs all share a common DNA and the devices that make up songs is finite. Know what you're doing, be able to quantify and recognize, and most importantly, immerse yourself in the dynamic nature of harmony.
    If ever there was an application for the term Just Do It, it's learning songs by committing yourself to the music. I believe this. I teach music this way. It works.

    David

  6. #6
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    I think both of those things are correct and both having a good ear and immersion are both critical. And regarding the 10ths I agree with that idea too except that guitars don’t have the advantage of a linear instrument. We are dealing with 6 pianos at once so whereas a piano can put down a root and 10th and fill in the details it will take a guitarists much more time to identify what chord tones are available on other strings to fill in a chord than a pianist who can see in a straight line all of the steps available and intervals between them.

    So in the meantime, while spending time doing all of that and all of the other worthwhile technical and ear related things I think that common chord progressions are a big thing that people miss. When I see advanced players using real books to play a standard I can almost guarantee that they are thinking chord by chord and not in big pieces, that they haven’t practiced common chord progressions in all 12 keys and that even though they might be analytical that their analysis is not being spent in the right places when it comes to memorization. If you know, let’s say under 10 common progressions really well then your ear will hear them jump out and you will quite simply not need music for those progressions. When you have a time like a rhythm changes, literally every part of that song is a common progression. Even Stella can be broken down into those common progressions even if the key centers are less related than rhythm changes. And although you can’t memorize Giant Steps with only common progressions you can still use them to help - there is that bVI to V resolution all over that song but people miss it getting caught up in the minutiae.

    Regarding immersion, this is a key part of it because of you just wrote down the common progressions once you know them and are not actively listening, practicing and working on hearing them then they won’t do any good. Immersion is probably more important in jazz than any other kind of Western music (in my opinion). Other styles might require it but you will not be able to play jazz well if you aren’t immersed in it. So I really think that if you are immersing yourself and if you know what to look for (these progressions and how they apply) then you will not only be able to memorize more easily but also know what chords are coming up next without even having heard a tune before. I think that is the big danger of just thinking key centers. Yes How High the Moon starts in G, modulates to F, Eb, Gm etc. but knowing that as soon as you hear a 1 chord turn minor that you can expect it to possibly be a ii chord (unless it stays minor as a parallel minor) tells you where to play next, keeps you from having to think about every chord as its own separate thing and very importantly tells you this before you arrive at a key center. If you are learning by where the I chords are then you have to think backwards to find progressions instead of thinking forwards and that will always make learning a tune by ear slower.

    Right now in addition to some private students I have an adult jazz class that I teach. This is their 5th year and they have improved a lot but they are still reading charts with progressions they have seen many, many times. So recently I have been doing this with them and very quickly they can now transpose on the spot and not need the charts all the time. There is still a lot of work to be done but just in a matter of a month doing this the improvement is really remarkable. I wish I was taught like this (although my guitar is mostly self taught and my formal background was with the bass) because making these connections recently has also helped me drastically. I have a good ear so I can hear changes but this just simplifies everything because even with a good ear you are reducing songs down to much, much smaller chunks. Something like rhythm changes, which I have had memorized for a long time but not using this method, can be broken down to three pieces - an entire 32 bar tune broken down to three devices. And on guitar, although we don’t have the linear presentation of the piano we have a HUGE advantage with this because of ease of transposition. Guitarists really have no excuse for not knowing how to play songs in 12 keys and at least personally I am starting to see that if I don’t know a song in 12 keys then I am not really getting the harmonic devices well enough.

    And David, in addition to the immersion point I really like your description of “common DNA”. It is like these songs are all relatives. In the end it doesn’t matter if you call it a turnaround to ii or a ham sandwich - as long as you know the sound of it you are going to have a hugely simpler time memorizing.


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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by rio View Post
    I think both of those things are correct and both having a good ear and immersion are both critical. And regarding the 10ths I agree with that idea too except that guitars don’t have the advantage of a linear instrument. We are dealing with 6 pianos at once so whereas a piano can put down a root and 10th and fill in the details it will take a guitarists much more time to identify what chord tones are available on other strings to fill in a chord than a pianist who can see in a straight line all of the steps available and intervals between them.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    In music, there are always different paths to the goal.

    The point of the 10ths was to have a strategy to find a couple of notes. You get, most of the time, the root and the 3rd (10th) this way. Mostly, you'll have to fill in the seventh or b7 - much easier to do if you've got the root. How High The Moon lends itself well to this particular trick. For Stella, which I just tried a moment ago in an unfamiliar key, I was able to find a few notes in each chord without thinking about the chord name at all. For most, it allowed me to figure out the chords. For the rest, I could do some fills without clams. Not exactly brilliant comping, but not playing the wrong notes or laying out, either.

    The magic starts when your fingers start finding the right notes and, suddenly, you're comping the tune without thinking about anything but the sounds. Cadences can certainly help. So can playing single notes until you find what you're after

    Of course, if you can hear the progression you're in the midst of (and I completely agree with those points) you've got it. The sticking points, at least for me, are the key shifts. My tip was to stop thinking "grip" for a moment and, instead, start thinking "guide tone" or "two damn notes that fit with the sound in my head of the tune". If you can hear the cadences of chords, great!

  8. #8
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    Just did part 2. I’ll edit the first post with the link too.



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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by rio View Post
    Just did part 2. I’ll edit the first post with the link too.



    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    I enjoyed the video and it saved time since I skipped my allotment of FB cat pictures for the day <g>.

    My only comment is this. For me, the key to getting better at this, after a long struggle, was hearing the notes that change. That's the bass and/or guide tones. The issue was hearing, for example, that the Eb in the bass beneath the Ebmaj7 gives way to a D in the bass for the next chord.

    If you can hear that much, you've already got a minor 10th -- because the melody note is F. If you didn't realize the next chord is G7, it wouldn't matter, the bassist would shift to G, and audience would hear G D F, which isn't wrong.

    If you then realized the the D in the middle of that Ebmaj7 moves to C and then to B, you'd have almost the entire first three chords, missing only the Ab in the middle of the Dm7b5.

    For the move from the G7 to the Cm, I'm entirely on board with your approach.

    When the Cm7 goes to Bbm7, for me, the issue is hearing the Eb D Db in the middle of the chord. That one note, combined with the bassist playing roots (which a lot of bassists seem to hate) gives you the minor tenth again. Not the complete chord, but not a clam either.

    Anyway, the issue I'm trying to point out is hearing the guide tone line in the transitions. If you can hear those movements and basic ii Vs, it is possible to get through the tunes as if you knew them.

    Of course, this works a lot more easily with Another Ewe compared to, say, Stella.

  10. #10
    Hey Paul... there is a Practical Standards Thread in the JazzGuitar Beginners lessons.

    Cool vids.
    Your approach is for beginners right. There is much more to playing standards than just memorizing basic common chord progression.
    Shouldn't there be some understanding of what's going on with the relationships between the chords and tonal centers, at least it might help.. so when one gets to the point that they can play those common chord patterns... they have some idea what they're playing. Why different chord patterns are different in different tunes... or contexts. And what those differences are.

    Also basic comping approaches... Where this ends up. I understand it complicated... But that's why most guitarist can comp... it's complicated, not really... they just don't work on it.

    Your vids are nice... I dig you presentations... very cool. Anyway the Practical Standard thread I mentioned above was started 5,6 or 7 years ago... they play or learn one tune a month. When it was started I would make tutuitorials breaking down , through analysis of tune and post some examples , sometimes different versions... and how different styles change the analysis of the progression... the actual performance of changes and improv etc... Anyway, nice posts and thanks for posting.

    I'm trying to get back involved in the thread... your input would be great addition and very useful... you might pick up more followers also.

    Thanks Ref

  11. #11
    I don't believe in tricks and formulas. The only way to learn a tune - maybe even most things - is to get it off the paper as soon as possible. It requires deliberate effort. Memory is a muscle, more you use it, stronger it gets.

    I was going to say something else but I've forgotten what it was...

  12. #12
    I like this subject but I'm always a little hesitant to jump in; my method is apparently unusual. The way I learn existing songs, compose new ones, practice, and perform them is through a direct method I just call "how it goes"...

    For an existing song, what I know of it, if I know it, is "how it goes", which means how the sound of it goes - the sound of the progression chords, their types, extensions and alterations, the melody, and rhythm... but it is the sounds of these things, not their names, numbers, or other verbal labels from theory. I know how to make these sounds on the guitar, also without naming anything, so for me recalling and playing a song is all about knowing the sound of it and making those sounds on the instrument. So, "how it goes", for songs I come to know, contains the form, the progression chords, the melody, etc...

    For learning a new song or composing a song, I discover or create "how it goes" as far as sound, and then playing it is just playing the sounds on the guitar. The nature of "how it goes" comes to include the usual and customary sounds of music, so when playing or performing a song I have not heard, I actually already know a lot of "how it goes" and can predict and discover most of the remaining unknown parts quickly, typically real-time for all but the most quirky or complex songs.

    I know hundreds of songs in this way and it enables me to know even more, even if I have never played them - if I have heard a song and know just from hearing "how it goes", that is enough that I can play it. Ideally I would spend some time exploring and discovering ideas before performing it, but as the guitarist in the host band for a weekly four hour open mic for ten years, I routinely played songs I had never heard before with people I had just met and got good at it.

    To me, the simplicity of "how it goes" is the same as when children learn to sing songs in school. They know how the songs go without knowing anything else about keys, chords, etc... they don't conduct a silent internal verbal conversation with themselves about what is going on.

    Even those who use various theoretical approaches to analyze and grasp a song must reach a point where what they finally hold is not the theory tools but the singular product of their construction, right? Once a building is constructed, you remove the scaffolding, remove the construction equipment, and drag off the site manager's trailer office... Once a song is internalized ("completed"), is it necessary to maintain all the tools and equipment around through which it was grasped?

    Let me ask it this way, of those that are using theory... taking a song you know and play well: can you play it without thinking of the key, chord names, note names, Roman numeral names, progression function names, etc. ...?

    I know there are a lot of theory heavy hitters here, and I assume nearly all of that is used before and during the learning of a song. How much do you use during the performance of a song? (I don't mean musical judgement, I mean real underlying theory crunching during play).

    Sorry for being kind of rambling...
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1 View Post
    I don't believe in tricks and formulas. The only way to learn a tune - maybe even most things - is to get it off the paper as soon as possible. It requires deliberate effort. Memory is a muscle, more you use it, stronger it gets.

    I was going to say something else but I've forgotten what it was...
    Getting it off the paper is the problem and the point of this though. Learning by ear is an essential skill for jazz musicians, in my opinion, and they are not tricks as in magic tricks but it can seem that way when someone plays along with a tune not ever having heard it before. Like not even listening to a full chorus but being able to anticipate the changes of a song they have never heard on the spot. This seems like a trick but it is really having an ear that can identify common harmonic devices and chord changes. If you treat every song like its own unique thing then you are essentially not learning jazz harmony vocabulary and doing the equivalent of sounding out words constantly when reading even if you have seen the words hundreds of times before. There really aren’t a ton of these devices but if you know under 10 of the most common ones and can hear and play them in 12 keys then you will be learning tunes by ear and easily. It does take deliberate effort to identify these harmonic devices and teach your ear what they are of you can’t immediately identify them but after that song’s almost memorize themselves. Because even if you forget a tune you can learn it again instantly after hearing it once or anticipate what comes next after hearing just a bit.

    Melodies though are a different story!

    Quote Originally Posted by pauln View Post

    Let me ask it this way, of those that are using theory... taking a song you know and play well: can you play it without thinking of the key, chord names, note names, Roman numeral names, progression function names, etc. ...?

    I know there are a lot of theory heavy hitters here, and I assume nearly all of that is used before and during the learning of a song. How much do you use during the performance of a song? (I don't mean musical judgement, I mean real underlying theory crunching during play).
    ...
    If you can hear these common harmonic devices then it doesn’t matter what you call them. The utility is in knowing what harmony to expect based on knowing that many songs share the same harmonic devices. Theory can make that easier if you are fluent in that language since you can actually verbalize what you are hearing but ultimately the theory names of what is going on doesn’t matter if you can hear it. That video of Wes teaching Pim Jacobs The End of A Love Affair shows this, Wes isn’t saying “ok start with a ii V I in Ab, then Ab becomes the ii” etc. But he clearly is able to hear the harmonic devices. Guys like this might say “ok here is one of those. Now it goes like this” and they know exactly what they are hearing because they have heard it in tons of other songs. But as for naming the theory? Not essential. But it can simplify it for us if we are interested in speaking that language. Knowing all of the turnarounds to ii is important. Knowing how to describe them with theory is useful and can expose the inner workings of how harmony acts in a song but it won’t help you learn songs, play by ear etc. any more easily if you can’t hear it.



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  14. #14
    Yea anything works if you already have it memorized, as long as you have the physical skills .... by physical skills I implying you can realize what you hear on your instrument, and you have the technique on the instrument to be able to perform etc...

    There are some good advantages to having understandings of music... Disclaimer, I have no problem performing by just using your ears and memory. And when just playing 50,60 year old tunes, basically as they are... yea who cares what anything is or means in musical terms etc...

    But when playing new(er) tunes and arrangements of standards etc... OK... I can fake it, by as relating to chord patterns, or just knowing how things go. But some how, I don't believe I would be doing the music any favors. Where as if I actually understood what the music is, and could even sight read what's on the chart.... I might do a better job... And I would still be using, my performance skills of knowing how tunes usually go etc...

    Paul... I don't need to think or verbally label, etc... There's no different to me between being aware of what's going on in real time... when there is a chart or not. I don't know if I'm one of those theory heavy hitters... but I understand music etc... I can actually think about theory while I'm playing in real time... I mean I can walk down the road , and I can walk down the road and know where I am and even where I can go, maybe even give directions that have references. I know lousy analogy...

    I'm over the top, with all the theory and harmony BS... because I choose too. But I have done all the work, I've been able to play for way too many years. Memory does fail sometimes also.

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    VERY interesting topic.

    I first ran into this when starting serious lessons and my teacher would inevitably say, "you know try this..like the bridge to (name any tune here)" and I'd be at a loss because my vocabulary was so weak.

    So I made a conscious effort to get the changes down. I do rely on functional harmonics though...so the bridge to the Girl From Ipanema for me would be: key: Gb I , i-6 , i-7 , i-7b5 original key: F ii , ii-7b5....

    ...try that on string series 2-5 and see how easy it is to remember (of course I might throw in an inversion or two).
    If you can distinguish between rehearsing and practicing...you're better than half way there!

  16. #16
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    One problem is because a lot of the standards we learn are ... well.. kind of non-standard. And the charts and recordings people learn them from are heavily substituted a lot of the time.

    Which makes them interesting as jazz vehicles but not necessarily the right ones to teach you to know a Montgomery Ward bridge from a Sears Roebuck.

    For me playing lots of swing and old jazz sorted me out on that. I think doing gigs with singers would help with that too.

    A lot of modern players specialising in instrumental jazz don't really seem to know a lot of tune modules as it were.

    It's not hard, it's just people don't play old songs enough. In a way, whose to blame them? I only did because people gave me money to, and we had to be off charts on gigs.

  17. #17
    I've been practicing this technique for "learning" tunes for some weeks now and it seems to be paying off. This may be repetitive, but I think it may be helpful to someone.

    I put "learning" in quotes, because it isn't exactly about learning the tune in the conventional sense. You do have to know what the tune sounds like, the same way anybody who likes a tune can sing it. You have to know the melody and you have to be able to tell if a chord is right or wrong, from the way it sounds.

    You have to figure out the first chord, which is usually not a problem.

    Then, every time you don't know the next chord, you start playing a single note line until you find a note that fits, or, hopefully, two or three. My ear isn't always good enough to know the next chord, but, oftentimes, it's good enough to play a quick line until I find a note or two. From there, I can just play those one or two notes, or, oftentimes it will be clear what the chord is. You don't necessarily know the key you're in, although it helps.

    Since Great American Songbook tunes are typically limited in harmonic complexity, it isn't all that tough to figure out the next chord from the improvised line you play to search for it. Maj, min, 7th, m7b5 and dim cover a lot of tunes.

    My impression is that pianists do this all the time. They aren't playing block chords on quarter notes. They're typically breaking up the chord, embellishing with short melodic lines and so forth.

    I'm excited about this because I spent decades struggling with the inability to do this. I'd struggle to remember tunes from the usual roman numeral or bandstand shorthand approaches. I'd be all but unable to play a tune I knew in a different key. Then, after decades, I started practicing tunes this way and I have now managed to play several jams mostly without reading. And, it doesn't feel like I'm memorizing anything. To "learn" a new tune, all I really need to do is listen to it long enough that I can sing it and know what the chords sound like - no naming, no math.

  18. #18
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    How to learn songs efficiently through common chord progressions

    I honestly feel the convention of notating chord extensions etc for the root gives the impression that standards harmony is more complicated than it actually is.

    For instance if you can hear common alterations to the major key like b6 etc that’s helpful. Then if you play a Fm6 in the key of C say, but the bass is on Bb or D, it will sound good. You are focussing in middle voices, and in fact the bassist would often rather you didn’t double it, unless it’s a line or riff.

    Think about the middle voices and think about the key.

  19. #19
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    How to learn songs efficiently through common chord progressions

    In practice though I tend to be a lot more intuitive - I just hear ‘Ii7’ etc

    And the best way to extend my skills here is just to learn more music by ear. Not really much science to it in that sense.

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