5 Recommended Fake Books For Learning Jazz

You need music to play right? Do you have time to transcribe all your favorite jazz recordings and slowly build a library of your own personalized jazz charts?

How can you learn music more quickly without investing hours and hours trying to learn songs of recordings.  Enter the fake book!

A fake book is sort of a “cheat sheet” collection of jazz songs all in one handy book.  Usually each tune has the basic chords for the song, the melody, the basic form written out.  This allows musicians to build very quick arrangements of songs and essentially “fake” their own arrangement.

It seems like in the last 10 years the number of fake books on the market has tripled.  I think publishers see the increase demand for these books and so they churn them out faster and faster.

Avoiding the Garbage Fake Books

Now, some of these books are great.  They have the correct chords, harmonizations that jazz musicians would actually play, melodies accurately notated, and the books are easy to read.

Many of the fake books are absolutely horrendous though!  Poor chord choices, inaccurate melodies, riddled with mistakes, poor line spacing etc. Sadly, this also includes some of the more “popular” ones on the market.

So, I’d like to do help you guys out and do a quick review and recommendation of my favorite fake books.  We all buys these books and I’d like to make sure you invest your money as wisely as you can :)

I own and use all of these. Armed with these books you should be set for a long time on your jazz tune learning journey!

Recommended Fake Books

1.  The Swing Era – 1936-1947 (Jazz Bible Fake Books)

This book is part of the great “Jazz Bible Fake Book Series”.  It features over 200 tunes like Cherokee, Take The A-Train, Moonlight in Vermont, Darn That Dream etc. The series also has many tunes that vocalists tend to call at gigs. Very useful.

Pros:  The listed chords changes are excellent.  They’re chords that jazz musicians would actually play (unlike most fake books). The tunes listed in there are called on a regular basis as well. Also, all the lines are written in 4 bar phrases.  This makes it easy to read and play.

Cons: There really aren’t any.

2.  Jazz of the 50’s (Jazz Bible Fake Book Series)

This book is also part of the great “Jazz Bible Fake Book Series”.  It also features over 200 tunes but way more focus on the classic 50’s era of jazz. It has tunes like Autumn Leaves, Stella By Starlight, Misty, Beyond The Sea, Cry Me A River etc. etc.

Pros:  The listed chords changes are excellent.  The chords in this book are excellent as well. The tunes listed in there are called on a regular basis as well. Also, all the lines are written in 4 bar phrases.  This makes it easy to read and play.

Cons: There really aren’t any major ones. I suppose it would be nice if the fakebooks were spiral bound but I know that would make the books way more expensive then they are.

3.  Hal Leonard Jazz of the 60’s And Beyond: Bible Fake Book Series

This book is also part of the great “Jazz Bible Fake Book Series”.  It also features over 200 tunes but way more focus on the classic 60’s era of jazz. It has tunes like Giant Steps, All Blues, Black Coffee, etc.

Pros: This book tends to feature more compositions by jazz composers as opposed to just standard American Songbook type stuff.  For that reason I love it.

The listed chords changes are excellent like the other books in the series. The lines are written in 4 bar phrases.  This makes it easy to read and play.

Cons: There really aren’t any major ones.  It would have been nice if they had some more avant garde type 60’s tunes but I know the demand for those are pretty low.  All in all an excellent fake book.

4.  The Real Book: Sixth Edition

This is the fake book that everybody seems to have a copy of. It’s almost an industry standard. For many years this book was actually “illegal”.

Legend has it that the book started as a pass around at the Berklee College of Music in the ’70’s and then spread from there.  It was hard to find for a long time.

The publishing rights on the songs were eventually secured though and now it is legal and easily purchased.

Pros: Has a large variety of tunes from the first 40-55 years of jazz.  It also features some compositions from more modern jazz composers of the ’70’s.

Since almost everybody has this book it’s a good idea to also have it. That way you can refer to the same charts as many other musicians.

Cons: Although most of the tunes in the book are staple tunes that are called all the time there are some in there that are very obscure. Translation: They never get called!

Most of the book is notated well but there are some mistakes in a few tunes.  Just be careful and always use your ears :)

5.  The New Real Book (in C)

This is another fake book that everybody seems to have a copy of. This would also be considered an industry standard. While the previous fake book was in it’s “illegal” stage publisher Chuck Sher came out with the very useful legal alternative

Pros: Also, has a large variety of tunes from the first 40-55 years of jazz.  Some are the same as the previous book but many are different.  It also features some compositions from more modern jazz composers of the ’70’s.  Since almost everybody has this book it’s a good idea to also have it as well.

Cons: Chuck Sher included additional pictures of jazz musicians throughout the book.  I personally find it inspirational and kind of cool. I could possibly see some people wanting no pictures and only jazz charts. To each their own :)

*****

Are there any other fake books you enjoy playing from?  Please let us know by leaving a comment below. 

If you’re new here please subscribe to the free jazz lessons email list to get free jazz lessons in your inbox.

Steve Nixon is the proud owner of Freejazzlessons.com. He is a world touring jazz and blues keyboard player and educator.

Steve is the author of Premium Jazz Lessons Elite Membership (A comprehensive all-in-one online jazz piano course.)

He is also the author of the The Jazz Masters Method DVD (A study of 9 legendary jazz piano players).

If you are a blues piano fan you can also check out his popular Learn Blues Piano DVD Course.


  • Darryl Ruff

    My Fake Book favs include *The Best Chord Changes* 5-book set published by the late Frank Mantooth. Awesome! :-)) 

  • mp

    Hi,

    You mention the ones you recommend.

    Which are the ones we should avoid?

    Thanks!

  • SamC

    I have a very old fake book titled “Book Number One (West Coast Edition) 1000 Standard Tunes”. It was not sold in stores, i got it from another musician. The song are pre 1950. Do you know anything about this book or it’s origin.

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      I don’t Sam but it sounds interesting.

  • JohnBigBootay

    My father, who was a professional musician and bandleader in Kansas City for over 50 years, passed away a few years ago. He left behind thousands if not hundreds of fake books and sheet music dating back to the 50’s & 60’s up through the early 2000’s. Do you have any ideas about what I might do with this collection?
    PS: pls excuse my username; real name is Ed. :-)

    • http://www.freejazzlessons.com/ Steve Nixon (freejazzlessons)

      Hi Ed,
      I’m real sorry to hear about your loss. Your father sounds like he had quite a collection of sheet music. Can you please send my team an email through the contact form and we’ll be happy to offer some assistance on what to do with the collection. Happy to help.