Lead Sheet Secrets – Create Great Arrangements Using Just Chords

Recently Todd submitted a great question on lead sheet shortcuts and making music with chord symbols.

It’s a common question that I hear from a lot of jazz beginners and from piano players with more of a classical piano background.

Todd asked, “When you come up with an arrangement, do you write down the voicings that you were using, or do you just use the chord symbol?”

Since so many people have asked this question over the years I figured I’d make a quick video and blog post about it.

Should You Write Out Every Note Or Just A Basic Lead Sheet?

lead sheetHere’s my response: That’s a really good question. You know, a lot of people wanna know should they write out every single note.

Or, is better to write out basic chord symbols up top and sort of feel it out as they’re going along.

So, what I do personally is, I write out just the chord symbols and the melody note and only that. This is a technique that we call playing from a lead sheet. So, I definitely don’t write out every note.

The reason why I do it like that is because I’ve practiced a lot over the years, in terms of learning all these different chord voicings, right?

I know a thousand different chord voicings in all 12 keys. And so, once you start having that freedom, you don’t have to write out every single note.

What Every Serious Jazz Musician Must Be Able To Do

lead-sheetYour goal is to be able to look at a basic chord symbol from a lead sheet and a melody note on top and know how to arrange that particular musical moment in a hundred different ways.

You know, at the highest level Jazz is about expression, it’s about being in the moment, and thinking a little bit more bigger picture.

And when you start writing out every single note exactly as it is, we’re starting to go away from the whole jazz thing.

You don’t want to trap yourself and have to play it the same way every time. Being able to interpret chord symbols in the moment allows you to express yourself and be creative in the moment.

So, it’s a fantastic goal to aspire to.

I think it’s okay if you’re a beginner and you’re first learning arrangements, but you wanna get control of your voicings, of your jazz harmony, so that you can simplify and be a little bit more in the moment.

So my advice to you is that you need to go deeper in terms of really mastering your chord voicings.

Learn to organize them in different qualities, major, minor, dominant, and then learn them in all 12 keys.

This is how you can start finally feeling more free at the piano, so you can eventually be in the moment and express yourself. And this is where all the freedom and the fun comes in.

If you’re new to jazz piano and want to learn my method for mastering all these chords in 30-60 days check out this special beginner jazz course right here.

So that’s what I would recommend you do. Get 100% comfortable with all your chords. Then, you don’t have to write out every single note and you can start playing more confidently and being much freer at the keyboard.

And that’s why we create all our programs here at FJL. The goal is to help you go 1000x farther than any of the 5 minute amateur Youtube videos that don’t product massive results.

How To Transform Basic Chords Into Impressive Sounding Arrangements

chord symbolsSo, if you already know jazz basics and want to finally take your playing to the next level and discover the chords the top jazz greats use then check out The Premium Jazz Membership Program.

You’ll see step by step how I arrange the best jazz standards in the world. I show you how to take basic lead sheets and turn them into rich jazz arrangements. And you’ll learn all the chords and formulas I’ve transcribed from greats like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Herbie Hancock etc.

Plus, lots of additional chords I’ve learned from just touring and playing gigs for 17 years.

We even have a 2 hours masterclass in there that show you how to easily master any song, lick, and pattern in all 12 keys.

Alright happy practicing to Todd and happy practicing to everybody who’s reading this article. You and I both have a love for great music and great music.

Stay motivated, stay hungry, and make a decision to improve your craft daily. You won’t regret it.

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Steve Nixon