Learn Jazz Standards : How Pros Do It

Got a great question from Luke about how to learn jazz standards quickly. I thought it would be useful to share my response with the community here.

Luke wrote:

learn jazz standards“Steve, I’m classically trained.

I can learn jazz standards if you gave me the notes written out.

Problem is that I watch all the great jazz players play without music. They play so freely.

I want to do play like that! How can I get there?”


Great question!

Well, there are 3 methods that you can use to learn jazz standards.

The novice method, the mediocre method, and the pro method.

They all work but not all of them are smart.

Let me show you what I mean….

Learn Jazz Standards Method #1 “The Novice Method”

Here’s how some people inefficiently learn a new jazz tune…

  1. Read a piece of sheet music.
  2. Just learn the arrangement by only reading the notes.
  3. Don’t look at the patterns or the chord progressions.
  4. Try to memorize hundreds and hundreds of individual notes.

Yes, after a while the piece can sound really good if you practice alot.

But, 99% of the time you can’t apply what you learned from this song to the next song you learn.

And every time you sit down to learn something new it feels like you have to start all over again.

learn jazz standardsIt’s like the scene from the movie “Groundhog’s Day” where Bill Murray’s character has to live the same day over and over again.

This is a super inefficient method of learning jazz.
And smart musicians understand this is not the best way to learn this art form.

Don’t be Bill Murray!

Learn Jazz Standards Method #2 “The Mediocre Method”

The next method is learning a tune by just focusing on the individual chords. For example, here’s the chord progression to Blue Bossa using this method:

 learn jazz standards

Although, this method is better than the 1st method…..it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Yes, you’ve reduced the music down to chords.

That’s good.

But, you still have to memorize dozens of individual measures & chords to get a tune sounding good.

You’re not seeing the real patterns yet.

Plus, if you forget a single chord the whole thing can fall apart real easily.

That’s because you’re not seeing the chords as a big picture pattern.

So, yes this approach is better but still not best yet…

Learn Jazz Standards Method #3 “The Smart Method”

learn jazz standardsNow, the final method we have hear is by far the best.

In fact, it’s the only method I use to learn new tunes.

It’s how I built my repertoire to hundreds of tunes in a short period of time.

Using this method, you shortcut the learning process by breaking down tunes into the most common patterns & piano chord progressions.

Here’s Blue Bossa again but this time it’s organized in a much more streamlined way:

1st phrase:

1 chord, 4 chord, 2 5 1 progression.

2nd phrase:

2 5 1 progression in Db.

3rd phrase:

2 5 1 progression in Cm.

I’ve reduced the music to the most important patterns.

This how pros learn tunes.

Do you see how much simpler method #3 is?

Why You’ve Struggled To Learn Jazz Standards

If you’ve struggled to learn or memorize tunes that’s because you’re not using enough of method #3.

For now on, when you learn a new piece of music you need to analyze your tunes first.

Figure out what the important patterns are.

This will help you shortcut the learning process and get closer to the soul of the music way quicker.

Start with Blue Bossa or start with another tune. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you use method #3 for now on. It will pay off big time. Make it happen!

Now, if you need more help ‘shortcutting’ tunes like this I show you my whole system inside this program here —> www.freejazzlessons.com/premium

learn jazz standardsSteve “Learning Jazz Harmony Frees Your Soul” Nixon

P.S By the way, jazz has 12 chord patterns that are the most common. These patterns repeat over and over again. Yes, I show you how to find the jazz standards chords and patterns with every tune inside the program.