Approaching a new tune

Does anyone have a procedure when approaching a new tune? Progressions, key, scales, alterations, rhythms? Or is just whatever hits you and then go back again… and again… and again; like approaching and tweaking a new recipe?

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I’ve learned so much from Hayden’s approach to new tunes. The melody and the basic chord structure first, until I’m able to go through the piece smoothly and have memorized the chord changes. Then chord substitutions and approach chords. Then melodic changes to go with the new chord structure. Then working out an improvisation routine for a solo, then thinking about whether to change the rhythm, tempo or style. The piece I’ve been working on for longest is “Over the Rainbow” - I’ve kept coming back for over 2 years while I work on other things. And it’s still work in progress although I’m relatively happy now with how it sounds.


Creating a list of our favourite recordings on YouTube or Spotify is a great place to start.

It’s good to do this before we even pick up the lead sheet as it gives us insights and inspiration into how the tune is commonly interpreted and played.

I try to listen to every version that I can find, and whilst listening I make a ‘short list’ of the versions that I like the most. It could be different things that I like, such as the phrasing of the melody, perhaps a cool chord substitution that piques my interest, or perhaps the solo or a particular fill or embellishment that is added.

Whatever it is, I will come back later to listen and transcribe from my ‘short list’ of recordings. I can take little inspirations from here and there and before long I have my own arrangement based on the sounds that I like.

Finding a vocal version is also a good exercise to learn the lyrics and the meaning of the song.

It’s a fun process to follow, and of course the more we do it, the more aware we become of the different techniques and devices we can use when arranging tunes from lead sheets which then speeds up the process for the next tune!

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Some analysis would be good, although I must confess I don’t always put in the time though. But song structure (AABA and such) and converting the chords to Roman numerals will help you learn it. And recognizing progressions from song to song.
Then it’s quite a bit of repeating, but try not to start at the top every time but focus on the areas that give you trouble.