From lessons to lead sheet - how to learn jazz standards

Hi Hayden,
I follow along and learn how to play the songs in the lesson outline, yet when I pick up the real book and try to work through one myself I fall short on chord arrangements, voice leading and bringing the song to life. Any tips on getting from the 1/5 3/7 to a nice arrangement.
Thank you

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Great question John!

I had a student ask a similar question last year, below is what I would recommend.

Here’s a 6 step process to follow for learning a new tune:

  1. Pick a jazz standard that hasn’t been covered on PianoGroove.

  2. Listen to every recording of that standard that you can get your hands on. Use YouTube, Spotify and literally watch/listen to every arrangement you can find. Do this for at least a week before even attempting to play it. Also find a good vocal version if there are any available, learn the lyrics and pay attention to the phrasing used by the singer.

  3. After listening to every recording you can find, you should be able to sing the melody to yourself and have an idea of the harmony. Make note of anything you like in mm:ss (minute:second) format. This could be chords, melody enhancement, rhythm… anything!

  4. Then try to create a basic arrangement. Start with root, 3rds, 7ths, and the melody on top. Play all the way through.

  5. Then analyse each melody note over each chord. Write down the scale degree of the melody and match to the common voicings. This cheat sheet may come in handy: Also, the first 4 lessons in the course on Arranging for Solo Piano will be useful information for you:

  6. Then you must emulate the bits of the recordings you like. After analysing some of the parts you noted down in mm:ss format, you should be able to relate it to the theory covered on PianoGroove, such as USTs, Dominant Passing Chords, Sus Chords, etc… … all of these things have very unique sounds and so that above process is training you to recognise them.

This is essentially how I create new arrangements. Some of it just comes to me because I’ve played similar chord progressions or melody lines before. But the listening and ‘manually’ working things out is where I got the ideas from in the first place. It’s very important for your development.

The end goal of the PianoGroove course is to help the student become self-proficient in learning jazz piano. I’ve broken down the things I was taught and that I found to be effective in learning basic jazz harmony.

Then it’s over to the student and this is more where the forum comes into play to encourage learning from records and transcription.

I think you will get a lot from the 6 step process I outline above. The first tune will be very tough, but also very rewarding for you.

If you have any questions with the process, let me know and I will happily elaborate :slight_smile:


That was the best advice ever. I played around with “All of me”, a song which I know very well and like very much (partly due to this version: which I heard in Venice, Italy, once) and I was actually able to find the right chords! Jippieh! :star_struck:
It still sounds completely boring, but now I see how the upcoming lessons make sense. Since I wasn’t stuck at the screen trying to copy your voicings, I actually “understood” parts of the theory. So it is great advice to move on to other Jazz standards in order to apply the learned theory while still learning your standards as well. Thanks for that!


Brilliant Moritz… this is a very important thing for you to have realised! :smiley:

Everything that I teach should be a supplement to your own listening.

Sure, you can make quick progress with a teacher, but you must be listening to jazz (both live and off records) as much as possible.

By doing this, you will pick up little things, like phrasing, articulation, and jazz feel - all of which can only truly be learnt from listening and emulating. This stuff ‘comes from within you’ - and to ‘get it in’ you must dedicate lots of time to listening.

I’d recommend playing along with the records you like. That way, you are in complete control of how your sound will develop, based on the sounds that you like!

And the teachings from myself and other PianoGroove teachers will help you understand the theoretical aspects of what you are playing.