How To Learn Jazz Standards? How To Build A Repertoire?

hello Hayden

I am one of the people having so much difficulties to remain standard :sleepy: .

So i am still looking for the right way to learn them

One of the reason is i am so hungry and not enough focus on one song long enough . :slightly_frowning_face::rage::worried: And i have now the ability to read sheet music pretty well so it make the process of learning a song more quickly and more quickly forget it :wink:

So i help my memory with the analysis of songs (not much about that on the site just some basic in the “how to accompany singers” and at the start of some songs ; any reason ?)

And pretty lot of jazz teachers tell about not reading any chords but only learn by ear from some record to even more being inside the song, and this method even longer could never forget it .
I will probably try this too.

here s a link who eplain the process : very interesting just discovering it

another about

any idea how to combine all this together … and your opinion about it.


1 Like

Hi Pierre… really great post idea here!

The first thing to understand, is that you will be playing these tunes for the rest of your life. You will always be adding to them.

I loved what Jovino said right at the end of his tutorial on Corcovado - something like: “I’ve been playing this tune for many years, and I’m still discovering new beauties inside of it”. …

It shows that even at his level of mastery, and lifelong-dedication, just 1 jazz standard can be the source of almost infinite inspiration.

I love the idea that we can play these tunes for our entire lives, and still have more to discover within the melodies and harmonies.

So the next question is “How Many Tunes Do I Learn?”

Firstly, what are your goals? That’s a good place to start.

For example:

  1. If you want to live and perform as a jazz musician in NYC, you must know 1000 - 2000+ tunes by memory.

  2. If you want to live and perform as a jazz musician elsewhere, (anywhere in Europe for example) you will be required to know much less repertoire, perhaps just 200 tunes.

  3. If you want to play for pleasure, to entertain your friends and family, perhaps to play in public occasionally, just learn 10 - 20 tunes very well.

That is 3 very broad categories of ‘jazz musician’.

Personally, I fall in between categories (2) and (3) - my job as an educator and managing PianoGroove makes it difficult for me to be a full-time performing musician. So my goal is to be able to memorise and play over somewhere between 20 and 200 tunes.

Decide which one of those categories you fall into, and then at least you know what task you have ahead of you. In my opinion, that must be the first step.

Now let’s talk about memorising tunes:

It’s important that you understand the common jazz forms. Many tunes in the jazz standard repertoire follow an AABA form which means that 75% of the tune is repeated. Simply understanding this will make your life immensely easier.

Yes we have a lesson on jazz forms here:

Also check out the following lessons and courses:

Harmonic Analysis Of Jazz Forms: There Will Never Be Another You - Numeric Harmonic Analysis

Tuomo’s Course on Improvisation: Advanced Improvisation Concepts For Jazz Piano |

Final Considerations Pierre:

  1. You must listen to jazz every spare moment you have - this will improve every aspect of your playing. This is a simple, but very effective habit to form. Start today!

  2. There is a similar post here on how I personally learn jazz standards: From lessons to lead sheet - how to learn jazz standards - again this is just my opinion or my ‘process’ that I find to be effective. Thanks for sharing the links above as there are many different ways to learn jazz.

  3. You must transcribe from recordings. This is how you will learn the improvisation vocabulary. This ties into step (1) where things you listen to, you then transcribe the whole solo, note-for-note.

Here’s a challenge for you Pierre:

  1. Pick 1 tune that you know well. Any tune.

  2. Transpose the chords and melody around all 12 keys so that you can play the tune in all 12 keys. To do this, you should understand the tune “numerically” - see lesson above on “Harmonic Analysis of Jazz Forms”

  3. Listen to every recording of the tune that you can find. Listen over and over to the ones that you like.

  4. Transcribe a few solos over the form, and also transpose the solos into all 12 keys.

You will then have learnt the essence of jazz.


Thanks so much for this long and complete reply …:grinning:

For my goals : just being able to play some standard tunes with comfort around 20 would be great but even 10 sufficient, and composing some songs too.

About the analysis why not proposing for all songs ? you dont think it is always better ?

And for your process between the steps 2 and 3 you take the sheet music or all by ear too ? you write chords and melody ?

for the challenge … ah my lazyness is in bad situation :joy: but you are right for sure … i begin tonight.
Thanks again.

My pleasure Pierre.

10 - 20 songs is a very achievable goal.

Start by writing them down and work through each one of them.

Everyone is different.

I personally do not feel the need to learn every song I play numerically, but as mentioned, that is because I have other commitments such as managing PianoGroove. If I had all of the day free time, I would spend more time on this.

For many of our older students, they just want to watch the video tutorial and follow along with the transcription notation. Everyone has a different position and reasons why they want to play jazz piano and so it’s impossible for me to say “this is the right way to do it”.

It depends on your own circumstances, ambitions, and aspirations.

Check out Tuomo’s Jazz Standard Lessons:

I get the impression that Tuomo’s jazz standard lessons will be a good approach for you.

Check them out here:

The lesson on Skylark is taught by me, but all others on that page are taught by Tuomo.

Notice how each lesson, he starts by analysing the numeric harmony, so that he understands the structure of the tune. This would be important for him, because he is a top-tier jazz performer in NYC, and so if someone calls a tune in any key, he must be able to play it. By understanding the numerical harmony, he can then play the tune in any key.

Again everyone is different so ‘no one size fits all’.

It depends what you want to achieve.

I play mostly for pleasure, and occasionally to entertain friends, family, or people in a jazz club.

I learn tunes in the original key first of all.

I usually start with a lead sheet, but more recently, I have been learning tunes by ear. This is more time consuming, and so with my other commitments, I often find this a challenge.

I always listen to many, many recordings of the tune - every recording that I can find. Then I make a shortlist of the recordings. Then I listen more to the shortlist, transcribe the bits I like, and make my own arrangement.

That’s my own process which I enjoy every part of.

I want you to find your own process Pierre.

That is my vision with PianoGroove… to inspire rather than to dictate :wink:

OK I take up this challenge :grinning:
I choose one easy for this first step "Autumn leaves "

it’s a song that I’ve never really been interested in . But with this challenge i will try to give it a second chance.
the first step in 12 keys with easy comping is well advanced … i even never realize i was able to do it … first nice surprise .

Now i begin to hear as most version i can find and spotify is so great for that. i will post them for other players … not much of them exicite me really … but today i find a very special version of one of my favourite pianist

here it is Spotify

Finally a version where each note and chord brings a thousand colors and different atmosphere that speaks to me and lightens this theme that I have always found heavy : here s Master Richie Beirach .
It would take me a year to do all the transcription but i will try to capture some ideas of this arrangment

Thanks Hayden for your support

Great tune selection Pierre.

I’ve always found Autumn Leaves to be a nice tune to drill 251s - as most of the form is 251 progressions.

Congrats… it’s no small task to take a tune around all 12 keys on the piano, and so that’s a brilliant accomplishment Pierre!

Great recording… thanks for sharing.

Yes he brings out some wonderful colours and textures over the harmony.

I’ll have to listen to many more times to take it all in.

The bass solo is awesome too :sunglasses:

Yes transcription takes a while… it certainly does not happen overnight!

I’d recommend picking out small sections over the 251s, and then transposing them around all 12 keys.

Listen to the 251 line starting at 3:08 - that one jumped out at me as something I’d like to transcribe. I like how it starts off a little ‘outside’ and then drops into the G Blues Scale.

I’d have to analyse the recording in more detail to find out exactly where that is in the form, but that melody line sounds great over a 251 in G Minor. The bluesy bit as a resolution into the 1 chord.

I’d start by taking a short 251 melody like that and moving it around all 12 keys.

It’s crazy how much information can be drawn from a single solo, as you correctly point out… a year of work to truly absorb all of this information.

I find the key is to start small and ‘cherry pick’ the parts you like most.

My pleasure Pierre… I’m really happy to see you engaging in this kind of practice.

This is what I like to call “Stage 2 Jazz Education” where the student is comfortable with the underlying theory and then starts to shape his/her sound with the recordings and artists that interest and inspire.

It’s wonderful to get to that stage and the ‘freedom of exploration’ that it provides.

Enjoy it and if I can provide any more guidance just let me know.