Learning Lyrics To Jazz Standards

Focus while playing
I am working my way through the Beginner Jazz Arrangements song list. I have been writing the lyrics below the melody. Once I can play the whole tune slowly, I begin to play with iReal Pro backing tracks.
I find myself dependent on singing the lyric (in my mind) while playing. I find it helps me stay in time and also to keep track of where I’m at in the song. However, I wonder if this a bad habit in that maybe should be exclusively counting beats.
So my question is this, do most players have the lyrics playing in the head? Is this a bad habit that should be corrected? How would an advanced player describe his/her focus while playing.
Any advice would be appreciated.

Hi @DennisP :wave:

Great question here!

My view is that both learning and singing the lyrics to jazz standards is always a good idea. When I’m learning a new tune - particularly one that I’m not familiar with - I always try to find a great vocal version that I like and I add that to my playlist.

Exactly as you say, learning the lyrics is a useful method to keep track of where we are in the form of the song both when playing the head and when improvising a solo, and also when following along with the improvised solo of someone else.

Some other benefits are:

  • the lyrics give us a deeper understanding of the meaning of tune. When we know the lyrics we can try to express them musically, for example in terms of the voicings and fills that we use. This can be really fun; trying to match the style of our playing to embody the meaning behind the lyrics.

  • after listening to and studying vocal versions of a tune, it gives us different ideas and insights on how to phrase the melody. The best singers always have one thing in common - beautiful phrasing!

No for me it’s certainly not a bad habit.

If it works for you in terms of keeping the form and keeping the time, then my recommendation would be to stick with it.

For me it depends on what I’m playing. If I’m playing in a slow ballad style then the lyrics are really useful for the reasons mentioned above.

If I’m playing something faster I will tend to focus more on the time-feel, but not necessarily counting each beat, rather just feeling the time.

I hope that helps and I look forward to hearing the insights of others on this interesting topic.