"Tune Up" Notation? The Pros & Cons Of Using Transcriptions

Hi All

I’m new to the site. There’s no question it looks good, but perhaps some of you remember starting out? Its really intimidating. A little overwhelming.

I’m trying to create new practice habit and coming up against obstacles all the time; right now I’m starting the foundations practice plan and I cannot find the music for ‘Tune Up’ anywhere…Is it available on this website?

Thanks for your help & I look forward to speaking with you all



Hi Grant :wave:


Yes we have an annotated worksheet for that lesson, you can download it here:

How-to-Read-Lead-Sheets (1).pdf (4.4 MB)

You can find a list of our jazz standard lessons organised by difficulty here:

Learning jazz pano can be overwhelming, it’s very natural to feel that way as a beginner.

My main advice is to follow the practice plans, perhaps work on the Foundations Course, and the Chord Extensions Course in tandem as much of the content is interrelated.

Here’s the course pages:


Follow the theory lessons and enjoy playing the arrangements.

If something doesn’t make sense initially, don’t be disheartened by that. It will all make sense with time.

I hope this helps, if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask.


Thanks Hayden, that’ll keep me going for now.


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Hi Grant,

When you ask for the music for “Tune Up”, do you mean a 2-stave written version of the melody with the accompanying chords? I only ask because I am a beginner (I started this week) and I also looked for this until I realised that the idea is that there is no sheet music - we have to work out what to play for ourselves.

If it’s of any help, I’m following Hayden’s advice to do 30 minutes of theory - I’m revising the minor scales and learning the seventh chords and 2-5-1 progressions. Then I’m doing 30 minutes of a jazz standard (Tune Up). The 2-5-1 progressions lesson is really helping me understand how to figure out the chords of “Tune Up” for myself. I’m also finding that it is essential to know the notes of each and every scale too.

Happy practicing!


Hey Emma

Sounds like you are making great progress! Well done for putting in the time.

When you say ‘work out what to play’ - do you mean improvise with the right hand over the 251’s with the left?

How did you get to the bottom of this? Is it in the foundations plan?

I’m sure its all there. I know I’m not putting in the time because my schedule is already full. I’m contenting myself with revising my scales at the moment - only about 10 mins a day! I’d love to get deeper in

Thanks for coming back to me & catch up soon

Hi Emma,

Welcome to the community area!

We do have a “Tune Up” download that was compiled by one of our students, here it is:

How-to-Read-Lead-Sheets (1).pdf (4.4 MB)

However, as you correctly point out, “working out what to play ourselves” is - in my opinion - the key to rapid improvement.

For many of us, we come from a classical background and therefore it can be easy to use 2-stave sheet music as ‘a crutch’ or an ‘additional aid’ when learning to play a jazz standard.

If our goal is simply to play a jazzy-sounding arrangement, then reading from a transcription is the quickest way to achieve this.

However, if we are looking to get a deeper understanding of harmony, voicings, and chord progressions, then watching the video lessons and memorising the voicing formulas is the best route to go down.

That sounds like a brilliant practice routine Emma :+1:

I’d also recommend that you start on our Chord Extensions Course and experiment with the the theory and jazz standard lessons.

Much of the theory is interrelated and I recommend that students work on both of these concurrently.

A Final Note On The Importance Of Listening & Transcribing:

At the same time, we should be listening to many different versions of every tune we are trying to learn. For more information on the importance of listening and transcription, check out this short video:


Hi Grant,

When I say I “work out what to play”, I take the melody line of “Tune Up” and I look at the key the first bar is played in (Em7). I tell myself that this is the 2 of the 251 progression (I understood this by watching the “Major 251 progressions” video and the "How to create lead sheets - Tune Up videos in tandem). Then I work out the 3rd and 7th of E minor (from its scale - 3rd = G and 7th = D) and figure out how I could play a G and D somewhere between the root E (left hand) and melody (right hand). It takes me ages, but I move through each bar in this manner, figuring out the 3rds and 7ths for each chord change. I compare my interpretation with Hayden’s version in the voice leadings chapter of the “How to read Lead sheets - Tune Up” lesson. Each time I practise, I use the same method. I’m hoping that in time I’ll be able to build up to a slow but steady speed, and then a normal speed.

It might sound laborious, but I’m starting to understand how these chords are built and what notes create that jazzy sound, and so I think it’s time well invested. My brain feels fried after 30 minutes of working on Tune Up, so a lot of learning must be taking place!

If you want to move on from scales, I suggest you go to Hayden’s Beginner Jazz Courses: Roadmap and Syllabus. Scroll to the bottom of the page and watch the “Practice drills and exercises” video. This was the most important video for me as it told me exactly what to practice. I don’t have the time or inclination to figure out what I should be practicing, and Hayden takes the guess work out of it in this video. I then chose a couple of theory videos and the tune up video, bookmarked them and now I watch and re-watch those same videos and practice playing what he teaches in them.

I suggest that if you have 10 mins to practice, you print off the practice sheet in the jazz foundations course and select a couple of theory drills to practice for 10 minutes (scales, arpeggios, triads etc.), and then another time work on Tune Up for 10 minutes. Alternate between the two until you start making progress. This will keep you busy and productive for a good while!

Another suggestion: you could also try watching the foundation course videos away from the piano, purely as learning sessions. If you keep the learning sessions separate from the piano practice sessions, you might feel less overwhelmed when you come to practice.

There is a steep learning curve at the beginning, but I think once we get the hang of it, we’ll be able to make the most of the little time we have to practice and we’ll start to make faster progress.


Hi Hayden,

Thanks so much for your answer. I have downloaded the lead sheet, but I’m going to try and resist using it (Yes, I have a classical background - the transcription would be a cheat sheet for me!). My overall aim is to develop the musical knowledge necessary to create jazzy sounds myself, but due to lack of time and my impatience to be able to play jazz piano quickly, I think I may have to use a few transcriptions to build up a repertoire while I work towards my long-term goal of figuring it out myself and being able to improvise.

I’ll definitely make a start on the extended chords and voicings lesson now. Thank you for the recommendation. And I’ll also add listening and transcription into my week’s practice plan. It would never have occurred to me to do this, but I can see how it could really help with improvisation.

Wow, I have lots to be getting on with. I’d best crack on with it!


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Cool thanks Emma. I looked at the foundations practice plan - that’ll help. I’m going to need to break through this initial starting hurdle. I think I’ve not allocated enough time so far. From what you are doing I may need to redouble my efforts. Cheers!

For me, the transcriptions are absolutely essential. I would not be a member without them. That is how I learn to play a piece in a more professional manner. That being said ….

It would be even better if the Jazz Standards would include a level 1 (beginner), Level 2 ( more advanced), Level 3 (Professional) …. transcriptions.

If these transcriptions are produced by recording what one of the teachers is playing it should not be too difficult to put a beginner one for each standard. Perhaps the more advanced ones are more difficult to create ….I do not know.

I understand there is no shortage of ideas about new features to include so I am sure you are busy trying to keep up.

However, I think this one would greatly enhance the attractiveness of the website to beginners as well as more advanced players.

I will hope for the best. Thanks.

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Hi Don :wave:

Firstly, I’ve merged your post into this thread where we are discussing the pros and cons of transcriptions when learning to play jazz piano. There’s some very useful information and insights from myself and other students, definitely take a read through the comments.

Secondly, thanks for this great suggestion.

For someone new to jazz piano, or for someone who has played piano exclusively from 2-stave sheet music, I completely understand the reasoning and rationale behind the use of transcriptions.

However, I also feel that there are a number of ‘dangers’ of becoming overly-reliant on transcriptions. Here they are:

1) Transcriptions Hide A Lack Of Understanding Of Harmony

Using transcriptions every time we play jazz piano creates a ‘crutch’ allowing students to not truly understand what we are playing.

As a beginner, it’s extremely important that we are visualising the core components of the harmony (roots, 3rds, and 7ths) and then thinking how they could be rearranged - or ‘voiced’ - to create different effects and also to utilise the different registers of the piano.

Once this foundational information has been absorbed and internalised, we can then begin to think creatively in terms of the extensions and/or alterations that we want to include in our voicings to make our playing unique and expressive.

When reading from transcriptions, it’s extremely easy to skip over this, and leave large gaps in our playing.

In the short run, we have a sense of accomplishment because the transcription has allowed us to play something ‘jazzy-sounding’ without really understanding what it is we are playing.

In the long run, we have not learnt or truly absorbed anything about harmony. As soon as the transcription is taken away, we can no longer play the tune.

Furthermore, the transcription only documents 1 approach to arranging the song. If instead we are following a process as outlined above, we can play the song differently every time.

Perhaps it would just be small tweaks or variations here and there, but the key is that we are thinking and playing spontaneously, creatively, and expressing our musicality through our knowledge of jazz harmony.

2) Reading Lead Sheets vs. Transcriptions

For many of us, a key goal of learning to play jazz piano is to be able to pick up a Fake Book, then pick any tune, and then arrange the chords and melody based on our knowledge of harmony.

This is exactly the skill that I try to teach our students.

As you will have seen in all of my lessons, I pay special attention to highlighting the numerics of harmony. The first step is to learn scales numerically, and then the same process and rationale can be applied to chords, progressions, licks, lines, riffs, intros, outros etc…

Understanding the numerics of harmony - has been for me at least - the ‘blueprint’ for moving away from 2-stave music. It has given me a sense of freedom when I sit down at the piano because I am no longer ‘bound’ by sheet music.

I can think creatively and expressively based on my knowledge of harmony to create unique and spontaneous music, which in my opinion is the essence of jazz.

I can say with almost certainty that if I had used a transcription for every tune I had ever learnt. I would not be in this position.

Now, I completely understand that this is difficult for beginners.

As a classical piano student in my early years, when I was first given a lead sheet I was completely stumped with what little information was there, and how I was supposed to interpret and play from something seemingly so basic and simple.

In fact, the opposite is true. The lead sheet gives the performer/arranger an almost infinite amount of freedom. In order to utilise this sense of freedom, one must have a solid understanding of numerical harmony as outlined in point (1).

This then leads us onto perhaps the most important point:

3) Transcriptions Remove The Emphasis On Listening & Transcription

Music is an aural art-form.

First and foremost, we listen to music.

As students of jazz, it is extremely important that we are regularly listening and transcribing from the recordings our favourite players.

This is how jazz music was - and still is - passed down from one player to another.

Listening and transcribing is particularly important for jazz music because there is so much information that cannot be expressed on paper ie. transcriptions.

It’s extremely difficult to notate ‘feel’ which is arguably one of the most important aspects of jazz; as well as many other other styles of improvised music.

Only by listening to recordings can we truly absorb a sense of jazz feel, jazz phrasing, & jazz articulation. It’s simply impossible for this information to be accurately and truly expressed on paper.

I guarantee that if instead of reading a transcription, we instead spend that time listening, studying, and transcribing from a recording of the tune, our musicality and our appreciation for jazz music would increase exponentially.

One of the core reasons we set up this forum area is to provide a platform where students can find inspiration (records, albums, musicians) and also guidance and discussion on how to transcribe and learn from recordings - more on this below.

As an exercise, try the following over the course of a few weeks:

  1. Pick a tune and memorise the chords and the form. Most jazz standards follow one of a few common forms which makes it much easier to memorise the chord changes.
    See this lesson for more information:
  1. Learn the form and chord changes by memory so you do not need a lead sheet or a transcription. Perhaps test yourself away from the piano, and see if you can recite the chords to yourself.

  2. Learn to play the tune with Roots, 3rds, 7ths, and melody, and try to play these tones in different registers of the piano, ie, you are not always playing the chords in the same position.

  3. Whilst doing all of the above, listen to every recording you can find for that tune. Piano players, horn players, guitar players, any instrument, and create a playlist containing these records that you listen to and study every day.

  4. Make note of the parts you like and spend time to study and transcribe these sections. If you are new to transcription, check out this video, and also Tuomo’s weekly transcription exercises.


  1. Follow the PianoGroove syllabus to learn new theory and new ways of arranging tunes but just use our syllabus as an additional source of inspiration. The real ‘treasure trove’ is our record collection and how we are studying and applying this to our own playing.

I hope this helps, and enjoy the above process of learning and discovery! :sunglasses:


These are all invaluable tips Hayden. Really helpful. Love it! Thanks very much! :upside_down_face:

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