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So much advice about jazz is to start by memorizing something, either it's some scales or a set of chords, or just memorizing chords (e.g., being able to play a chord just from its name) or chord shapes. But I am someone who has always played from a score. I am very comfortable sightreading, so certainly that's part of it. And although I have played/performed music from memory in the past, since I generally don't memorize music, I think my memorization skills are sort of atrophied.

As a result, I have never really been able to get myself (force myself?) to memorize chords or scales. Partly that's because of a belief that I can play much more complex and compelling music when I'm playing from a score than I could if I were improvising. And if I just have the music in front of me, I can play whatever it is on the page even if I don't know how to put a name on the chord.

However, now that I'm trying to acquire more jazz-esque skills and studying jazz theory etc., I think my aversion to memorizing is going to hold me back. At the same time, it's really hard to know how or where to start. And I also think I would be more successful if I could do a better job of internalizing why it's beneficial to memorize chords and scales.

tl;dr version:

1. What, in a nutshell, is the benefit of memorizing chords and scales for jazz?

2. Can anyone give me some suggestions for how to go about memorizing, and maybe where to start/what to start with?



TIA!!


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Hi

In essence you've answered your first question for yourself.

1. If you're playing a written out solo; the same every time, you aren't really playing Jazz. So the benefit, indeed the essential thing about knowing chord structures and scales is that it enables you to improvise, and therefore you don't need to have fully written out sheet music arrangements.

2. Start simple and learn what notes constitute a triad. You probably know that anyway. Then start adding extensions to the chords so that when you see something like G9 you know exactly what notes make up that chord. Whilst learning to understand chord structures learn what scales can be used against the chords.

However the very first thing I'd advise you to do is to learn to play the blues.
For me that was the foundation and a way into playing Jazz; albeit in my own limited way.

There is a huge amount to learn, and there are many better qualified people than me on here, who I'm sure will give you a lot more advice.

Hope that helps

Cheers


Simon

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My suggestion for you to improve your memorization skills is to start building a repertoire of tunes.

Tunes are the goal afterall so use tunes as a starting off point for your practice of other techniques and skills (chord scales, voicings, improv strategies). You will be killing two birds with one stone!

Start with a straightforward tune like Autumn Leaves. It has an accessible harmonic structure and melody.

A big part of being good at memorization is frequency of practice. If you play Autumn Leaves enough times you will easily memorize it.

Once the melody and harmony are memorized then use the chord progression as a blueprint for exploring the various chord scales available for each chord quality. Work on each type of minor, dominant and major chord scale for each chord.

Start with the diatonic scales: dorian/mixolydian/ionian for major iiVIs and locrian/mixoludianb9b13/melodic minor for monir iiVs.

Once you have these in your hands then try say phyrgian for the ii chord (I know it is not harmonically appropraite for the function of the chord but the point is to use the progression as a blueprint for your study of the various options). The various mixos and other dominant chord scales for the V chord, etc.

You can extend this to voicings (one handed, two handed, locked hand harmonization, etc) and improv as I mentioned earlier.

After a bit of this kind of work you will KNOW the tune. Repeat this process for another tune.

If you are concerned that this process may not help you learn all of the particular chord scales in every key, you can tranpose the tune to one or two other keys to get the less common keys. However, after you have worked on 5-10 tunes in this way you will pretty much have all keys covered and certainly the most common keys.


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Simon, Bill, thank you both for these comments!

Interestingly, after Simon posted this:

Quote
Start simple and learn what notes constitute a triad. You probably know that anyway. Then start adding extensions to the chords so that when you see something like G9 you know exactly what notes make up that chord. Whilst learning to understand chord structures learn what scales can be used against the chords.

I was thinking, "yeah but how? Just pull random chords out of the air and study them?" But Bill's post then answers that question, i.e., use songs....

So Bill do you recommend using a real book and/or lead sheets to learn songs?

Last edited by ShiroKuro; 07/05/22 11:36 AM.

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How about you analyze the chords you are playing from your written scores? And then see if you can transpose the chords to another key? Then you be coming from your comfy place towards jazz skills.

As a good reader, you are great at finding intervals on the keyboard right? Learn chords as intervals and again you’ll be building on existing skill.


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Hi ShiroKuro

Yes what Bill suggests is a very good idea.

It's not the way I did it, but when I did it, it wasn't in context of playing Jazz, well not initially anyway.
I started with a simple beginner Piano Beatles songbook, which just had the melody and basic chords.

I firstly learnt the structure of all major triad chords, then all minor triad chords.
As I learnt them I then tried playing them in the context of a Beatles song.

So then I would play the written melody with my RH and plonk basic triad chords with my left.
Essentially it was the beginning of learning to play from a lead sheet.

In doing this I realised that if I understood that (for example) an F major chord consists of the notes F A & C played together then if I played that chord in my LH, then any combination of those notes in my RH would sound right. I'm sure you already know that.

But that was the big breakthrough for me.... well over 40 years ago.

Cheers


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I played from sheet music (either classical or pop) for over 30 years, and then in my early 50s started to study jazz. THE key change, for me, was the switch from playing from notes on a page to an internal understanding of harmony. As I've told others on this journey, your physical skill we fully translate, but you need to re-wire your brain to play harmony from chord symbols.

I think the key is to understand what you are doing, rather than looking at it as memorizing notes. Make sure you understand how each kind of 7th chord is constructed, and by yourself, work each kind out in all 12 keys. It's tough, but the rewards are great. If you are learning something, you are not memorizing it. Are your learning skills still good? Can you listen to a lecture on a subject, learn about it, and then talk about it later on? Then you can learn jazz harmony.

Quick story: Years ago I was in a jazz class and the instructor asked if I knew rhythm changes. I said I didn't he said he'd teach me. I took out pencil and paper for write down the chord progression. He said no, I'll just tell it to you. It was painful as he had to go over it many MANY times. But since that day, I've never forgotten rhythm changes (at least in Bb!).

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Originally Posted by jjo
I think the key is to understand what you are doing, rather than looking at it as memorizing notes. Make sure you understand how each kind of 7th chord is constructed, and by yourself, work each kind out in all 12 keys. It's tough, but the rewards are great. If you are learning something, you are not memorizing it.

I'm working through the Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory (for the second time, first time was years ago), and when I finish that, I'm going to work through the Alfred's Jazz Theory book. So that is definitely helping and will help as I get into more of the details.

Quote
Are your learning skills still good? Can you listen to a lecture on a subject, learn about it, and then talk about it later on? Then you can learn jazz harmony.

This is such a good question to ask an adult learner: "are my learning skills still good?" I don't know if I know the answer this! I "learn" new music all the time -- from a written score but it's new to me and I learn it... But that's an extension of what I've been doing ever since I first started playing piano. To your point, I need to do a different kind of learning...

I can't say I won't struggle, but I do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks! We'll see how successful I am... whome


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btw can anyone recommend a good book to use for lead sheet practice? Or should I just get the Real Book? On Amazon??


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Mark, I almost missed this!

Originally Posted by MarkOfJohnson
How about you analyze the chords you are playing from your written scores? And then see if you can transpose the chords to another key? Then you be coming from your comfy place towards jazz skills.

This is an interesting suggestion! My instinct is to say, no, those pieces are too hard/too advanced! But in the spirit of learning, I think I should try it with the piece I'm learning right now -- which is actually maybe a good choice because I'm currently working on something that is very hard for me.... Well, I could do that one and maybe an easier one as well.

Quote
As a good reader, you are great at finding intervals on the keyboard right? Learn chords as intervals and again you’ll be building on existing skill.

Yes, thankfully, this is at least one skill that will transfer from my current piano skill set!


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Hi

Agree with jjo completely, and in the end my journey to playing Jazz was very similar back in the late 70s. Though unlike jjo I've never completely managed to get away from having a chord / lead sheet in front of me.

You asked how you should do it earlier, random chords?
What I'd do to start with is pick keys that are most likely to come up in Jazz.
So F and Bb. Jazz tends to be in flat keys.
In the end learning all 12 should be your target, but I understand that looks very intimidating

(you'll find some books transpose Jazz tunes into more keyboard and/or guitar friendly keys like G & E)

Then start learning the basic chord structures for those keys (F, Bb etc).
Initially major and minor triads.
*Dominant and major 7ths.
*Minor 7ths.

You should get to the point where when you see a chord symbol (lets say Gmaj7) that you instantly see it's structure on the keyboard. When I see Gmaj7 I don't have to stop and think, now what notes make up that chord, I just know, and can put my hands on the keyboard and play it instantly. Initially I learnt the shapes in my left hand only. But I think that's a mistake. Practise separately and with both hands if you can.

Bill has a course to help with the above*, some of which might be available free. I'm sure he'll let you know!

As I mentioned earlier the blues is IMO the best way into Jazz.
And it doesn't have to just be a 3 chord shuffle (great fun though that is), you can learn great tunes like Parker's Billie's Bounce which is still a 12 bar blues but contains multiple major and minor 7th chords as well a diminished chord. And you play that chord sequence and improvise over it using one scale initially. The fact that it's also a beginning route into bebop is another positive.

As far as lead sheet books are concerned, yes, any of the authentic Real books is a good purchase IMO.
Pick the one that has the most tunes you know!

Cheers


Simon

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Thanks Simon, that's helpful!


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Originally Posted by Simon_b
As far as lead sheet books are concerned, yes, any of the authentic Real books is a good purchase IMO.
Pick the one that has the most tunes you know!

Would you mind sharing an example (or two) of such books, please? I'm interested in learning this genre as well. Thank you.


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Hi

Here's a link, to probably the best known one.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Book-Fake-Books-Leonard/dp/0634060384/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2X1EHOHECXIJR&keywords=the+real+book&qid=1657136997&s=books&sprefix=the+real+book%2Cstripbooks%2C82&sr=1-1

Cheers


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My 2 cents as someone who started with a classical background as a kid and switched to jazz later in life....

Memorization is absolutely essential to jazz piano but as others have said, the most important thing to memorize is the lead sheet (harmony, melody, rhythm), doing so in such a way that you are able to personalize (and occasionally improvise) every time you play the tune. If you memorize jazz transcriptions (your own or someone else's) note for note, it will take much longer and you won't be enjoying what is arguably the most fun about jazz--spontaneous creativity.

Regarding chords vs. scales, my advice is to ignore scales until you have a really solid sense of functional harmony, e.g. you can look at a new lead sheet and play it with the same ease that you currently bring to something fully composed. It can be helpful to think of jazz as three different skill sets--harmony, rhythm (swing feel, groove, unusual meters), and improv. It's a challenge to tackle all three at once, and if you are comfortable with harmony, improv will be easier.

And, mastering harmony doesn't mean (at least to me) knowing the underlying theory as much as it does being able to intuitively play major and minor 251s at speed in multiple voicings (2-hand, LH only, inversions, rootless, extensions) and all keys so that it becomes second nature. So you may find it easier to start with tutorials and exercises for 251s and learn the underlying theory as you go.

Hope this helps.

P.S. There are a plethora of real books and real book series, all with different strengths and weaknesses. I have the old real book series (3 volumes) and the new real book series (3 volumes); there's some overlap, and some mistakes, but I'm pretty happy with them. And, if you haven't seen it yet, there's a nice online index:

FakeBookIndex

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thanks Plinian, for the comments and the link. And thank you Simon for that link as well. I'll probably get the yellow one (6th edition)

For now, I discovered that I have a book with some lead sheets in it, so I'm going to start there. smile


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Wow, thanks!!


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Thank you, Simon_b and dpvjazz for the links!


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Hi S.K.

btw can anyone recommend a good book to use for lead sheet practice? Or should I just get the Real Book? On Amazon??

I'm posting a link to an eleven volume collection of lead sheets for some 4,500 pop songs. These volumes are loosely arranged by decade. As you would expect it is a mixed bag. In it you will find gems and standards. You will also find obscure numbers that deserve the obscurity. However, when it comes to sight reading lead sheets, these volumes are helpful in the extreme. Plus, unlike the Real Book, these are free.


https://archive.org/details/TDavidF...c_0/Million_Dollar_Library_Master_Index/

Happy sight reading,
Henderson


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