How to Learn Songs

March 9, 2015

Is there a more effective, efficient method for learning and retaining a large repertoire of jazz standards?

At a recent jam session, the virtuoso trumpeter Ed Donohue asked me, “How many songs have you memorized?” I thought about it and responded, “I don’t memorize any of them…I compute them in real time, “on the fly,” as we play.

Last week, Jeff Rzepiela, a fine saxophonist and arranger, asked me to demonstrate how we represent standard songs using the language of “New Ears Resolution.” (See Jeff’s email below.)  Here is an example of how I internalize melodic phrases and modulations.

A tune often played at jam sessions is Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are.” The Real Book shows it as being in Ab.  In reality though, this song modulates five times in its 36 bar form.  Here are the first 8 bars, along with the first 2 modulations, conceptualized the way…

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