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should a beginner in jazz try to find out the chords and melody on his/her own or use lead sheets?
Wouldn't it be better to do it on your own with the help of a teacher instead of just using lead sheets as you do not get ear training by using lead sheets?
What worked for you? Also, are lead sheets even to be trusted all the time? Are they even always that good? I've noticed that most lead sheets doesn't have the correct rhythms of the melody. The lead sheets to Fly me to the moon are incorrect. And the chords are not always that good, I think.


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Originally Posted by Dantheboogieguy
should a beginner in jazz try to find out the chords and melody on his/her own or use lead sheets?
Wouldn't it be better to do it on your own with the help of a teacher instead of just using lead sheets as you do not get ear training by using lead sheets?
...

Ear training takes years and would be like diving into the deep-end if you want to be figuring out harmonies and progressions on your own right out of the gate. You still need to learn how to coordinate your hands, and learn chord structures of all types, and in all the keys and basically learn how to play. That will be plenty for now.

I think lead sheets are a great alternative method of learning, with a Teacher. Hopefully, they will guide you to good arrangements and not sub-standard ones that are common in all kinds of commercially available sheet music.

You will rely on your ear more with lead sheets than a fully scripted score. The accompaniment you use will be unique to how you play the piece and you will essentially memorize it. You rely on your ear to recall it. I mean it is not full on relying on your ear, but you have so many other things to worry about and it will still get the attention it needs to develop equally.

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I'll work on jazz if I ever stop working and live long enough, but in the meantime I raise a question for your consideration.

Have you thought about books that give you fully realized examples (scores) for an arrangement of a jazz standard, along with the lead sheet/lyrics for the same song, and suggestions for how to use the lead sheet (and listening to various cited performances) to develop your own version?

When that magic day comes for me, I'll be working off of books like this one by the great British music educator John Kember:

https://www.amazon.com/Autumn-Leaves/dp/0571531571/ref=sr_1_7?crid=1C8FI4ZK8SFT0&keywords=john+kember+books&qid=1642867125&sprefix=john+kember+books%2Caps%2C50&sr=8-7


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Hi

I'd recommend doing some of everything. Reading sheet music (as in classical - but also Ragtime etc), playing from lead sheets, playing from chord charts, playing by ear and improvising. All methods of playing have some merit in them.

When I play from lead sheets (normally Jazz) I use them as a guide, and don't follow them religiously. I also use them because I can't be bothered to memorise stuff.

You're correct, sometimes they aren't accurate. However fully written out sheet music, particularly outside of the classical arena, isn't always accurate either, and neither are the chords people post for songs on the web.

And of course neither are most peoples ears!

Cheers


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is the Real Book to be trusted? Is it always that great?
So you're saying that finding out the chords to jazz tunes by ear is really difficult for a beginner?
And harmonizing a melody yourself is very difficult?


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I think the Real Books and similar things are pretty good (I own a lot of them). They aren't perfect, you'll always find somebody somewhere picking holes in them. But for a beginner, I think they are fine.

What's difficult for one person isn't difficult for another. I find doing anything by ear very difficult indeed, to the point where I gave up trying decades ago.

I'm very happy reading from chord charts, which is what I do in the band I play in. That allows me the freedom to improvise, but I always have something in front of me so I know where I am.

If it's just a simple blues/rock n roll thing I don't use a written guide at all. All the sophisticated Jazz stuff is great, and I've spent plenty of time working on that, but you can have just as much fun with a 3 chord blues as well.

Cheers


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The Real Book is fine.

So you're saying that finding out the chords to jazz tunes by ear is really difficult for a beginner?

Well generally, yes. Though you may be an exception. Of course, it may also depend on how sophisticated the tune and how well you are doing already.

It is not where I would start, as it is typically a more advanced area of training and so not what I would recommend for a beginner.

And harmonizing a melody yourself is very difficult?

Not always. It is fine to experiment. Just I wouldn't put all this focus on the ear training aspect when there is so much else to do as well. If you did this, it would slow you down from learning everything else.

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A real book teaches jazz no more than solfeggio book teaches classical music. This is a support material; the real stuff is in what it sounds like.
As for harmonization, I recommend studying more principles, less patents.

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I've heard a story from a friend of mine who studied with a world-renowned jass bassist. He was asked to bring a real book to the first lesson and in exchange, he will get his first lesson for free. The teacher then tears apart the real book as the first thing in the lesson and tells the student never to use it again. This is pretty extreme, but the teacher made it very clear that jazz is something you are supposed to learn by ear, and in a lot of ways he is right about this.

Depending on where you live, you are kind of expected to be able to play hundreds of standards in all keys, and I am pretty sure most people who can do that didn't memorize those tune out of books, but they can do it because they've spent enough time learning tunes and learning by ear that they can just let their ears guide them through the process. Even if it's a tune they are not familiar with, you will be able to play most standards hearing once or twice, as long as you aren't dealing with really obscure chord changes. Heck, I've even heard stories about how Stan Getz will play an entire set of music without telling you what he is playing or what key he is playing and, you just need to develop your ears and gain experience to be able to adapt to that kind of situations.

IMO, the biggest asset you have as a jazz player is your ears and the less you can depend on sheet music to learn standards, the better. Also, one big thing I've found through learning tunes from records is that chord changes aren't exactly set in stone as it looks on real books. Depending on the recording, the era, and even where you are playing in, the chord changes for standards may vary while keeping the fundamental structure in one place... its kind of like setting a destination point on your map and taking different routes to get there.. and having the ears means that you can recognize all those different routes and be able to adapt naturally. In the end, you'll be much freer and be able to listen and adapt to other musicians if you aren't reading charts from a real book.

Again, the example I used is extreme, but I think it's good to keep that in your sight as a long term goal.. because I've seen way too many people who are glued to the real books even after spending years playing, and some people I know (who graduated with jazz degrees) are still reading charts on standards they've played hundreds of times already. I think it's fine to use real book to help you get started and you might need to use them for a while until you develop your skills.. but I hope you understand that real books can become clutch at one point and may even you hold you back from developing if you become dependent on it.

So to answer your question, yes you are better off trying to learn as much as you can by ear, and it will definitely help to have a teacher help you through that process... even if you aren't able to do it right away, it wouldn't hurt to give it a try and check the sheet music for reference. and these are the kinds of skills you want to develop over time.

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As far as the lead sheet having wrong chords and melody, I've heard that the original real book started out as a student project at Berklee back in the days, and it's full of errors. The newer legal versions are better, but even then you are dealing with the blandest, most generic version of a tune, and it may not reflect how people actually perform them since most musicians are free to tweak the melody/chords as they fit.

Again, if you are already capable of learning some of it by ear and do it correctly, by all means, keep doing it as best as you can within your ability. It should get easier as your ears improve and you learn more jazz voicings which will help you recognize the chords a lot more easily. But then again, it's ok to use a lead sheet as a reference if you can't figure things out on your own, and you will need to be able to learn how to read a lead sheet in certain situations, like playing original music or highly arranged standards.

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etcetera: In one sense, I agree with everything you say. But, I'm a serious amateur jazz player. I play with several groups and have played gigs for years. Here are some of the reasons why I normally learn tunes from real books:
1. I have an Okay ear, but not a great ear. I can learn a melody by listening, but learning changes is quite difficult for me, and sometimes I just can't figure out some of the changes.
2. In the combos I play in, we get together, and at a typical session someone will bring a couple of new tunes that they want to play. No one will like me if I say I need a week or two to learn the tune. And let's say I do learn it by ear, but then we don't play it for a few months, and then try to play it. No way can I remember a tune if I'm not playing it regularly.
3. You surely need a chord chart for tunes like Dolphin Dance or Lester Left Town.

So I do the following:
1. Occasionally, I try to learn a tune by ear, as an ear exercise, but with no thought that this is how I'll build up a large repertoire.
2. It is important to have lots of fake books so you can see different versions of the chords. You can't just open the Real Book and assume that it's correct, or how people tend to play it. You should research any tunes you want to learn.
3. Once you learn it from the Real Book, if it's a commonly played tune, it's crucial to learn it so well you don't need the chart any more. Then you are playing it from your heart, not a chart.

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My 2 cents.

Back when I first got hold of a copy of the Real Book was before it was copyright compliant I believe, around 1979 or so. It was the only thing available (that I ever came across) with so many jazz tunes and standards. There was a time when it was sort of the gold standard. If you got a call for a pick-up gig (no rehearsal....and some musicians on the gig may have never met previously) the Real Book was the common denominator that made this gig possible.

Now fast forward, Hal Leonard publications has all sorts of fake books. Anyone who burdens a beginning jazz player with learning everything played "by ear" before proceeding forward, will likely have very frustrated students. I learned things like "Girl From Ipanema" and "All The Things You Are" before my ears began the journey towards hearing chord changes. I'm glad the resource was available.

I'd say the process of learning songs by lead sheets should progress in tandem with working on "ear" development. If chord changes in the fake book aren't to someone's liking....perfect...it presents an opportunity to experiment with different harmonizations. And even if the chord changes are spot on, chord voicings are an important component.

And we should always remember, crawling is necessary before walking.

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If you learn them by ear you will remember them better. After you've learned 50 or so it will be easier to pick them up faster, ideally at least.

Also theres no point playing sophisticated tunes by jazz composers like Monk, Shorter, Ellington from lead sheets, they have a specifc sound and there's alot more to them then chord symbols.

Another thing you can do is go back to the original sheet music and see how Gerswhin, Arlen, Rodgers imagined the tunes and make up your own changes.

Cheers!

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Jjo:

As your 3 points are concerned,

1: Your ear is something you just need to develop over time. It's going to be very difficult at first, but it gets easier over time, and can eventually work your ears up to a point where you can hear changes to most standards and play it after listening to a few times. I've also seen people who were able to play a standard they've never played after listening to it once, so depending on how good your ears is, that's possible too.

2. I can totally understand there are situations where you need to use a real book, like when someone calls out a tune you don't know or if not a common tune and/or modern tunes with non-functional harmony. I can also understand that sometimes you just don't have time to learn everything by ear to do the gig you are asked to do. As far as forgetting the music is concerned, it becomes less of an issue the better your ears are. Like I mentioned earlier, the reason why the elite players can play so many tunes and not forget is that that music is already in their ears. They are not thinking chord by chord like most of us do, and for them, it's just recalling what they already hear in their mind and your body is able to act instantly to what you hear.

3. Lester Left town isn't part of the common repertoire so I can understand, but to be frank, Dolphin Dance is common enough and it's one of those tunes that you should just know by heart.

I am not here to completely dismiss the value of real book.. but I must say one of the most common themes I've noticed listening to great players speak is the importance of learning tunes, learning by ear, and the fact that jazz education nowadays has become so dependent on lead sheet that it's actually getting in a way of people learning by ear. A friend of mine went to a jam session hosted by Antonio hart once and Antonio started playing Cherokee in all keys on the piano after the jam, and that was his way of telling the people there that this is what you need to do to your playing to the next level. Peter Martin has a video up where he works out the head to Donna Lee in all keys by ear. I am aware that one of the ways older players test a young player and put them in their place is by starting a standard and going up a half step every chorus and see if they can hang. In some circles, not knowing your standards and not being able to play in different keys means you won't get called back again(and yes Dolphin Dance is in that list of tunes, though you probably won't be playing that song in different keys much like other traditional standards).

I know we are at a different level in terms of ability and my ears are certainly not at the level that it needs to be, but if I am being honest about it and want to learn the music like the records I listen to, then I am better off the more I rely on ears and less on sheet music. It's one thing that I regret not doing sooner because it really changes your outlook on music.

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Originally Posted by indigo_dave
My 2 cents.

Back when I first got hold of a copy of the Real Book was before it was copyright compliant I believe, around 1979 or so. It was the only thing available (that I ever came across) with so many jazz tunes and standards. There was a time when it was sort of the gold standard. If you got a call for a pick-up gig (no rehearsal....and some musicians on the gig may have never met previously) the Real Book was the common denominator that made this gig possible.
I was very lucky - my New York-born colleague gave me photocopies of an early '60s fake book that had hundreds of bebop and cool pieces , even without Coltrane. Just a treasure trove; but someone stole them from me! cry

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Etcetera: I again agree with much you say, but here is a point that I think many miss: I believe that there are considerable inborn differences is what peoples' ears can do. It's no different than the ability to run fast or do difficult math. Everyone can improve, but there are vastly different inborn talent levels. I have done interval training, I have learned tunes by ear, I play tunes I know in all 12 keys, etc., etc. And yet I know people who've done none of that and can hear more than me in a recording, more easily.

I think everyone who has worked on their ear training just assumes that anyone else can do what they can, but I don't believe that that's true. One jazz pro at a jazz camp I've attended got into music school, when he was very raw as a player, because he could hear intervals and many other things. And he never did ear training (and doesn't have perfect pitch). My main jazz teacher and I listen jointly sometimes to hear what's happening in a recording, and you can play something 20 times, and I won't be able to hear inner voices, but she can.

So, for some people, with work and training, they will get to the level where they can learn a tune like Dolphin Dance off the record. Others, however, will never get there. That's why I think most people should start with fake books, but then, at some point, try to learn tunes by ear. I agree that if, after working on it for a while, it begins to come easily, it's a superior way of learning music. But it's by no means necessary at the amateur level. I play with a lot of very experienced people who been playing gigs for years, and with one exception (a bass player), they all learn tunes from fake books. The good ones, however, eventually learn to play the tune without the fake book.

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Yes, this stuff is harder than it looks. People think I have a decent ear but not really. Even after a few years playing the piano, I would find it very hard to play a jazz record by ear, at least not without simplifying the chords (I'll probably hear the triads but struggle with extensions using a combination of guesswork to try to get them). It should seem like after five years, I should be able to play anything from a record, but that's hardly the case.

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Originally Posted by etcetra
...
2. I can totally understand there are situations where you need to use a real book, like when someone calls out a tune you don't know or if not a common tune and/or modern tunes with non-functional harmony. I can also understand that sometimes you just don't have time to learn everything by ear to do the gig you are asked to do.
...

Playing from a real book may be fine for an afternoon of jamming for fun perhaps, but not for a tight jazz group. And you certainly wouldn't want all your band members going off and coming up with their own arrangement of the tunes in a set. The better groups have a leader and the leader decides on the arrangements for the group and may likely write them. That is why group members, generally need to be good readers. These arrangements need to be scored and rehearsed so the group stays together and is polished. It's not a free for all just because it's jazz or somewhat jazz related. There are jazz solos, sure but everyone needs to be on the same page in terms of the underlying chords and who takes what solos where.

Any arrangement can be made better, but in a group setting the alterations need to be coordinated.

In terms of playing solo and at the beginner end of things, picking up everything naturally by ear sounds terrific for the Stan Getz's of the world but is totally not practical for the rest of us.


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