Best Jazz Standards to Help You Learn Jazz
By Marc-Andre Seguin
If you’re a new jazz player, you may be curious as to which jazz standards you should start with. To help you out, we’ve created a brief list of the best standards to launch you into the world of jazz. But first, let’s take a moment to discuss what standards look like and why you need to learn how to play them.
What Are Jazz Standards?
Standards are songs that have been with the jazz world for so long they are now considered “must know” for jazz musicians. They are musical compositions that are critical to the repertoire of any serious musician, and they are equally familiar to jazz listeners. If you aren’t familiar with the basics, you probably aren’t a true jazz player. Most of these songs are based on jazz theory and traditional jazz practice, so there isn’t much improv in most of them.
So let’s get to it. Here are the best standards every beginner should know.
All of Me
“All of Me” was originally written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simon all the way back in 1931. It became an instant hit, and was one of the most recorded songs of the era. Everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra did a rendition of “All Of Me”.
This is one of the most popular jazz standards within the genre, and most jazz musicians are expected to know it by heart. It is therefore, a great place for beginners to start their journey. If you’re jazz theory is shaky at best, this is an excellent song to practice. You’ll find it most commonly played in C major.
“Autumn Leaves” was written in 1945 in France, and was written with French lyrics. In 1947, Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics for the tune, and it became an instant classic in the world of jazz. While it is difficult to put into a category, “Autumn Leaves” offers the common ii-V-Is, typical harmony, a singable melody, and fun lyrics. This song is also played in either G minor or E minor.
Beginners will learn much from the structure of the tune as well as the keys it may be played in. Once learning one key, you should go back and learn the other to round out your knowledge of this jazz standard. A solid jazz standards pdf should provide both keys for you to read.
Bye Bye Blackbird
“Bye Bye Blackbird” was written by Ray Henderson in one of the most complex times the world has ever seen. Mort Dixon lent his artistic flair to the 1926 song by writing the lyrics. This song is extremely popular with jazz musicians, however it has crept its way into countless movies and television shows and been recorded even more times by plenty of artists.
Because of its popularity, this song is one of the most important songs for jazz musicians to know. However, beginners should know that there are dozens of interpretations of the song which means complex chord changes. Depending on the jazz standard reference you’re using, you’ll find that each chord change creates a hybrid of the former. As a general rule, the song stays linked to the tonal center (F), and doesn’t stray from the I chord.
“Alone Together” is a classic piece originally written by Arthur Schwartz with lyrics provided by Howard Dietz. This song was created for the 1932 Broadway musical “Flying Colors”.
Because of its simple melody and beautiful chord changes, “Alone Together” is a jazz musician favorite. The flexibility of the tune gives it a perfect structure for improvisation as well. While it isn’t the greatest example of jazz theory, it more than makes up for it in terms of learning the ropes of improv. Ideally it is played in the key of D minor.
How High The Moon
“How High The Moon” was written by Morgan Lewis and Nancy Hamilton. Originally featured on the 1940 Broadway show “Two For The Show”, there have since been countless renditions of this classic jazz song. Obviously, it’s one of the primary standards all jazz artists should know. Most artists play it in the key of G major as well, so it’s a good idea to learn it in this key.
Where to find Jazz Standards References
Now that you know which standards you should play, the next step is finding the musical notes to do so. Today, finding a jazz standards pdf is easier than ever thanks to the internet. You can easily download pdf files on sites like Jazz Guitar Lessons and quickly start playing the best jazz standards out there. Even if you’re more interested in learning the nuances of jazz theory, there are plenty of websites that supply information and even lessons to help you get started.
The biggest burden you bear is selecting which jazz standards copy you’re going to start with. Jazz theory is a bit more in-depth, but having it as a foundation can make it easier to learn the aforementioned standards on our list.
Whether you go the route of jazz theory from the get-go, or if you opt to practice and memorize all the jazz standards files on our list, you can become the musician you’ve always wanted to be with dedication and practice.
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