JAZZ MASTERCLASS: Step-by-Step: Preparing to Learn a Tune

Learn how to create any tune into your own style.
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  • Lectures 10
  • Length 1 hour
  • Skill Level Intermediate Level
  • Languages English
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About This Course

Published 3/2016 English

Course Description

This course follows JAZZ MASTERCLASS: Step-by-Step: Preparing to Play in All Keys. After you have developed your ability to play in all keys, then explore creating a Tune Chart. Once you have created a Tune Chart . . . you can practice many exercises in this course designed to master any tune. It's important that you study "one step-at-a-time". You learn bass lines, Roman Numerals, Melodic Construction, Chords, Melodic Soloing, Modes, Grooves and applying different Time Signatures.

Just to mention: The video numbers start with Video #5. This follows the last video in "Preparing to Play in All Keys".

The subconscious will play the tune for you. You will have the FUN.

What are the requirements?

  • It is recommended that you study "Preparing to Play in All Keys" before studying "Preparing to Learn a Tune".

What am I going to get from this course?

  • You will be able to set up your own Chord Chart. This will enable you to learn any tune more deeply.

Who is the target audience?

  • This course is for the jazz pianist who is looking to deepen his/her approach to learning any tune.

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.


Section 1: Introduction to Preparing to Learn a Tune

Preparing to Learn a Tune gives you step-by-step exercises to enable you to develop any tune into your own distinctive style. You are given a wonderful Tune Chart which allows you to have a detailed overview of the tune. Then you can proceed to make creative changes in the tune. This is great fun.

Section 2: Video 5: Using the Tune Chart

Video 5: Using the Tune Chart

Step #21: Study a basic Fake Book Chart

Look at a specific tune. Learn a tune deeply with many different approaches. We want to learn the tune creatively, in our own style and be able to play the tune in all keys.

Autumn Leaves uses II V Is in major and minor progressions. In fact, the Major/Minor Practice Progression in prior lessons was the same as the first eight bars of Autumn Leaves. The basic fake book will show the melody, chords and form of the tune. Autumn Leaves is basically an AAB tune.

Step #22: Study a Tune Chart

Create your own tune chart to learn a tune deeply.

There is a lot of information in a Tune Chart:

  1. Bass line that you loosely create.
  2. Roman Numerals - so that you can play the tune in all keys.
  3. Melody and Lyrics: Lyrics tell you what the tune is about. Lyrics also help you to phrase.
  4. Chords and Inversions in a specific key.
  5. Scales and Modes of the Chords.
  6. Tempo markings: You can choose what tempo to play the tune.
  7. Groove Markings: You can change the grooves.
  8. Understanding the Form of the tune. This includes measure numbers.
  9. Key Signature: We want to be able to understand and play the tune in all keys.
  10. Time Signature: We can change the time signature.

The Tune Chart was originally created in Finale. You could also use Sibelius or MuseScore, or other choices. Also you can download a free version of Finale’s Notepad. This will enable you to open my file and then make changes to the file.

Section 3: Video 6: Studying the Tune Chart w/Bass Lines

Video 6: Studying the Tune Chart w/Bass Lines

Step #23: Developing a Bass Line

When I learn a new tune, the first thing that I want to do is develop a bass line through the tune. I want to be a bass player, moving through the tune. This teaches me the tune as a “flow”.

First, I learn and play the bass line in “two”, or a “half-time feel.

Set up a metronome (try quarter note at 50). You hear the beats on 2 and 4. This is like listening to the high hat of a drummer.

I learn and play “lead-ins”. For instance: if you are moving to Dm7, you should try many different approaches or lead-ins to D. You might step up from a C . . . or down from an E. Or, you could consider using a chromatic approach. Listen to bass players to learn how they do this.

Ask yourself: “How many ways can I get from, let’s say, Dm7 to G7”? Continue from chord to chord through the tune.

Step #24: Play a bass line through the tune using a half-time feel.

A “Half-Time Feel” is used for ballads and “easy” jazz. It has a relaxed feel. It is recommended that you place the metronome on beats two and four.

Step #25: Play a bass line through the tune using a quarter-note feel.

Playing a bass line in quarter notes is often called a “walking bass”. This has a more “driving” feel. Again place the metronome on beats two and four. I’m always “leaning forward”. Everything is a “lead-in”.

Step #26: Learning the Roman Numerals

One of the most important elements of studying a Tune Chart is to analyze the Roman Numerals through the tune. Once we know the Roman Numerals, we can play the tune in all keys.

Autumn Leaves is almost entirely constructed of II V Is in major and minor. Therefore, make sure you have completely studied the II V Is in major and minor in all inversions.

Section 4: Video 7: Studying the Tune Chart w/Roman Numerals

Video 7: Studying the Tune Chart w/Roman Numerals

Step #27: Playing the Melody and Half-Time Bass Lines.

Now play the written melody of Autumn Leaves with a half-time bass line through the tune. You don’t need to play every note of the melody as written. You can interpret the melody loosely.

Step #28: Playing the Melody and Walking Bass Lines.

Now play the written melody of Autumn Leaves with a quarter-note walking bass line through the tune. Again, don’t try to “lock-in” the bass with the melody. The melody phrases “over” the bass.

Section 5: Video 8: Studying the Tune Chart w/Melody

Video 8: Studying the Tune Chart w/Melody

Step #29: Playing the Melody in all keys.

Playing a specific melody, such as Autumn Leaves, can be either difficult or easy. It depends on your approach. A more difficult approach would be to try to remember all the intervals throughout the melody.

An easier method, which I recommend, is to sing the melody. Many pianists don’t want to sing, don’t think they can sing, or can’t play the notes on the piano that they are singing. But this is an important skill to learn. If you are interesting in developing your singing voice, I recommend an excellent course, “Singing for the Stars” by Seth Riggs. You can find this course on my Resources page on JazzSkills for Piano or Musicmann sites. Or you can order it from Amazon.com.

The first step in learning to play the melody in all keys is to analyze the starting note of the melody. Autumn Leaves is analyzed in either major or minor. In the key in the video, the tune is either in C Major or A Minor. The easy way to decide is to say: “The starting note is an “A”. It is in A Minor”.

Second, sing the song. Do not play the melody as it is presented on the printed page. Play it the way you have heard singers sing it. You don’t have to be a great singer.

The best way that I know to develop good phrasing is to sing the lyrics. Experiment with many ways of conversationally saying/singing each phrase. The phrase will change according to the emphasis that you place on the meaning of the lyric. Don’t let the fingers phrase. The fingers should follow your singing.

Last, you don’t have to play the melody as it is written, note-for-note. It’s better if you take lots of liberties with notes and timing. Just imagine a great jazz vocalist singing the melody.

Step #30: Play the melody with a bass line in all keys.

The main element here is to not “link it” to the bass line. Start playing a “half-time” bass line with the metronome on 2 & 4. Play the bass line and conversationally sing the melody. Don’t try to link it. Once you are comfortable singing it with the bass line, then play what you are singing on the piano.

Once you do this in one key. Take it to all keys!!!

Section 6: Video 9: Studying the Tune Chart w/Chords

Video 9: Studying the Tune Chart w/Chords

Step #31: Learning the Chords in Inversions.

Most of the chords in Autumn Leaves are based on the Major/Minor Jazz Progression (that we learned in a prior lesson). That consists of the IIm9, V9/13, IMaj9 and IVMaj9. These are played in all inversions. In the key of C, these are a Dm9, G9(13), IMaj7 (or Maj9), IVm9, Bm7(b5) (or Bm11), E7(b9), and Am7 (or 9).

Step #32: Learning the Chords in LH Inversions.

Practice all the chords in Autumn Leaves in the left hand in all inversions. Play the chords through the entire tune. Play in all keys, too.

Step #33: Walking Bass Line w/Bouncing.

When you are comping or playing chords in general, you always want to think of the top note as the melody note. Bouncing through the intervals creates many different potential melody notes.

Play a simple bass line with bouncing comping chords.

Play a walking bass line with bouncing comping chords.

Step #34: Bounce Chords w/LH

Bounce around using the left hand using all the chords of Autumn Leaves. The left hand will probably be bouncing while the right hand is playing a solo.

Bounce in the left hand through Autumn Leaves in all keys.

Section 7: Video 10: Studying the Tune Chart w/Melodic Soloing

Video 10: Studying the Tune Chart w/Melodic Soloing

Step #35: Studying Chords and Modes

Now we are going to turn chords into modes. That is the way that I think when I’m improvising.

Go through Autumn Leaves (or any tune) chord by chord. Analyze the mode which works with each chord. For instance, the diatonic notes between the notes of a Dm7 will construct a Dorian Mode. This means that we can use the notes of the Dorian Mode when we see a Dm7. (You can also think of the Dorian Mode as a D Major with a flatted 3rd and 7th.)

You can use the Dm7 or possibly choose a Dm9. If you play the Dm9 in the left hand, you will play the top of the chord and leave off the root. Play the chords in all inversions. Play the Dm7 (or Dm9) in the left hand and play the notes of the Dorian Mode in the right hand.

Do this for every chord in Autumn Leaves.

Most of the chords of of Autumn Leaves are diatonic. That means, if you are playing the song in C Major, all the chords are mostly in the modes of C Major. The exception is when the song uses the II V Is of A Minor, the relative minor of C Major. In this case, the V7 of A Minor is an E7, which contains a G#. Therefore, it is appropriate to use the A Harmonic Minor scale or possibly the A Melodic Minor scale. Both of those scales contain the #5 and Major 7 (G# and B). The E7 can also use the Diminished Scale (This is a Whole/Half Diminished Scale starting on the b9).

Once you have studied all the chords an modes in Autumn Leaves in C, then learn the chords and modes in all keys.

Step #36: Playing the Tune w/the Continuous Melody Exercise

Now play through Autumn Leaves using the Continuous Melody Exercise. This is relatively easy to do in Autumn Leaves because most of the chords and modes are diatonic.

Start by playing the left hand using a modified swing bass. Slowly play a bass note (root or fifth) and then play the chord in all inversions. Do this in for every chord throughout the tune.

In the right hand play a continuous melody in quarter notes, eighth notes, quarter-note triplets and eighth-note triplets. Do this slowly at first, without a metronome. Play musical melodies. Always think forward. Use the proper mode or scale for each chord.

In the left hand, play the chords using the 7th or 9th, or sometimes the 6th. This will give you different melody notes for the chord inversions.

Step #37: Playing the Tune w/ Melodic Rhythms w/Modes.

Now we are going to play the entire tune using phrases. We make up our own phrases using quarter notes, eighth notes, quarter-note triplets and eighth-note triplets. Use a metronome. It’s important to know where the phrase starts in the measure. It is recommended that you always think forward to the first beat of the next measure. Sing the phrases. Play through the entire tune using the one phrase (with different notes). Once you play through the entire tune playing with one phrase . . . create a new rhythmic phrase.

Once you do this, mix up phrases as you play through the tune. This sounds like you are soloing through the tune.

You always think forward. Know your “destination note” before you begin each phrase.

Step #38: More Chords and Modes

In the prior steps, we were talking about developing scales and modes out of chords. However, this was only for the diatonic scales (Major and Natural Minor). However, you can also play a chord and choose notes between the chord to create a new scale or mode. For instance, in jazz, there are many more chords and different scales and modes to use.

In addition to the diatonic scales, there are three prominent scales and their modes which are used for jazz chords, i.e.; Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor and the Diminished Scale.

The Melodic Minor Scale is a Major Scale with a flat 3. You can also create all the modes of that scale. Learn the Melodic Minor Modes from the bottom note. You learn the modes from the bottom note because the modes are referring to chords, which are also named by their root note.

The Harmonic Minor Scale is a Major Scale with a flat 3 and flat 6. Learn this mode in all keys from the bottom note.

Lastly, look at the Diminished Scales.

Once you have done this, create a tune chart for a tune that you wish to learn. Decide what mode fits every chord. Use the exercises provided in these lessons to master soloing through the tune. This is a long and difficult process. But, it is worth doing!

Step #39: Using the Turnaround to Develop Modes for Tunes

A great idea is to use the I VI II V and II V I VI turnaround to learn various modes for chords. This is a good way to practice playing from mode to mode and chord to chord. There are many choices for each of the II, V, I, VI chords. Just make up your own chord pattern and use it to practice.

Section 8: Video 11: Adding Grooves to a Tune

Video 11: Adding a Groove to a Tune

Step #40: Analyzing the Groove

  1. Listen to recordings.
  2. Sing the groove. Make up your own language.
  3. Play the groove while singing.
  4. Sing the melody over the groove.
  5. Play and sing the melody over the groove.

A very good way to develop a tune is to change the groove of the tune. For instance, if it is normally a swing tune, sometimes I will play it as a Bossa Nova tune. However, there are many choices of grooves.

How do you establish a groove?

Analyze the groove by listening to recordings. For instance, consider listening to a Brazilian groove to get the flavor of the Bossa Nova.

Start by playing a metronome. Think about the groove. Sing it. Feel the groove in your body. Then, play the groove on the piano while singing the groove. I suggest starting with a IIm V7 I VIm turnaround. Then play through a tune using the groove. You can also use grooves in Band-in-a-box.

Step #41: Playing Melodies Over the Groove

When you play melodies with a groove, you don’t sync to the groove. Rather, you play over the groove. Imagine that you have a rhythm section playing the groove . . . and you are play melodies over that groove.

Comp with a metronome or Band-in-a-box while singing the melody of the tune or improvising. It’s important to feel the breath while phrasing.

Play the above with many many grooves. Have fun.

Section 9: Video 12: Applying Time Signatures to the Tune

Video 12: Applying Time Signatures to a Tune

Step #42: Changing to a Jazz Waltz

An easy way to develop a tune in a new style is to change the time signature. For instance: instead of playing Autumn Leaves in it’s usual 4/4 . . . play it in 3/4 or a jazz waltz. A jazz waltz is a 6/8, three against two feel.

Step #43: Changing to 5/4

Play in 5/4 with a metronome or Band-in-a-box.

Step #44: Changing to 7/4

Play in 7/4 with a metronome.

Section 10: Final Words
Final Words

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Instructor Biography

Martan Mann is a highly respected jazz pianist, teacher and author. He is the author of an intensive online jazz piano course, JazzSkills for Piano. He also presents individual jazz piano courses under the title: JAZZ MASTERCLASS: Step-by-Step.

Martan has a Master's Degree in Music from San Jose State University and has authored three books on jazz piano improvisation, including: "Jazz Improvisation for the Classical Pianist", "New Age Improvisation for the Classical Pianist", and "Improvising Blues Piano". He has extensively performed solo and trio jazz piano in California and Hawaii. He has been teaching jazz and classical privately for 50 years. Martan has been musical director for many musicals and is a frequent accompanist for top jazz vocalists. Martan performed for 25 years at The Garden City, San Jose's premiere jazz club.

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