Learning Autumn Leaves

I wish I could send this lesson back in time to myself when I was starting to learn jazz!  It would have helped me learn a lot quicker!


Basically, you practice along to the recording.  You play the chords along to the recording. You play the melody along to the recording. You learn to play what the musicians play on the recording.  And you solo over the recording.


  1. find the song on Youtube or buy a copy, if you don’t already have it
  2. play the chords all the way through the song. play quarter notes, like Freddie Green
  3. play the melody over and over all the way through the song
  4. listen to entire recording and try to pick out bits and pieces of it
  5. play your solo over the recording


you will learn from the best and get a good feel. line up your time with the bass and/or drums
practicing the melody over the solos will help you solidify the melody
earyou will need to listen closely to what everyone is doing, harmonically, melodically and rhythmically. sing along with the song whenever possible
chopsyou’ll be focused on the music instead of your hands, which will relax them and you will improve your technique without thinking about it
ideasin one 5 minute recording you will probably be exposed to over 100 new musical ideas, especially if you listen closely

Important points to remember

  1. Lock in with the drummer at all times. for 50s jazz, this probably means the ride cymbal
  2. If it’s too fast, get an mp3 version and play it slower using something like transcribe
  3. Listen to the song at least once a day, or ideally 4x (chords, melody, play-along, solo). if the song is 11 minutes long, then you’ll know you practiced almost 44 minutes. the song is good, time will fly by or stand still depending on perspective.
  4. In terms of learning solos, focus on Miles’ solo first because it’s not so many notes and very clear and still really good. This is a good style of soloing to adopt especially when you are first starting. Everything melodic and grooving.

This works for any song.  Now let’s apply it to Autumn Leaves.

Autumn Leaves


Form is AAB
|  C-7 |  F7  |Bbmaj7|Ebmaj7|
| Am7b5|  D7  |  G-  |  G-  ||
| Am7b5|  D7  |  G-  |  G-  |
|  C-7 |  F7  |Bbmaj7|Ebmaj7||
| Am7b5|  D7  |G-  C7|F-  Bb|
| Am7b5|  D7  | G-   | G-   ||


Listen to the intro and try and pick out what the bass player, the horns and piano play.  It’s in G minor.  After a while you’ll pick up stuff. Focus on the main section of the songs when you start out.

Learning Autumn Leaves

Now you are ready to dive in? I hope so…remember this will really help your musicianship!

  1. play the chords (4 on the floor) throughout the song with good time. listen to what everyone in the band is doing
  2. play the melody from the start of when Miles’ plays the melody all the way to the end of the song when Miles plays the melody again.  this is harder than it sounds
  3. now listen to the track and pick out what everyone is doing. i usually focus on the soloist but you can try to figure out chords, basslines, drum parts
  4. now solo over the entire song.  you may want to switch back to chords or melody to rest and to make sure you are in the right spot. try to blend your solo with what melody is doing at the point.


If you haven’t already started listening to the song, here it is again:

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