Quincy Jones says learn your favorite songs note by note!

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General advice to folks starting to play jazz!

Well if you already have some musical knowledge and some basic technique, a few important things that might be put to good use.

  1. Learning solos of great musicians
  2. Working on time
  3. Memorizing tunes

Learning solos of great musicians

I love playing with the greats! It's like you are in that same room with all the guys back in the 60s. It's a beautiful thing. Check out Transcribe!. A great way to learn the real deal.

Miles Davis is such an amazing musical person. I remember one teacher saying the first guy to learn is Miles. His solos are very simple and elegant, especially during certain periods of his life. The simplicity is definitely part of his genius. Anyways, it turns out great for us beginners because there aren't so many notes to grab a hold of. Check out Kind of Blue, etc..

For jazz guitar there are so many greats, but I think Wes stands alone. He does some crazy stuff but don't forget about the lines he's playing that sound, to me, like Miles Davis (sort of). I love Milestones and Mellow Mood with Jimmy Smith and Four on Six with i think Wynton Kelly, PC and Philly Jo!


So once I've found a solo to work that I know I can technically play and that I am feeling, I get the mp3 or rip it from the album, then get it to Transcribe!.

  1. Listen to the track and try to pick out the notes as you go.
  2. Then start at the beginning of the solo and go phrase by phrase.
  3. Don't go to the next phrase until you've worked out the previous one
  4. Slow down the track as much as you need to get the notes, then speed it back up

Working on time

Working on time, at least for me, is an ongoing process. It's not really work cause the more you do it the less work it is and the more it feels good! Basically besides playing along with music, I use metronomes and Beatcraft. Generally for latin and straight beats, I put the metronome on the 1 and 3, For swung stuff I put it on the 2 and 4 - this is assuming it's in 4. Using a drum machine is great because it sounds more like the real deal.

Phrasing and form

Even if you have a good quarter pulse feel, remember that's only an important part of the equation! If you are adding or subtracting beats, or adding or subtracting bars, or losing the one, please try practicing like I do! With beatcraft, I mark the start of every four bars. If the form is 12 bars or 14 bars or 20 bars, etc, you can mark it too.

Besides playing in four, you are definitely going to be playing in 3, plus if you want you can learn 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, etc... Anyways, having a good drum machine, or something like Beatcraft will really help a lot.

Learning tunes

For standard type jazz, this is an undeniable truth. When you think about it, most jazz songs are only 16 bars long. It's not that much to memorize. There is an A section and then a B section. The best way I know of learning tunes is the following:

  1. Take out the sheet music (if you have it)
  2. Cue up the song
  3. Play the melody along with the players
  4. After they have played the melody, they go to the solos
  5. While they are playing the solos, you play the melody
  6. Keep playing the melody throughout the whole song
  7. You know you played everyhing right when they get back to the melody and everything lines up

This method works really well. You have to listen to the drummer. You also hear how soloists work with the melody. It really helps you to learn the melody. To learn the chords, just do the same thing but play the chords. Try and memorize the chords while you do it. This might be frustrating at first but keep at it. You'll get it and your musicality will really increase.


These are the three main things I have been working on for the last few years and I think that they have paid big dividends for straight ahead jazz. Practicing these three things in any style of music will also help ones musical skill develop in general.

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