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How to Memorize Chord Changes Instantly

Looking at a solid book of standards—like a Real Book—you may find it tricky to remember the changes for a tune, or maybe you get it confused with another tune.

What if you could memorize the chord changes instantly?

While it’s not a skill you can do immediately (it does take practice), it is something you can develop, and you don’t need to have perfect pitch or a really advanced ear. But it will be something to help you out when you hear a band play through a tune or when you hear a recording. You’ll know what the changes are after a chorus or two, then be able to play along and know every chord change that’s coming up.

We’re going to walk through three different steps to help you develop this skill. Before we get started, make sure to check out the video for this blog, as well as our special mentorship program—which gives you access to live masterclasses from some of the top players in jazz, as well as access to unlimited restreaming. Plus, be sure to check out our PDF package Standards Analysis—which gives ​​​​​​Roman numeral analysis, chord tone arpeggiation, and chord-scale relationships on 50 jazz standards. Understanding what’s happening under the surface of these tunes will go a long way for memorizing the changes.


Understand the harmonic devices

In functional harmony, there are really only so many chord progressions that sound pleasing. You’ve probably seen those videos where people play 20 songs using the same pop chord progression. What’s more, in jazz and in jazz standards, there are many chord progressions that come up often. So as you learn more standards, you’ll come to recognize some of these typical progressions.

A key thing we can do is understand the harmonic devices being used in a song. This way, you don’t have to know the names of the chords being used, you just have to know how they’re moving functionally.

Let’s check out an example comparing the tunes “Confirmation” and “There Will Never Be Another You.” Now these first few bars may not look similar, but in fact, they’re using the same harmonic device.

Comparison of jazz standards and harmonic devices confirmation and there will never be another you

In “Confirmation,” you’ll see that the first few chords are Fmaj7, Eø7, A7b9, and Dm7. This would be a I - ii/vi - V/vi - vi (said one major to minor two-five to six). All this means is that we’re in the key of F major, then the next three chords form a minor iiº - V - i to D minor.

Harmonic devices used in jazz standard confirmation

Taking a look at “There Will Never Be Another You,” the chords are different. We have an Ebmaj7, Dø7, G7b9, and Cm7. But these chord names are less helpful than knowing that it’s really a I - ii/vi - V/vi - vi in E-flat major. It’s just a different key with a different rhythmic pacing, but the chords are functioning in the same way, which gives it a similar sound.

Harmonic devices used in jazz standard there will never be another you

In fact, if we transpose “There Will Never Be Another You” up a whole step, the chords would look exactly the same as “Confirmation.”