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Learn Any Jazz Standard in 7 Steps

In his time teaching, Nathan has been asked several times by students, “what’s the best way to learn a jazz standard?”

Well while there’s no one answer to that question, there are a few strategies that you can use to help you internalize progressions and full tunes. We’re going to run through seven steps today from Nathan’s Jazz Standards Course with JLV, which includes 2 hours of content, a downloadable PDF course workbook, and step-by-step guidance through learning jazz standards faster.

It’s helpful to go in depth with one tune at a time, since this will help boost your improvisation and musicianship so that you can immediately apply it to any tune you learn from there on out. It’s important to remember there’s no one “right” process, but this can be a good way for you to see what works for you and help develop your own process.


1. Getting to know the melody

The melody is the guiding star for any song—it directs where the song is going and helps impart the emotion into the song. But the melody also has a role to play with the harmony as well, it can either dictate the harmony or work against it to create tension, so it’s good to know what the melody is doing.

The tune we’re going to be looking at today is by Jerome Kern, and it’s “All the Things You Are.” This is a beautiful 36-bar standard, which follows a pretty logical pattern. Being 36 bars instead of 32 is unusual, but feels natural for this tune.

So let’s go ahead and look at this melody to get started.

All the things you are jazz progression
All the Things You Are

Jazz chord progression for all the things you are

2. Get with the bass

The next step to internalizing a progression after you understand the melody is to look at the bass line. The bass notes can tell you a lot about the direction of the harmony, and that can give you the shape of the tune.

If you haven’t already, it can be really helpful to learn your circle of fourths ascending.

The circle of fourths circle of fifths jazz music
Circle of fourths (left) or circle of fifths (right)

You’ll see a very logical pattern using these fourths within the bassline of “All the Things You Are.”