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STOP learning jazz standards without doing this!

Let’s cut right to the chase: scales have a bad rap. A lot of beginner and intermediate players do not like scales—when you’re starting out they can be kind of confusing. Maybe you had a very by-the-book music teacher who was obsessed with drilling scales into you, and that kind of turned you off to scales.

There are a bunch of techniques and exercises you can apply to playing standards, but it’s easy to get lost on the the most important thing—keeping the fundamentals of a standard (i.e. the changes) in mind as well as the corresponding scales for each chord. Remember—harmony and melody are two parts of the same thing. You can think of melody as horizontal harmony, or harmony as vertical melody (thinking in reference to sheet music, that is). So if you want to play a melody, it’s important to understand the harmony and vice versa.

But some of this bad rap can come from people using scales ineffectively—maybe you’ve tried playing with scales and felt like you were just pushing buttons trying to find something that sounded good.

Usually as a beginner, you’ll learn that a tune is in F, then spend the entire tune moseying around the F major scale, sometimes hitting some really awesome notes, and other times hitting some less exciting notes. But eventually, you feel like you want to break out and play something else. And if there are chromatic notes or altered chords, you’ll need to break out of that single-scale approach and look more to chord scales, or the diatonic scales that correspond to each chord.

So today we’re going to talk about some of the elements that can make chord scales sound really good. But before we get going, you’ll definitely want to check out our new PDF package called 20 Chord Scale Etudes on Jazz Standards. Chad LB wrote out 20 etudes on standard chord progressions where he only used the chord scales so they could be as melodic and fundamentally sound as possible. That’s up on our website now, along with backing tracks and recordings of Chad playing through the tunes.

Now let’s get playing!


Making scales work for you

Alright, so our whole point of playing a scale that matches with a chord is actually to embellish the chord. And when you move fluidly from one chord to another, and you’re actually playing scales effectively from one chord to another, by nature it will sound very melodic.

We’re going to check out one of the etudes from our new PDF as a reference point for how you can do this effectively. We’ll start off on our etude “Days of Soda and Tulips.” We’re going to check out the first 16 bars of the etude and listen and analyze it a bit.

So make sure to check out our accompanying YouTube video to get a better feel for how Chad plays it.

What we’re going to do first with every standard is just make sure we know every scale that matches with each chord. Now this gets into some light theory, but stay with us—it’s worth it. And just because you don’t understand the theory doesn’t mean you can’t play along—in fact, that’s the best way to do it, because you’ll start to learn how some of the theory concepts sound. But you’ll see in the PDF that we have a reference chart for each standard, which includes the chord scales for the changes.

Chord analysis on jazz standard

For a lot of you, this first bit might be pretty straightforward. But you’ll see that we get into some interesting options as we move through the tune. It’s important to remember that you can play anything you want over any chord—you don’t just need to stick to scale tones or arpeggios. But it’s also important to move with purpose and intention if you want things to sound coherent. Knowing your home base chord and scale relationships will give you a solid foundation to use anytime, or to resolve into if you are playing outside.

Analyzing chord changes on jazz standard with scales