Jazz standards are a great way to get started playing with an ensemble with recognizable tunes that you can put your own spin on.
Standards are a jazz musician’s bread and butter. The benefit of standards is that it gives a common repertoire that jazz musicians can share, even if you’ve never played together before. But when someone calls the tune at your next gig, are you ready to take your solo?
Jazz solos include improvisation, but that doesn’t mean you can just make everything up. Improv is a muscle you need to work out to improve. Practicing your soloing will get you comfortable with your instrument, as well as the tune itself, so you’re able to play what you hear in your head without thinking. It will also help with concepts like voice leading, rhythm and syncopation, and constructing motifs.
In this video The 4 Best Ways to Practice Jazz Standards, Chad LB takes us through four exercises to get comfortable practicing jazz standards. But before you get started, make sure to check out the 4 Tune Learning Exercises PDF package so you can follow along.
The tune Chad is playing is Confirmed Nation—a lot of you probably recognize the changes for this one. We’re working from the B-flat tenor version of the package, but we also have these files available in B-flat trumpet, E-flat alto sax, concert, and bass clef.
Exercise 1: Arpeggios over the chord changes
We’re going to start by playing different arpeggio shapes on the chord changes. An arpeggio is just a chord broken up into its individual notes, playing each note separately, as opposed to all at once. We’ll use the 1, 3, 5, and 7 of the chords (i.e. C, E, G, and B for Cmaj7). But to keep things interesting, we’ll mix up the order.
Oftentimes, when you hear people solo with wider intervals and it sounds really melodic, they’re just using arpeggios. And because arpeggios are made up of the notes of the chord, there are no “wrong notes”!
If you want to use wider intervals in a more abstract, “inside-out” type of way, the first step is to master this “inside” way first. Follow along with this exercise from the PDF track package, which comes with recordings of Chad playing each of the exercises all the way through on all 20 of the standards. It’s a really great practicing resource for any skill level of player looking to work on their standards.
Exercise 2: Soloing with a chord scale
Now we’re going to take it a step further from the arpeggios and use a chord scale. It’s important when learning a tune that you’re able to solo diatonically (or within the key) with good voice leading so you can have smooth melodic transitions from chord to chord. This means creating lines that flow through the chord progression, instead of jumping around following the chords in a disconnected way.
We have this all written out in the 20 chord progressions in the PDF so you can practice along.
Exercise 3: Using approach notes
Approach notes are a big part of jazz solo line construction, especially when you see or hear chromatic notes (or notes outside the scale) that still sound melodic. If you’re not familiar with approach notes, check out our other video to learn more.
In addition to approach notes, enclosures are multiple approach notes surrounding the target tone (or the melody note that you’re aiming for). The target tone is usually a chord tone, while the enclosure notes are often chromatic, but may be diatonic as well. Think of enclosures “enclosing” the target tone from above and below—so it outlines the target tone before hitting it.
In this exercise, we’ll play two-note approaches into scale tones. We’re almost always going to approach into chord tones because that generally sounds the most melodic. So for example, approaching the third will probably be more melodic than approaching the sixth. We’re almost always going to approach using chromatic notes, unlike the last exercises where we were doing the solo diatonically.
This exercise uses chromatic approaches with a repeated rhythm—which may not be the hippest thing in the world, but remember, this is just an exercise to help us ease into the approach note concept. As a bonus, it’s going to improve your ears big time, since you’ll hear all the chromatic notes and how they function in moving between chord tones and how they can sound very melodic.
Exercise 4: Using three-note approaches
You made it to the fourth exercise! This will be the hardest one, but it will help tremendously with your line construction.
We’re going to add one more note, which will give us a three-note approach—essentially giving us constant eighth note approaches to chord or scale tones the whole way through. You may notice that we’ll land on a non-diatonic tone on a beat 1 or beat 3. That’s just to give it a bit more variation and make it a bit more hip!
Wrapping it up
So those are all of the exercises for today. Congrats on making it through! Remember to check out the full video and PDF package above so you can play along. Remember, it’s important to play along to get the full benefit of these exercises.
After you work on these exercises, you’ll definitely notice a difference in your solos over standards. These exercises target a lot of the weaknesses we’ve found many developing (and advanced!) players struggle around.