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The 4 Best Ways to Practice Jazz Standards

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 contents:

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.

Using chord scales and arpeggios to solo over jazz standard Confirmed Nation by Chad Lefkowitz-Brown