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Thread: Jazz Tunes to Learn in all Keys...

  1. #1
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    Jazz Tunes to Learn in all Keys...

    Hey, guys. I have a question for those of you who are professional and/or advanced jazz players. I am not exactly "new" to the music, but I still haven't woodshedded to the point that I think of myself as anything but an amatuer. I am wondering what jazz tunes are good to know in all 12 keys. I realize that I need to practice quite a bit more intensively and a big part of that is dedicating time to all keys. The impression I get is that you should know the most common ones in all keys, is this true? I'm speaking of Autumn Leaves, Now's the Time (or the blues changes in general), Summertime, can't think of many others. Or should you really learn every tune in all keys? I've heard some people say to do this as well but it seems time consuming. Even practicing some tunes in all keys seems time-consuming. Not that I don't want to put in lots more time, it's just how to organize, balance, and manage it that I find difficult. Any pointers on this would be much appreciated.

    Also, if some guys don't mind sharing, how do you go about transposing to other keys? Do you write the chart or the changes in the new keys, or simply figure things out using interval relationships, etc.? Thank you for any help.

  2. #2
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    You have to seperate tunes as being "standards", aka tunes from the great American songbook, from "jazz" tunes, which are anything from bebop to modal, etc. The standards are what you should work on in 12 keys, simply because singers do them in any key, and there are quite a few that don't have a "normal" key and will be played in all kinds of keys.
    Get a song list, something like this: http://www.ryanjanus.com/PDFs/tune_list.pdf
    and start going through the standards, i.e.
    All of Me
    All of You
    All The Things
    Alone Together
    Unless of course you have all the time in the world and are a fast learner, in which case go ahead and take Dolphin Dance through all 12 keys; it would be great ear training.

  3. #3
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    You should try to learn all the tunes you learn in 12 keys. It's not nearly as difficult a task you may think it is. Learning changes in all keys is not hard at all if you learn tunes in terms of the function of the changes rather then the name of the chord changes.

    This is something that's been discussed several times on the forum. Some tunes which modulate a lot like Stella by Starlight is not an easy tune at the start to learn in 12. But you won't find to many "standards" that will move through keys as often or as strangely as Stella. A tune like Autumn Leaves for example is so harmonically simple that one should be able to play it in any key, melody or changes without any sort of trouble.

    Bebop tunes, which have angular, noty melodies are a challenge for 12 keys simply because the melodies themselves are challenging in any 1 key. Learning Donna Lee for example in 12 keys is something that could be a very long term goal, but the benifits would be fairly signficiant however the chance of someone calling Donna Lee in F on a gig is pretty much %0 unless you're playing with cutthroat Bebop guys. But someone calling ALl the Things You are in C is much more common.
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    I've been trying to learn to take all my tunes through the keys. It's something I am working on doing this summer. Some of my teachers have the ability to play any tune in all keys. I'm like "Let's play Gentle Rain". They say "What key?".

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    Yo, Rhythm Changes! Why not start with "Rhythm Changes"...Get a gig with a singer...That will get you into playing in other keys right off the bat!!!!!

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    Guitarist/Composer Guy Hatton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jakeweiser View Post
    But someone calling ALl the Things You are in C is much more common.
    Not come across that one here just yet, but a nice little exercise anyway. Brief panic when the key centre went to B major, but apart from that I got through it kind-of-OK first time!
    Guy Hatton on the Web

  7. #7
    Guitarist, Brewer, Über Geek Scott Abene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jakeweiser View Post
    You should try to learn all the tunes you learn in 12 keys. It's not nearly as difficult a task you may think it is. Learning changes in all keys is not hard at all if you learn tunes in terms of the function of the changes rather then the name of the chord changes.
    I have to go with Jake here. If you are not playing with a vocalist ever you may be able to get away with only learning the written key on the sheet music but if you are playing with a vocalist you should be prepared to have to transpose as necessary.

    As a guitarist I feel that many guitarist struggle with being trapped in certain positions and keys etc. So it is important to learn tunes in different keys, positions and chordings.



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  8. #8
    Registered User dandan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Abene View Post
    I have to go with Jake here. If you are not playing with a vocalist ever you may be able to get away with only learning the written key on the sheet music but if you are playing with a vocalist you should be prepared to have to transpose as necessary.

    As a guitarist I feel that many guitarist struggle with being trapped in certain positions and keys etc. So it is important to learn tunes in different keys, positions and chordings.
    If you are playing with a vocalist you are just comping, not really doing any challenging arrangments.
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  9. #9
    Guitarist, Brewer, Über Geek Scott Abene's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dandan View Post
    If you are playing with a vocalist you are just comping, not really doing any challenging arrangments.

    uh??? Really?

    Please elaborate



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  10. #10
    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Hatton View Post
    Not come across that one here just yet, but a nice little exercise anyway. Brief panic when the key center went to B major, but apart from that I got through it kind-of-OK first time!
    again, it's probably not something you'll run into very much. That tune perhaps is a poor example since it seems married to the key of Ab.

    Beyond the over-bitched about reference to working with vocalists, they are not the only switcher of keys. Many piano players often like to shift tunes to different keys since the instrument has it's challenging keys. Trombonists often like to switch keys as well for tunes (often by a 4th) and so if you find yourself on a gig lead by a Trombone player (how often that that happen eh!) you might find someone putting All The Things You Are in Eb or something like that. Because it lays better on the horn.

    Some keys are not as fun to play on Guitar, like Eb for me is frustrating because of the range of the key cuts off the lowest root by a 1/2 step.

    Point being of course that you could read a lead sheet if they provide one to you. But it's always better imo to be able to play without head in stand. It lets the music flow.

    If you've not got the practice time to learn something in 12 keys then take the time to learn it in the key of the music you found it in then if the tune has common other keys you find it played in... plus a 4th away in either direction in case you get gigs with singers, often times it'll be a 4th away.

    A few examples of tunes that often are called in specific keys include

    Night and Day: C and Eb
    It Could Happen to You: Eb, F and G
    Stella By Starlight: Bb and G
    Body and Soul: Db and G
    Green Dolphin Street, On: C and Eb
    Days of Wine and Roses: F and Ab
    Girl from Ipanema: F and Db
    Autumn Leaves: E minor and G minor

    Some of my teachers have the ability to play any tune in all keys. I'm like "Let's play Gentle Rain". They say "What key?".
    This is not an ability. It's just a skill that takes a little bit of practice. Especially a tune like Gentle Rain which is harmonically simple with it's logical circle of 5th cycling root motion one should be able to conceive of this tune in 12 keys quickly especially if they learned the tune in a functional way. The Melody also is fairly simple and diatonic to a minor key.
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  11. #11
    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    I'm not a big fan of learning all tunes in all keys because I've never overcome my inherent laziness to do it.

    Being able to transpose is not the same as learning tunes in all keys. If I can transpose the changes I can often pick out the melody by ear. Of course, I'm not talking about whiz-bang bebop lines. But then, how often is another musician going to insist that life would be insupportable if you won't play Anthropology or Billie's Bounce with him/her in E Major?

    The changes can be learned by function — i.e., I, vi, ii, V, etc. — but these should be incorporated into patterns.

    For example, I know that the A section to Blue Moon is a simple I-vi-ii-V, that the B section starts as ii-V-I, then modulates to the same up a minor third, then cycles back in a familiar vi-II-ii-V to hit the tonic on the last A.

    So I'm not thinking, "this tune starts with a I, then goes to a vi, then goes to a ii," and so on. Rather, there are only three patterns in this whole tune, each remembered not as a series of individual changes, but as a compact pattern: "I-vi-ii-V," "ii-V-I," and "vi-II-ii-V."

    This may sound a bit theoretical, but by breaking the tune into these little patterns it's just a matter of fitting them together again in different keys. There are surprisingly few of these patterns to remember in order to get through the great majority of standards.

    I agree with Jake that to comp singers, knowing tunes a fourth away from the standard changes is often good enough. Of course, you will get vocalists for whom Ab is too low and Bb too high. This is the life we've chosen.
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    Is there a list anywhere that shows the common keys for jazz standards?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ColdBuffet View Post
    Is there a list anywhere that shows the common keys for jazz standards?

    http://jazzstandards.com/index.html

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