I recently read an article on JazzAdvice.com, called Why You Shouldn’t Be A Real Book Player. Basically, the article talks about the difference it makes when you learn a tune by ear from a record vs. having a book with written music and chord changes in front of you. The author makes the case that having music in front of you limits your playing, and your ability to go beyond what is written on the page. I think this is especially true if you are sight-reading.
I took it to heart. I began finding recordings of tunes that I have been trying to learn. It occurred to me that I had never heard recordings of some of the tunes I have been trying to learn. What sense does that make? But I was so psyched to have learned to sight-read it didn’t occur to me to memorize anything as far as the Real Book was concerned.
Hearing some of the original recordings made a huge difference. It gave me an idea of what the original writers had in mind, and the way various artists had interpreted the music. It is a very different thing to learn a song when you’ve heard the original.
Improvising takes on a new shape also when you’re not dependent on written music on a page. So I have begun memorizing melodies and chord progressions. I had not realized that I had never actually internalized a jazz standard, and that is what memorizing the melody and changes helps to accomplish. I have been dependent on the page since I was taught to decipher the musical code.
Having everything memorized places you in another world when it comes to playing a tune. You become intimately familiar with the ins and outs of a tune and the paths you can take to create new music on the spot.
I don’t know why it never occurred to me to memorize tunes, but that has changed forever. Every tune I learn from now on will be memorized. The first two tunes I did this with were, Have You Met Miss Jones and one I posted earlier this week, Stella By Starlight. I have already noticed the difference in the way I play them. Everything is much clearer, and I feel free to move, zig and zag where I please.
I’m not a master yet. But learning tunes this way makes me feel much better about the music. Another benefit of course is being able to go to a gig and not need to worry about being able to see the music in sub-par lighting situations.
If you have never read the article you should. I have linked to it at the top of this article. Good luck.