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Learning Tunes

A musicians repertoire is like the chef's recipe's. This is largely what gives us our identity as a musician. We can amass serious technique, and language, but if we do not have the knowledge of tunes, and the ability to apply our technique and language to tunes we are kind of missing the point. I think learning and internalizing repertoire can sometimes be overlooked in the development of jazz musicians. This leaves some people frustrated, confused, and in the dust because they simply don't have the foundation to put their skills in context and really play with other musicians.

So that almost sounds like bad news. The good news is that learning and internalizing tunes is a a relatively simple process to include in your practicing, and you will feel benefits immediately! Below are five steps to internalize repertoire. Some steps might take some time to develop and that is okay. Not only are these steps important for learning more repertoire, they are also helpful for memorizing tunes.

1) Be able to Sing and Play the Melody

This is not the only singing strategy on here. The importance of singing is that you can more readily add nuance and inflection into how that melody is being performed. Here, it isn't just about focusing on what to play, but how to play it. A strong idea of what the melody is and how it can be played is huge for internalizing repertoire.

2) Learn the Roots of the Chords as if they were a melody

The roots of the chord provide a blueprint for improvisation. Being able to hear the roots being our path towards understanding the harmony and the chords that go with the melody. The best way to get the sounds of the roots in our head? You guessed it- sing them! Playing them on your instrument is good too, but seriously, don't forget to sing them,

3) Be able to Arpeggiate the Chords on your instrument

This is the work that is most identifiable with internalizing a tune and its chord progression. Once you can play the roots, outline the rest of the chord up to the 7th. (ex: 1-3-5-7) Do this for each of the chords within the progression. It may be beneficial to do this in small chunks. Play just 1-3, then do 1-3-5, and finally 1-3-5-7.

4) Focus on the 3rds and 7ths of the Chords

The 3rds and 7ths are most critically pieces in the harmonic puzzle. Being able to fish these out of a chord and keep track of them is the skill of a great improviser.

5) Add bits of jazz language for identified chords

Once you can outline the harmonic framework of a tune begin to add bits of language. You have a lick that works over a ii V7 progression, then identify the ii-V7's and start working that language into those progressions!

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