Memorizing standards, failures, and developing a deeper love for jazz (and double bass)
I had spent roughly ten years beating my head against the wall trying to memorize standards to grow as a jazz bassist, but I was at the mercy of what worked for others.
Suggestions directly and indirectly (mostly directly) from some of my favorite bassists:
“Memorize a handful of tunes by first writing the melody out using my ear and then learn these tunes in all twelve keys.”
“You CAN ONLY transcribe from vinyl to learn your tunes.”
“First learn the melody, then the chords, then play a solo over the changes.”
The last method was confirmed by John Hamer, whom I was fortunate enough to befriend and take weekly Skype lessons with for my senior year of college.
I had found the best results with this method and used it for while, but it was so hard at the time; studying solo rep for a recital, plus the perils of a full time student, musician, and dad made me anxious with the process. It didn’t help that I was slow at it and picking tunes like “Donna Lee,” “Stablemates,” “Giant Steps,” and “Relaxin’ at the Camarillo,” didn’t make things easier.)
After each one of these periods I end up putting down the bass and taking a long break while learning a new aspect of music.
After my last break from bass, here is how things changed:
A good pal sent me this link to the 300 most called jazz standards that a saxophonist put together. I thought it would be too hard to figure out the chord quality with my bass, but after a while it started to come quickly and eventually (w/credit to my pal’s encouragement).
“I can do this.”
And here is how I did it:
1.) I got on YouTube and started listening to multiple versions of the tunes and finding the versions in the style and key that people I play with use.
2.) I made a playlist of a few of my top versions so they were all easily accessible. I found that having them all on a playlist was a great way to create a routine by playing the same songs over and over in a daily routine to strengthen memorization.
3.) I mainly try and figure out the changes with what the bassist is doing. If I get stuck or unclear of a change I’ll slow it down. If I am really stumped and I can’t figure it out with guitar or bass, I’ll consult a real book chart or the web.
When I go to learn a melody it comes much easier because I have spent so much time listening to the song (something I am working on now).
This process has helped me really level up with deeper listening skills and be more cognizant of what my instrument is actually doing in the music and within the changes.
*I recommend playing these songs you are working on regularly with someone, just for fun or finding a regular gig to work them out on.
I was losing my love for jazz and this method helped me to find a depth and passion for the music that I didn’t know was possible.
Admittedly, I spent a lot of years only playing songs out of the real book or from reading charts. I am beginning to realize more and more about why a lot of players suggest that jazz is a social music as well as compare it to a language–we get to (and have to) learn and really listen to what the masters before us were doing to really get to heart of the art form (just like kids learn how to speak from hearing us while growing up).
I was getting hung up on trying to do things the “Right WAY”–a way that worked for someone else. There is no right way.
Well, maybe there is…
I feel like the right way is what works for you and on that path you find joy. That doesn’t mean it is supposed to be easy! Joy in the struggle!
Thanks for reading and good luck.
Just in case:
Here is a link to my always evolving and growing playlist of tunes:
and here is a link to the WoodShed’s list of 300 tunes: