The question was asked here as to why there are no Fake Books for Blues. But what is a Fake Book in the first place? What genres is it used in?

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    Have you read this?
    – Matt L.
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 13:54
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    @ Matt L. Yes, but stack exchange is supposed to be a place to collect knowledge, even knowledge available elsewhere on the internet. I think the definition of a fakebook is worthwhile basic information to have available on this site. Want to write your link into an answer?
    – Karen
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:10
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    I've cleaned up some of the comments here. The downvote tooltip says "This question does not show any research effort", which is true, so do so if you wish and move on. You are also free to ignore it and/or upvote, it's your choice. This is not the place to argue about it.
    – user28
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 16:28

2 Answers 2


The first "fake books" were in fact sold and distributed illegally, but that is not why they were called Fake Books. Each piece of sheet music in a Fake Book is merely a "lead sheet" of just the melody and the chord progression. It is not a full arrangement with parts written out for each musician. Consequently, musicians look at a Fake Book lead sheet and they have to "fake" their parts, or make them up as they go along. This is essential to jazz, but it was not that way originally.

At the Woodwind and Brasswind music company, they have a page on their website, "What is a Fake Book?" which includes this: "Usually, there is no arrangement, no intros or endings, no specific instructions on "how" to play the song. Hence, the word "fake" – musicians are supposed to take the basic information and simply "fake" it."

The Wikipedia article on the Fake Book says this: "...the minimal information needed by a musician to make an impromptu arrangement of a song, or "fake it."

Musicians today often forget that the classic jazz songs in Fake Books and used by bands for improvisation did not start out that way. Most jazz standards were originally songs from Broadway musicals from prior decades. The original versions of these songs were arranged for a full orchestra that accompanied the singers, and there was no improvisation. There would be a part completely notated for each instrument in the orchestra, and there would be a conductor's score.

But the purpose of the Fake Book and the lead sheet are to re-purpose (and usually re-harmonize) a fully-composed orchestral piece for use by a small jazz band that improvises. Thus the original, elaborate Broadway form of the song is transformed into another kind of musical art as a template for jazz improvisation.

Furthermore, most pieces in the best-known Fake Books only provide a lead sheet for the chorus of a song from a Broadway musical. The original song might also have an extensive intro, with lyrics, and several verses, and a bridge, and a coda. When jazz musicians improvise on a Fake Book chart, they are usually only concerned with playing the chorus and repeating it many times so that different members of the band can take solos.

Here is an example: the original fully-orchestrated version of "My Funny Valentine" which is from the musical Babes in Arms by Rodgers and Hart from 1937. Notice that it has whole sections, and lots of lyrics, that are omitted from any version of this song you've ever heard from a jazz band.

Now here is the classic jazz recording of "My Funny Valentine" by Chet Baker from 1952. You will realize that it omits the entire first section (called the verse in Broadway parlance) of the original song. This recording sounds to me like something improvised from a fake book lead sheet.

Now here is Miles Davis and his band doing a 15-minute version of "My Funny Valentine" which is essentially just the chorus of the original song, played over and over again for improvising. It's beautiful and it's excellent jazz, and it is undoubtedly something the band improvised or developed from a simple lead-sheet fake book chart, rather than from the original full arrangement by the composer Richard Rodgers.

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    Fake books are not restricted to Broadway tunes and the like. Some of them give the melody and chords of jazz tunes, which have never had anything BUT a "head" arangement.
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 10:07
  • I did not say that Fake Books are restricted to Broadway tunes. I said that "Most jazz standards were originally songs from Broadway musicals". Of course contemporary Fake Books contain charts for many new tunes that are not historical jazz standards. I'm just trying to point out that there is a history to music that came before the wonderful original melodies of later composers such as Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, or whomever.
    – user1044
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 15:04
  • For the complete history of fake books, see The Story of Fake Books: Bootlegging Songs to Musicians by Barry Kernfeld.
    – Aaron
    Commented Oct 30, 2020 at 11:00

A Fake book is book that contains music sheets for songs. Usually they contain chords and melody, but sometimes lyrics as well. These kind of books are really famous for jazz repertoire, but there have also been fake books for blues/latin/rock etc.

They were called Fake Books, because the people that wrote and publish them didn't have the royalties for the songs.

The Fake books were replaced by Real Books, which means that royalties were paid to the composers. Τhere have also been many editions, like the Real Book in C,Eb,Bb and Bass Clef.

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    As a performer, I find these kind of books really helpful. The Jazz Real Book (at least) has the most common jazz standards , so that you won't have to search the net to find myriads of false music sheets Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 14:38
  • @WheatWilliams That doesn't sound right. The lead sheets contain the harmony, the melody, and sometimes the lyrics, and at least in a blues and jazz context (which the fake and real books come from) that is all to be expected since everything else is improvised. It's not that they have to "fake" their parts, it's not that the lead sheet is incomplete. Unless I'm missing something here? Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 15:19
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    @WheatWilliams Interesting! There's much more to them than I thought, thanks for the info. Seems that they were also an "underground" thing, illegal, and the first ones had many chord changes wrong. I wonder how many of those mistakes ended up being absorbed and accepted as features of the original song. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 16:44
  • I should turn my comments into a separate answer later.
    – user1044
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 17:45
  • The first "Real Book" was an underground compilation of jazz tunes and chords. The name is now applied loosely to a number of publications, including both jazz and commercial tunes. There are some that cover blues tunes. Google "blues real book".
    – Laurence
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 10:11

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