I would like to learn some jazz standards, but is there any recommended list to follow from easy to difficult? Because I am not very fast on the guitar, I want to know which of them are best for beginners. And also, should I follow the real book or the new real book? Or any other book than these two? I am a bit confused about it.

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    If you can please narrow down what you mean by "Jazz Standard" and you might get even more useful into. And you didn't say "Guitar" originally. I would have a lot more to say about the guitar curriculum. Are you thinking show tunes, be bop, swing, all of the above. – ggcg Apr 13 '20 at 21:02
  • Actually i do not have any solid idea (how they sound, what are they, etc..) about subgenres of jazz music. So all of the above is okay for me. I added guitar just after posting question because I thought it might be helpful. – Nabla Apr 14 '20 at 6:18
  • Check this out (ignore all the talk in the intro): youtube.com/watch?v=9WKSgq5OeZc – 0x435d2d Apr 14 '20 at 19:51

If you want to learn standards I would start by getting your hands on various versions of them being performed by great musicians. This is the best way to learn music, and style of music. Listen. If you can listen to the original versions. This should be an easy task with YouTube. 20-30 years ago I'd make a mixed tape, or burn a CD with 12 or more versions of a some I wanted to learn just to get a feel for the variety of ways it could be played.

As for complexity or difficulty? That is hard for others to judges for you. You say you are not fast but speed is not the only thing that makes a song difficult. Some tunes are fairly simple from a changes perspective while other are a little more difficult to analyze.

I would recommend the Real Book 5th ed, and the second volume. I got mine back in the 80s and it has served me well. I've read through about a dozen so call Fake Books and I think the Real Book has pretty good changes, even if not 100% accurate. Another reason I recommend it is that there is a free version of the Real Book files out there somewhere for Band in a Box and that is great to play with. You could also look into getting a couple Jamey Abersold play along CD's (or whatever the technology is today). The Abersold collection is pretty good. You get backing tracks for anywhere from 10-20 songs and the lead sheets. You can specifically get beginner level material, i.e. "easy changes", then work your way up to harder ones.

From the Real Book here are few tunes that are nice and have easy to digest changes.

A Foggy Day

All Blues

All Of Me

Autumn Leaves

Bessie's Blues

Black Orpheus


Night and Day

There Will Never Be Another You

You Don't know What Love Is

Then work up to the following...


All of You

Autumn in New York

Body and Soul


Darn That Dream

How High The Moon

How Insensitive

Groovin' High

Stella By Starlight


West Coast Blues

In my opinion the first set has simpler melodies and fewer changes while the second is a little more involved. That is just my opinion though.

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    IMO one should try to find definitive recordings of each tune, particularly for those songs that weren't originally composed as jazz. Frank Sinatra etc. If you haven't heard the non-jazzed-up version, you might not really know the tune. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 13 '20 at 19:43
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    Thanks to everybody and espceially for ggcg for your precious answer. That really helped. – Nabla Apr 13 '20 at 19:48
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica's suggestion to listen to the definitive recordings is crucial advice. This is really helpful when starting out and building up one's jazz vocabulary, learning how to connect melodic ideas over new and unfamiliar chord progressions, etc. – jdjazz Apr 13 '20 at 19:55
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    IIRC I got that idea from Barry Harris, who said in an interview that students or even some pro players might not know how Stella by Starlight or something really goes, because they have only ever heard weirdo jazz or real book versions of it. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 13 '20 at 20:07
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica good advice, I love your weirdo jazz comment! Also the Real Book has been known to butcher the chord changes on some of these songs. Funny you mention Stella by Starlight, hardly anyone seems to know the first chord is actually a I diminished, not that 2-5 that everyone has been playing for 80 years. Barry’s playing very much reflects a deep knowledge of the American Songbook tunes, almost all of which had lyrics and were the popular music of their day. I’m very fortunate to have heard him play many times years ago in NY. – John Belzaguy Apr 13 '20 at 20:43

In addition to ggcg's great list, I'd add these basics/staples:

  • Billie's Bounce
  • Doxy
  • Oleo
  • Blue Bossa
  • Footprints
  • All the Things You Are
  • There Is No Greater Love
  • I Love You
  • On Green Dolphin Street
  • Misty
  • My Funny Valentine
  • Recorda Me
  • Satin Doll
  • St. Thomas
  • Solar
  • Take the A Train
  • So What
  • In A Sentimental Mood
  • Alone Together
  • Fly Me to the Moon
  • I'll Remember April
  • Just Friends

Here are some more advanced songs that you could work toward. They're a little harder but still highly common and among the most-played standards:

  • Confirmation
  • Cherokee
  • Days Of Wine And Roses
  • Four
  • Have You Met Miss Jones
  • Girl From Ipanema
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    There's Fly me to the Moon :-) And There is no Greater Love! I vote jdjazz :-) – cduston Apr 14 '20 at 4:10
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    Great list - one or two there for me to explore! Summertime to add to list 1, Masquerade to list 2? +1. – Tim Apr 14 '20 at 7:14

Kudos to @ggcg and @ jdjazz. Both of their answers and lists are excellent and represent a body of American songbook and jazz standards that all professional jazz musicians know and all serious jazz students should work towards learning. I am going to offer you a much shorter list of songs taken from these other two which I think have a lot of the basic elements that jazz students need to learn and understand and a brief explanation of those elements:

Satin Doll (great IIm7-V7-I practice)

Take the A Train (one of many songs with a II7 chord; also a song that has longer durations of individual chords for learning how to play longer lines over a single chord)

I Got Rhythm (not on these lists but many jazz standards like Oleo are based on this song’s harmony; The bridge offers good practice playing dominant chord cycle of 5ths)

All of Me (a fairly easy song to learn, lots of secondary dominants)

Autumn Leaves (excellent use of relative major and minor keys)

Learn and memorize the melodies! Ask yourself why they work so well. This will help you develop a good melodic sense for improvising and writing your own songs one day.

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    I like the fact that you call out specific changes within each example. I Got Rhythm, or rhythm changes, should be memorized like the 12 bar blues. – ggcg Apr 13 '20 at 21:05
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    Autumn Leaves is a particularly nice choice for the beginner because it is in the classic jazz "cheating circle of fifths" form, where it manages to sound like every change is down a fifth, and yet it gets back to the tonic in fewer than 12 changes because one of those changes is a semitone "wrong". Once you recognize that pattern you start to see it in a lot of songs. – Eric Lippert Apr 15 '20 at 3:12
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    @EricLippert You’re right, I like to think of it as a half circle of 5ths. You go around the circle of 5ths then cut across to the other side of the circle and come back to where you started. Another interesting thing about Autumn Leaves is with a few exceptions the entire song is nothing but 2-5-1’s in both the minor and relative major. – John Belzaguy Apr 15 '20 at 3:44
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    That's a nice way to think about it. "I Will Survive", though not usually thought of as jazz, has a similar "half circle" structure and has some nice jazzy M7 chords. For beginners who want just straight up circle of fifths practice I usually recommend "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue", since it is just C E7 A7 D7 G7 C D G C, repeat, no minors to worry about. – Eric Lippert Apr 15 '20 at 17:31
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    @EricLippert - reminiscent of Sweet Georgia Brown, which really belongs in either list. Or, dare I say it Parisienne Walkways. – Tim Apr 15 '20 at 17:53

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