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As an aspiring improviser (improvateur? improvisationist?), I was wondering what you think are the essential songs to learn, work out over the changes, etc. I get overwhelmed with the thousands of tunes available and would really like to deep dive into just a few. Also, it would be great to hear why you think a certain song makes the cut and/or what significance it holds for you.
 

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I teach a beginning improv class for the last three years. We start with just a V7 chord, doing rhythms and getting facility with the chord. Then do a Major blues 12 bar , Minor blues, more extended or changes blues, Summer time , Watermelon man, Jazz blues adding a quick !V chord and the II V turn around. blue bossa, song is extended and has II V in major and Minor. Anyway, this works. Rhythm changes are something id do also if they want to go jazz, I get lots of guitar and rockers so we go into songs they want to learn/jam on and transfer all the methods we learned earlier in class . Hope this helps K
 

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There are lists and lists on the internet - "Top 100 jazz standards you must know" - "Jazz top 1000" - "50 All-time best", etc. Just pick a few tunes from those lists (hopefully tunes that appear on more than one list), and go from there.

You have to know 3 basic forms - Blues, Rhythm Changes, and Cherokee. Then start branching out. (That's kind of a joke, but only kind of...)

Best way is to pick a recording of a tune you like by an artist you like, and try to learn the solos. At first you will probably only get 3 or 4 notes - just keep playing the tune over and over and put those 3 or 4 notes in place. Use an Aebersold track or maybe iReal Pro. Think about how those notes function in the chord changes and how they relate to the melody. Add another phrase or two, then go on to the next tune.

Keep doing that and in a couple years you'll make your own list!
 

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Giant steps is a good transposition for some heavy II-V-I practice. Donna Lee is a good one for understanding bebop expression/language. I’d say Girl From Ipanema is good tonal practice. Maybe listen to what you like to listen to and practice that with your long tones and scales. Transposing is a great way to build skills and muscle memory. It’s also good exercise for your brain!
 

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You have to know 3 basic forms - Blues, Rhythm Changes, and Cherokee. Then start branching out. (That's kind of a joke, but only kind of...)
I'd say that's pretty darn accurate. Those three forms and their variations probably make up 90% of the jazz repertoire (ok, THAT was an exaggeration, but those certainly cover a LOT of standards).
 

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Also learn some Modal tunes by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Modal tunes stretch the imagination without just following known chord changes. Modal tunes help in creating melodic structures using upper extentions and other ideas within a mode. Modal tunes allow us to linger within creative ideas without changing to follow moving chord changes.
 

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Giant steps is a good transposition for some heavy II-V-I practice. Donna Lee is a good one for understanding bebop expression/language. I’d say Girl From Ipanema is good tonal practice. Maybe listen to what you like to listen to and practice that with your long tones and scales. Transposing is a great way to build skills and muscle memory. It’s also good exercise for your brain!
As it appears to be a person earlier on in their journey the suggestion of perhaps the blues form or autumn leaves is likely a much better fit than Giant Steps..... or Donna Lee for that matter.
 

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We start with just a V7 chord, doing rhythms and getting facility with the chord. Then do a Major blues 12 bar , Minor blues...
This is definitely the way to go if you're starting out. In fact, you could improvise on any single cord, not just dom 7. A vamp on a minor scale, for example. Then I'd pick simple songs with simple, logical changes. Some popular choices are So What (which is modal on two chords), Song for My Father, Bye Bye Blackbird.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
thanks for all the advice. i’m not a total beginner—just trying to get some reps of patterns for jazz (and other ideas) over different songs. but i want my limited practice time to be as productive as possible. rhythm changes definitely covers a bunch. using irealpro and loving it. such a great tool.
 
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