Here are the Real Book tunes you should learn first


OK… You want to play jazz piano, and you’ve got your own copy of the Real Book. You’re all excited to get started so you open to the table of contents and BAM! You take one look at that list of hundreds of song titles and get overwhelmed. What happens next? You immediately close the book and vow “to get back to it tomorrow.”

The Real Book contains so many wonderful jazz tunes that yes, it can be difficult to know where to begin. And realize that you’re not alone if you feel this way. I think this scenario has happened to every jazz pianist at one time or another. But don’t worry! I’ve made a list of the tunes you can start with.

Before you look at these lists, it’s important to remember that these are general recommendations for where to begin. If your jazz group is learning a tune that I haven’t listed here, then you should include that song. Or let’s say you’ve heard a recording of another tune that piques your interest. Learn that one too. This list is merely a guide to get you started in a way that’s logical and will keep you from becoming overwhelmed.

Here are 4 lists, of 15 tunes each. They progress from basic to more advanced.

1. Tunes to begin with. (These are the “jam session basics” and are among the simpler songs in terms of melodies and chord changes. Learn these songs and you’ll be able to start going to jam sessions.)

All Of Me
Autumn Leaves
Black Orpheus
Blue Bossa
Blue Monk
How High The Moon
Mr. P.C.
So What
Song For My Father
Take The ‘A’ Train
Tune Up

2. Slightly more challenging tunes that are also very popular at jam sessions.

All Blues
The Girl From Ipanema
Groovin’ High
How Insensitive
I’ll Remember April
In A Sentimental Mood
Lullaby Of Birdland
My Funny Valentine
My Romance
A Night In Tunisia
‘Round Midnight
Satin Doll
Stella By Starlight
There Is No Greater Love

3. Intermediate – level tunes that will round out your basic repertoire.

All Of You
Beautiful Love
Chelsea Bridge
Dolphin Dance
Donna Lee
Giant Steps
Joy Spring
Nica’s Dream
Scrapple From The Apple
Take Five
Well You Needn’t

4. 15 of my favorite tunes in the Real Book that didn’t make the first 3 lists. (There are among the tunes I play when I can choose whatever pieces I want to play. There are some real gems in here!

African Flower
Ana Maria
Black Nile
Inner Urge
Lush Life
Maiden Voyage
Memories Of Tomorrow
Prelude To A Kiss
Recorda Me
Ruby, My Dear
Seven Steps To Heaven
Upper Manhattan Medical Group
Yes And No

Keep in mind that you don’t have to learn all these tunes at once. Focus on one song at a time and you’ll soon have a pretty good jazz repertoire for yourself. Good luck!

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10 thoughts on “Here are the Real Book tunes you should learn first”

  1. Just discovered your blog, and have enjoyed reading the entries. One tune that is called a lot out here in Southern California is Footprints, which is a good and fairly simple tune to play and solo on. I would put it in your first group of tunes.

    I have noticed in different parts of the country that the “go to” jam tunes seem to differ a bit. Maybe it is what the teachers in an area use most often, or what some of the locals professionals tend to play a gigs.

    • Good point, Jeff! I’ll add a note about this in the blog post. If you think the Southern California beginning list is substantially different than mine, let me know which tunes should be included and I’ll put the whole list in. Thanks for your input 🙂

    • Hi Ron:

      Sorry, I just saw this today. I am slowly learning Misty. I say slowly because I find myself not wanting to spend a lot of time at the piano. Actually, I just have so many other things to do that I take a few minutes at the keys when I can. 🙂

      Thanks again for all your helpful tips.

      • Great tune! It’s fine to only play a little at a time if you’re busy with other things too. The important thing is consistency, since involvement with music enriches our lives overall. You’re on the right track!

  2. Thank you for this and all the videos you post. I’ve been working through this book for ages, and just got Volume 2. Maybe I missed it, but it would be cool if you did the same kind of list for Volume 2!

    Appreciate all your work!

    • That’s a great idea, Lindsay! I don’t actually have the newest edition of Volume 2, but when I get a copy, I’ll make a list.

      Thanks for the kind words, and good luck with your music!

  3. I’m a drummer just getting my standards going. Thanks for this list and if you have any updates, or songs in addition to this, I’d be eternally in your debt. /Tom

    • Hi Tom. One thing that can be fun and insightful is to play all the tunes by the same composer. So, it you enjoy Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, for example, go through the book and learn all the tunes by Wayne Shorter. Good luck!


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