How to find the right chord changes for Real Book tunes

I recently read a forum post where someone wrote that, as a professional pianist, he uses The Real Book on recording sessions because he “want to make sure he’s playing the original chords to jazz standards.”

Well, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but the fact is that The Real Book, while a valuable resource, doesn’t always have the original chords. Indeed, the book was originally conceived as a way to show the chords that jazz musicians actually played, rather than the “sheet music” chords the composers sometimes wrote.

And taking this line of thought further, the original Real Book didn’t always get that right either, and neither does the current version.

None of this lessens the value of the book in any way: it’s a wonderful collection of great tunes from many eras and styles of jazz. But the one thing it never claimed to be was a document of the original chords. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

Well… what do we do when we encounter a chord, or set of chords, in The Real Book that don’t sound like the chords we’ve heard on famous recording of the song we’re playing?

One thing we can do is to go back to the original published sheet music, if we can find it. We can also listen to recording of the song and pay particular attention to the bass line.

I found myself in this situation when I sat down to play the song “For Sentimental Reasons” for my Journey Through The Real Book video series. The second chord sounded so “wrong,” that I decided to investigate it, and discover what the chords were that I was hearing in my head.

You’ll learn more by actually watching the video than if I tried to spell it out here, because the “process” is what you’ll benefit most from. Follow my train of thought and listen to the various harmonic possibilities as I demonstrate them on piano. Be sure to have your copy of The Real Book and a pencil handy.

Here’s the video:

For Sentimental Reasons: Journey Through The Real Book #124

It’s this spirit of curiosity that benefits us most. I hope you enjoy following my harmonic detective work, and that it inspires you to do the same when you come across some chords that don’t sound right to you.

Good luck with your piano playing, and “let the music flow!”

Learn the 5 Essential Left Hand Techniques with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration

1 thought on “How to find the right chord changes for Real Book tunes”

  1. Yes, you have just spotted the colossal arrogance of modern beboppers who think they know better than the incredibly skilled and schooled musos who wrote the original tune. They often turn a beautiful tune into a cacophony of dissonance.

    they are all mad and very dangerous.


Leave a Comment

Sign up for Blog Updates