How to learn a really fast jazz tune

Hey Improvisers,

It’s happened to all of us: we hear a new jazz tune that sounds great, we get excited about learning it, and then we sit down to play it for ourselves and…


We find it’s WAY too fast for us to play.

When this happens, we usually just sigh, put the tune aside, and resign ourselves to maybe playing it again “someday.”

Over the years, I’ve found a way to turn “someday” into “today.”

The key is to let go of the fast tempo, with no regrets. We can simply play the chords to the tune, slowly, and let the sounds wash over us. Enjoy the wonderful harmonies, without the tension of “but it’s not fast enough.”

Pretend the tune is meant to be played slowly, and “own it.” Play it as a ballad, or medium-slow tempo tune. Reimagine the arrangement.

As soon as I started practicing fast tunes like this, they came alive for me. I actually began playing tunes like Cherokee, Giant Steps, Countdown, and Inner Urge in a way that was wholly satisfying and sounds great.

And then, since I found that I knew the tune well at this point, I could gradually start increasing the tempo until, over time, I could play it at a faster tempo.

This way is certainly better that struggling with these tunes for years, without ever feeling good about how we play them. And, although it may seem like a roundabout process, it’s actually a great way to get to our goal of playing fast.

I’ve demonstrated this for you on my new Journey Through The Real Book video, on Joe Henderson’s classic “Inner Urge.” Although the first thing we notice about “Inner Urge” is the fast tempo and impossible-sounding melody, when we slow it down we discover how gorgeous the chords sound.

Here’s the video:

Inner Urge: Journey Through The Real Book #183

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”


Leave a Comment

Sign up for Blog Updates