What to do when “All The Things You Are” is a huge struggle for you

If you’re a beginning jazz pianist, then you may have found that “All The Things You Are,” is really hard! It’s one of those tunes that is very easy after you’ve learned it, but the learning curve is very steep. (This is in contrast to “Giant Steps,” for example, which seems to remain challenging even after you’ve learned it!)

Yes, ATTYA will get easy for you; I promise. But for now, it probably seems like those chords keep circling around into every key on the planet and it never quite repeats itself in the way you’d like it to. And to top it off, you have to solo in the key of E major during the bridge. Yikes!!!

So let’s take a step back and relax. The first thing to do is listen to the classic recording by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker:
“All The Things You Are”

Notice how the vibe on this recording is kind of laid back. They’re simply in the groove and aren’t out to impress anyone (they saved that for the other tunes they recorded the same day, like “Shaw Nuff!”)

Listen to the recording a few times every day for a week or two to get the music in your ears. After a while, your inner ear will begin to spin out bebop lines on its own, from a kind of sense memory. This will eventually come out in your piano playing as well. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but it will over time if you keep listening to bebop recordings like this one.

Now let’s sit down at the piano and look at the tune itself, which is in The Real Book.

The biggest challenge you’ll face at first is that there are a lot of chords. It’s harder than a tune like “Autumn Leaves” in which the same ii/V/I progressions repeat over and over.

So for ATTYA, you need to practice in a way that enables you to you start remembering the chord voicings. Start by playing just the first 2 chords: Fm7 and Bbm7. Either play them in root position or with jazzy voicings, but either way, let’s stay with them for a while. Play them again and listen to how they sound. Do it yet again. Now begin to feel the shape of each chord as it lies under your fingers. Play them a few times until your fingers start to remember how they feel, and how if feels to move from one chord to the next. Now play the melody over these two chords (just 2 notes – phew!)

By this time you know these 2 chords pretty well and can start improvising a little. Don’t worry about how “jazzy” you sound; just play a few melodic notes over each chord and then try to connect them into a simple improvised melody. Enjoy this process and do it over and over and over again until it begins to feel a little bit natural. At this point I recommend that you stay with these 2 chords longer than you normally would. Return to them the next day so you get some continuity and you challenge yourself to remember them from the previous day’s practice session.

When this feels comfortable, you can go on to the next 2 chords: Eb7 and Abmaj7. Stay with these 2 chords for a while, repeating the process you used with the first two chords of the song. When these feel comfortable, continue through the song working with pairs of chords like this.

When you get through the first 8 measures, work on playing the first ‘A’ section in its entirety. Chords alone, then melody, then improv. Then you can move on to the 2nd ‘A’ section (which is in another key!), working in pairs of chords like you did at the beginning.

For the bridge, practice in 4-measure phrases, since you’ll see the ii/V/I progressions better that way.

Breaking the tune down into easily digestible pairs of chords like this is a very effective way to get over the tune’s steep learning curve. Enjoy the process, and in a few weeks or a month you’ll be playing “All The Things You Are” with an ease that you probably didn’t think possible. Have fun and good luck with your jazz piano playing!

If you want my personal guidance as well as a step-by-step jazz piano course, visit me HERE to get started.

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