Bass Lesson 12 Standards

Learn as many standards as you can

Bass Lesson 12 Standards: the ideal jazz bassist

The ideal jazz bass player has an enormous memory; he knows every standard that is being played by heart, and he can play them in every key. Jazz musicians play about 300 standards.

Real books

Most musicians use the standard real books (if they use books at all). Some of the most used real books are illegal, no royalties are paid for them, but jazz musicians still copy them. There are also legal real books, like this one for instance.


Books are not much in use nowadays. Most jazz musicians use apps. This is very nice, you do not have to bring these heavy books along anymore. I use Ireal Pro a lot.

The enormous memory of the ideal jazz bassist

Every group of jazz musicians plays it’s own favorite songs, but the ideal bass player knows them all. My memory is not ideal; I tend to forget a standard when I haven’t played it for a while, which never was a problem, as I have been in relatively few jazz bands.

What I’m good in nowadays, is to remember the harmony of a new song very quickly. Playing a song once is usually enough for this. This is very nice, because I definitely play better when I know what’s coming.

Playing standards in every key

Knowing the harmonies is not enough. You have to be able to play it in any key without using pen and paper. This takes some practicing. Most tunes are played in only a few keys, blues for instance are played in F and Bb most of the time. But when you play with a singer, it is expected of you that you are able to transpose a big number of standards immediately… This can actually come in handy. When you play with a singer, he or she will need to play a song in another key than you had expected. Of course, transposing a song in an app is very easy so you can always do that.

Don't be discouraged

Don’t let these demands discourage you. The ideal bass player can do this. But if you cannot remember all these standards, but play beautifully, people will still enjoy you’re playing and ask you for gigs. Do you want to make learning all these standards you’re priority – or do you prefer spending more time on developing your technique and on learning to play more in tune? I prefer the latter, these things make me attractive to play with also. And I cannot know for sure if I will ever play all these standards that I would otherwise learn by heart, so for some standards it seems a waste of energy.


If you play a style like Dixieland, things are less complicated than for a mainstreram bass player. 80 % of the Dixieland repertoire is so simple that you’ll be able to hear what chords are coming, even when you don’t know a song, or you’ll know this when you’ve heard the harmony once… Blues are not a problem eiter. Most jazz blues differ only slightly if at all. And there are other harmonies that are used in a lot of songs, for instance the so calles ‘I got rhythm’, a harmony that is based on a song called “I got rhytm’, as you had already guessed.

standards: the Baumgarten bass
Bass Lesson 12  Standards

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