Bass Lesson 12: Standards

Learn as many standards as you can


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. As far as books are concerned, most musicians use the standard real books. Some of the most used real books are illegal, no royalties are paid for them, but jazz musicians from all over the world copy them enthusiastically. But books are not very much in use nowadays. Most jazz musicians use apps. It is very nice you do not have to bring these heavy books along anymore. I use Ireal Pro a lot.

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 some time. What I’m very 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.

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 in most cases. But when you play with a singer, it is expected of you that you’re able to transpose a big number of standards immediately…

Don’t let these demands discourage you. The ideal bass player can do this, but if you’ve just not got the right memory 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 can’t know for sure if I will ever play all these standards that I would otherwise learn by heart.

If you play 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…

standards: the Baumgarten bass