Almost every jazz musician around today is aware of the “Real Books” – those handy books of tunes that have helped all of us through countless gigs. The Real Books have been around since the 1970s and I’ve used them since college. I was unaware that there was a website that had chord changes of Real Book tunes readily available.
The Real Book website lists the hundreds of tunes that you would find in the printed versions, but the cool thing is that you can transpose the chord changes into any key. I guess because of copyright issues the melodies themselves cannot be listed. But you can still use this site as an awesome tool to write your own tunes over the chord change to any Real Book tune.
As an example, I chose a tune on the Real Book website at random – Bemsha Swing. Now I’ve heard this tune but its been awhile and to be honest I could not remember how the tune went. But that’s ok because its the chord changes that I was interested in – and having the original tune in my head would actually hinder me from writing something new over them.
Here are the steps I took to write the original swing tune over Bemsha Swing changes…
1) First thing I did was choose the tune and key to write the new tune. I chose the tune Bemsha Swing by Monk because I could not remember how the original went and for simplicity’s sake I chose C Major for my new tune. It may not be the best key to choose if I was arranging this for big band or small group, but I wanted to do this quickly so C Major was an easy choice.
2) I had to choose a style and tempo for the new tune. I ended up deciding that an easy swing feel would be appropriate for this one. You’ll have to experiment with this though. Try playing the changes faster, slower, swing, latin, bossa, etc. until you get something in your head that will work. This can be pretty intuitive, but let your better judgement be your guide.
3) I analyzed the form structure and chords and determined it was basically AABA form – but the phrases were not 8 bars as a regular standard would be, but only 4 bars. The “B” section went to the 4th above the tonic key (C Major).
4) Along the way, I would have to change a few chords that worked better than the original changes for my new melody. The cool thing about using this technique to write a new tune is that you will unvariably stray from the original changes and insert your own to fit the melody you are writing. This is not only adviseable, its recommended. The original changes give you a quick starting point for you new tune, and you’ll be surprised how fast you can put together an original tune of your own
The video below illustrates a few points of the new tune. You’ll find the “before” and “after” links below the video. The new tune took me about 1/2 hour from start to finish. Its not the greatest tune ever written, but I think it would work great as a small combo tune with some fun chord changes to blow over.
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