Frank Vignola’s course, “Jazz Standard Learning System”, provides an efficient and thorough methodology for learning a jazz ‘standard’ song on guitar.
Frank Vignola is a long-time favorite educator in the jazz guitar space, with some amazing chops and a long record of playing with top jazz personnel. This is someone who knows both how to learn a jazz standard for performance, as well as how to teach.
His new video course does an excellent job of not only talking through a methodology for learning standards, but of providing the resources to help you along the way. He focuses on the classic tune “Take The A Train” by Duke Ellington. Using that tune, he demonstrates each stage of learning the song. The course provides a ton of tablature and playalong tracks to help the student along the way.
If you want to learn more jazz standards and, more importantly, learn them efficiently and thoroughly, then this video course is worth checking.
In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of how Vignola recommends learning a jazz standard on guitar:
The 10 Step Jazz Standard Learning System
1. Learn the Chords to the Song
This is the baseline. It’s tempting for intermediate players to jump right to the melody, chord melody, or trying out some solo material. But there’s no substitute for knowing the form!
2. Learn the Melody to the Song
Learn the melody as it is written. This step can be difficult from both sides:
Some melodies are actually hard to play. Vignola points this out with the fast chromatic lick built into the “Take the A Train” melody.
Other melodies are fairly simple. But this means you have to show restraint to just play as written. No embellishments, no fills – just play the notes.
3. Comping Approach One
Vignola presents two comping approaches. The first one is based on playing on every beat along with the walking bass. But instead of playing full chords, or even 3-note “Freddie Green” chords, Vignola demonstrates using 2-note chords on the 3rd and 4th strings. This approach highlights the ‘shell’ voicing components: the 3rd and 7th notes of each chord voicing.
4. Comping Approach Two
The second comping approach uses the same voicings as in the first approach. But this time it sues a ‘Charleston’ rhythm instead of the steady quarter note rhythm. So you play on the 1 of every bar and the ‘and’ of 2. This is a slightly more modern approach.
5. Embellished Melody One
Again, Vignola gives us two approaches – this time for embellishing the melody. His first approach is rather simple: move the melody down an octave. It’s a great register for the guitar and it will put you an octave below other melody instruments, such as trumpet or sax.
6. Embellished Melody Two
The second embellishment technique is to add comping in between your melody notes. This works great in ‘Take the A Train’, where the long sustained notes in the melody provide plenty of time to throw in some quick chord jabs.
7. Finding the Scale Connections
This lesson is interesting, and deserves a course of it’s own. Vignola combines several concepts here to create a single scale exercise:
- Playing a scale in quarter notes going up for one bar, then turning around and descending the next bar. Back and forth, through the whole form.
- Using the scale notes associated with the chord in your current bar. He seems to assume people will know the right scales for any given chord. E.g. a Dm scale (Dorian? Yes, Dorian.), C Major (Regular Major, not Lydian or Mixolydian? Yes, just vanilla Major).
- Implementing chromatic tones to bridge the gap when transitioning from one scale to another. He doesn’t give much guidance on when to use these, it’s left to the student’s taste.
8. Soloing Approach One
In this soloing approach, Vignola provides a conceptual framework and a specific example to emulate. The conceptual framework is to use the voiceleading inherent in the chord changes as an inspiration for your solo. And the specific example is his full solo, which he breaks down step by step and provides tab for.
9. Soloing Approach Two
The second soloing approach pulls together another set of concepts. The first concept is re-using a riff that the Count Basie Orchestra typically played in their ‘Take the A Train’ arrangements. So this requires a bit of historical jazz knowledge. The second concept is using the blues scale.
Again, Vignola walks you through a full form solo built on those concepts., providing instruction and tab.
10. Chord Melody Arrangement
The final section demonstrates how to play ‘Take the A Train’ as a chord-melody arrangement. Interestingly, Vignola’s demonstration is done over a backing bass/drum track. So, instead of a solo guitar arrangement, it feels more like a chord-melody arrangement for fronting a trio.