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Top 10 Best Jazz Transcriptions to Learn From

Making transcriptions is crucial in your quest to becoming a better musician. It teaches you the jazz language, how to improvise and so much more. But how do you know which are the best to study? Below you will find the top 10 best jazz transcriptions to learn from!

1. What Is This Thing Called Love? – Red Garland

What Is This Thing Called Love? is one of the best jazz transcriptions to learn from. Studying this recording from Red Garland has taught me a lot about jazz piano. It was one of the first jazz recordings that I listened to and I still love it today. His famous solo is a textbook example of how to play a jazz improvisation.

Red Garland begins his solo at 0.33 with a solo break of two bars. He then plays two choruses over the form. You will notice his long melodic eight note lines over the changes. He plays them in Bebop style, but sometimes adds some blues to it. What makes his way of playing really unique is how he phrases the notes and his fantastic sense of swing!

2. Freddie Freeloader – Wynton Kelly

Wynton Kelly’s solo on Freddie Freeloader from the legendary Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, is another masterclass in swing and jazz piano playing. Right after the band stops playing the theme, Kelly shows everyone how to play the blues in the following four choruses.

His solo begins at 0.45. Listen to his clear phrasing style and some of the great piano licks that you can use in your own playing. Wynton Kelly knew very well how to combine blues and jazz to make it swing.

3. Danny Boy – Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett’s version of the traditional song Danny Boy from his Tokyo Solo concert in 2002 is exceptionally beautiful and moving. Jarrett is really playing from the heart and improvising in the moment. His sense of time is also wonderfull with an emphasis on the melody.

Very interesting are also his voicings and reharmonizations of certain parts. You can hear this for example in the fourth bar when he plays a Dbma7(#11) chord, which sounds very surprising.

The recording of Keith Jarrett is very similar to the recording of Bill Evans from 1962, but differs because of style, ideas and arrangement of Jarrett. The tonal center in his recording is F major and in Evans recording it is Bb. When Keith Jarrett plays the theme for the second time he briefly goes to Ab major to return to the original key in the B part.

4. Segment – Kenny Barron

The recording of Segment by Kenny Barron in collaboration with Dave Holland from 2014 sounds as a real conversation. Without drums, you can hear the vivid dialogue between piano and bass.

The piano solo starts at 0.35 with a solo break of two bars. Barron then plays three choruses over the form. In his improvisation you hear his fluid Bebop phrases, outlining of the chord progression and lots of creativity. His modern sound and jazz piano playing is very recognizable.

If you pay close attention to the way he phrases the notes, it can certainly help to improve your jazz piano playing.

5. Looking Up – Michel Petrucciani

The Latin composition Looking Up by Michel Petrucciani is a great piece of music to learn. As the title suggests, it is an optimistic piece filled with joy and positivity. Listen to the original recording from 1989 and get inspired by his wonderful piano solo.

Looking Up is one of Petrucciani’s best known compositions and he recorded it many times during his career. It has also been covered by various artists.

During my jazz piano studies at the conservatory I wrote my research about Michel Petrucciani. You can find my publication about Petrucciani here.

6. You Must Believe in Spring – Bill Evans

Bill Evans version of You Must Believe In Spring is a lovely rendition of the popular song by Michel Legrand. The song originally comes from the 1967 French comedy film Les Demoiselles de Rochefort that was written and directed by Jacques Demy.

Evans starts the song alone and freely, after which Eddie Gomez joins in the next section. The song really starts in time with the beautiful bass solo by Eddie Gomez, where he reproduces the original melody of the song. At that moment the drums of Eliot Zigmund also join, while Bill Evans masterfully accompanies the solo of Gomez in the background with rich harmonies.

The piano solo of Bill starts at 2.56 when he plays two choruses over the form to finally return to the last section of the theme. Many features of Bill Evans unique playing style can be found in this recording, such as rhythmic displacements and his trademark ”singing” melodic lines.

7. Celia – Benny Green

Listen to Benny Green’s version of Bud Powell’s Celia from 1993 album That’s Right and you’ll notice his joy and enthusiasm. In a very fast swing tempo he plays fluid Bebop lines in his own style that would make Bud proud.

What makes this recording special is that there happens a lot and Benny employs several interesting piano techniques. For example, in the third and fourth chorus Benny plays very hip unison piano lines. This technique is not easy to do as a pianist and Benny is an expert in it.

In the fifth chorus there is a stop chorus. The bass and drums drop out and Benny continues his solo while playing a walking bass in the left hand. In the seventh chorus he even plays a stride chorus. He then returns to the interlude of the theme, when the rest of bandmembers join again. Enough reasons to be in the top 10 of best jazz transcriptions to learn from.

8. Blue Skies – Art Tatum

Art Tatum was years ahead of his time and you can hear this well in his beautiful version of Blue Skies by Irving Berlin. His unsurpassed technique, swing and stride playing are all present in this recording.

Tatum needs no introduction in the world of jazz as he is widely regarded as the greatest jazz pianist of all time. The recordings of Art Tatum still have the ability to scare modern day pianists.

9. Line Up – Lennie Tristano

Lennie Tristano’s Line Up is a famous improvisation over the changes of All of Me. Tristano recorded the track for the eponymous 1956 album Lennie Tristano and used some techniques that were controversial at the time.

These techniques include overdubbing and speed manipulation. Tristano first recorded the drums and bass. He then slowed them down and recorded the piano part in a lower register. After this he sped everything up to the original tempo with the piano sounding much more darker and percussive then before. Tristano then goes on to play seven choruses over the form.

Rhythm displacement is a key concept in this recording. You can hear this for example in bar 9. Also harmonically there is happening a lot with chordal substitutes and complex lines that are worth investigating.

10. Lush Life – Phineas Newborn Jr.

The Billy Strayhorn classic Lush Life as played by Phineas Newborn Jr. is a real jazz masterpiece and certainly one of the best jazz transcriptions to learn from. A slow and elegant song with a New York feel to it. Newborn recorded his virtuosic version in 1961 for the album A World of Piano!

The track starts with the beginning of Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine 2nd movement in a fast tempo. It then turns into the verse of Lush Life when Newborn uses many improvised lines in contrary motion, reharmonizations and form embellishments. This continuous throughout the whole song. The band enters in the chorus and in the second chorus Newborn uses even more variation to the theme.

Now it is your turn…

The best way to find jazz transcriptions to learn from is to follow your heart and intuition. You should listen to as many different musicians as you can and not limit yourself to a few.

There really is great music out there and I hope this list has inspired you. Now it is your turn to find your favorites and remember to always keep your ears open.

Why Storytelling is Important for Your Jazz Improvisation

Many of the greatest jazz musicians were storytellers. When they played their instrument, they had something to say. Why is storytelling important for your jazz improvisation?

In this article I will take a closer look at storytelling and what it can do for you!

A history of Storytelling

Storytelling is something we do all the time. We humans all love a great story. Stories have the power to inspire us, to move us and to emotionally connect us with each other.

It is also one of the oldest communication forms. Even older than writing and language. Stories can be found back on rock carvings and wall paintings from ancient civilizations all around the world, like the Mayas and the Egyptians. Also famous are the cave paintings from Lascaux. They give us a detailed visual representation of how the people in their time saw and understood the world around them.

Lascaux Painting Storytelling

This later changed to oral traditions of telling stories from generation to generation. These traditions could be in many forms such as a special language, chant or even poetry. A good example of these traditions are the myths passed on by the Native American cultures. Eventually these myths were written down and published.

In the world we live today stories are everywhere around us. Thanks to technology such as the printing press, the camera, the computer and the internet, stories have become a true experience. People can share their own stories via social media; something that is very popular these days. Stories have become more accessible then ever before.

Storytelling in Music

Telling a story through music is in fact no different. Music connects people in many ways and has the ability to convey emotions. The way you tell a story in music can really have an impact on the listener.

This is what the great jazzpianist Mulgrew Miller once said in an interview:

”I play music because music is my passion. If one’s honest, one plays what one is. I have a desire to tell a story and impart beauty to the listener.”

– Mulgrew Miller

The great saxophonist Lester Young told his young students that every good jazz solist must tell a story. He also pointed out the importance of knowing the lyrics when playing a ballad with feeling. He is famous for saying:

”You’re technically hip… But what is your story?”

– Lester Young

It becomes clear that storytelling in music is not so much about what you say, but how you say it. A way of playing that resonates with the heart and soul of the listener.

The structure of your story

Another important aspect is the structure of your story.

Most stories follow a general pattern where the story is divided into three parts. It is almost like playing a game of chess. It starts with an opening, then the middlegame and finally the endgame.

Let’s take a more detailed look how the structure of your story should work out in practice:

  • The Beginning: It is usually good to start with a strong opening statement. This is usually the first idea that comes to your mind, which can be a melodie or rhythm. It is always good to start with confidence and focus as this right away build up engagement with your band and audience. Starting with the right mindset is crucial for a succesful solo. I remember that the well-known bassist John Clayton once said in a masterclass I visited that when you don’t have any ideas to start your solo, you can always use some ideas from the solist who was playing before you.
  • The Middle: Now you are going to develop the first idea further and go to different places. You can try to vary your solo rhythmically and harmonically. Taking risks is a good thing and always playing in the moment and being aware of your surroundings. The story continues to reach a climax where there is a lot of energy involved in the form of more volume and higher notes.
  • The End: At this moment the solo is going to end and the tension quickly falls. The volume goes down. Perhaps you can give a surprising twist to your solo in the end or repeat some ideas of the opening statement.

This is of course just a general guideline as there are many ways to structure your jazz improvisation.

Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul

A famous example of this is the Coleman Hawkins saxophone solo from his 1939 Body and Soul recording. This ballad has an AABA structure (each section lasting 8 bars) and Coleman plays the form twice. Note that he only plays the theme for 8 bars and then starts improvising around the theme.

You can listen to the recording here:

This way of soloing was revolutionary for this time. Hawkins really tells a story that speaks to the listener.

What are the next steps?

Remember, you should take everything step by step. Sometimes you will play a very nice solo and the other time it will be worse. This is all normal and an important part of the learning process.

Besides storytelling, there are more ways to improve your jazz improvisation. See my article: 5 Ways to Improve Your Jazz Improvisation

Hopefully, after reading this article, you will have enough information to start creating some great stories yourself!

5 Ways to Improve Your Jazz Improvisation

One question that I regularly get from people is that they wonder what to do to improve their jazz improvisation.

They tell me that they are not satisfied with their way of improvising and that it does not sound like the recordings of their favorite jazz heroes.

No worries! Below you will find 5 ways to improve your jazz improvisation in no time.

# 1: Listening to jazz music

The most important way to improve your jazz improvisation is by listening to jazz music.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, this is often overlooked by many people. However, they study their scales, standards from a realbook and play-alongs, but forget one thing: listen. A lack of this is often the reason that it does not work with the jazz improvisation.

Listening is essential to learning and understanding the basic concepts of the jazz language. It answers questions such as: What does swing mean? How does a blues sound? How do you articulate in jazz? What is a good sound? How do you build a jazzimprovision?

In addition, listening to jazz music makes us inspired and influenced by our favorite jazz musicians. You propably recognize the moment; after listening for a long time listening to music or after seeing a concert you suddenly get better. In fact, you play exactly the same as the musician you listened to! This miraculous absorption of sound, swing, articulation is due to the power of concentrated listening.

The beauty of all this is that you do not even need an instrument. By simply listening, you will notice that this will affect your jazz improvisation in different ways.

# 2: Transcribing

Another way to improve your jazz improvisation is by transcribing. On the basis of a recording you will find out how someone plays something in order to play it yourself or write it down.

Would you like to learn a jazz standard, steal a solo or some ‘lick’ of someone? Transcribing gives you the answer.

Of course, this process is not just about copying information. You can also combine what you learn with your own creativity. In this way you can build your own style with influences from other musicians.

Also read my article: Transcribing: What is it and why should you do it? In that I’m going to take a look at transcribing more extensively.

# 3: Practice, practice and practice again

Learning to play this music requires a lot of dedication. In order to achieve something you will have to spend a lot of time. This means that if you want to become a better player and improviser, you will have to practice, practice and practice again.

‘’You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.’’

– Charlie Parker

When you go to your exercise room, you have the choice of studying. What are you going to practice today? How long will you practice? In addition, it’s important to know what’s relevant to you to get the most out of it.

Below are some points of interest for a successful (daily) workout.

Example of a practice schedule

  • Technique: Develop a good technique on your instrument. This is very important so that you are able to play anything whatever you want. You can practice technique by doing exercises like scales, arpeggio’s (broken chords), classical works and etudes. Of course, it is a good idea to use a metronome. By technique, not only is speed meant. Having a beautiful tone (pitch), loud and soft playing (dynamics) and exercises to play in tune are at least as important!
  • Jazz technique: work next to the traditional technique also on techniques and exercises from a jazz context. Think of practicing II-V-I patterns, voicings, articulation and rhythm. Pianists must often be able to play spontaneous intros and ends, be able to transpose to another key and accompany themselves with, for example, a walking bass. By using different jazz techniques in your improvisation, you can make it more interesting.
  • Repertoire: building a repertoire of jazz standards. Learning a jazz standard teaches you a lot about the jazz language and the history of jazz music. In addition, it helps you prepare well for a jam session; jazz standards are often played there.
  • Backing tracks: Practice your jazz improvisation by playing backing tracks. A well-known example of this are the backing tracks by Jamey Aebersold’s.
  • Listening: Get inspired and listen to the music you want to learn and understand.
  • Transcribe: Find out music by your ears and record or write it down.
  • Record yourself: To know how to sound and whether you’re making progress, it’s a good idea to make a sound recording or video recording of yourself. This can be done during a practice session, rehearsal or performance by using your phone.

# 4: Using Backing Tracks

A backing track – also called jam track or play-along – is a recorded musical accompaniment that you can use to improvise.

These are often played by great musicians. Very useful if there are no other musicians in the area to play together.

Using backing tracks allows you to practice your jazz improvisation and improvise on the chord progressions of a piece of music. In addition, they make a good preparation for performances and jam sessions.

A well-known example is are the backing tracks by Jamey Aebersold. This method is known as the most widely used improvisation method on the market.

A disadvantage of using backing tracks is that they are not always available in the correct key and pace. In this case, a program like iReal Pro may provide a result. This allows you to easily change items like chords, pace, size, and key. This program is available for computer (Mac), phone and tablet.

Backing tracks are all over on YouTube. You can of course always decide to make one yourself …

# 5: Tell a story in your jazz improvisation

Famous jazz musicians often talk about telling a story in a solo. That you as a musician must have something to say. What do they mean by this?

Telling a musical story simply means that a solo must have a logical structure. There is a beginning, middle and conclusion. It’s not so much about what you say, but how you say it. A way of playing that resonates with the heart and soul of the listener.

A famous example of this is the Coleman Hawkins saxophone solo from his 1939 Body and Soul recording. This way of soloing was revolutionary for this time. Hawkins really tells a story that speaks to the listener.

One of my personal favorites is the fantastic piano solo by Michel Petrucciani from his 1989 Looking Up recording. In his solo you can hear a clear story that immediately speaks to the heart.

Tell a story in your jazz improvisation and you’ll see people responding positively.

Also read my article: Why Storytelling is Important for Your Jazz Improvisation

Start today to improve your jazz improvisation!

Use these tips today, and you’ll see that you’ll improve jazz improvision in a short while.


What do you think of the tips above? Do you use them already or do you have a question?

I’m curious! In the comments below you can tell everything about it.

Transcribing: What Is It and Why Should You Do It?

Transcribing is an effective way to learn jazz.

In fact, all musicians do it from time to time. But what is it? And why should you do it?

In this article, I’ll tell you exactly why transcribing can help you and how to apply this to your own music.

What is it?

Transcribing literally means overwriting.

Someone who makes transcriptions is called a transcriber. You find transcribing in many different forms.

In biology, transcribing means copying genetic information from DNA to RNA.

In linguistics, this term means converting speech into written form. One might think of writing down an interview, a monologue or a meeting. On the basis of recordings, a report is subsequently made.

The result is a transcription that can be used for qualitative research or for other purposes.

Transcribing in music

In music, transcription has two well-known forms.

In classical music, this means rewriting a piece of music to another instrument or ensemble. A good example of this is are the transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies by Franz Liszt. In these works Liszt has converted the notes played by the orchestra to piano.

This method of converting is also close to arranging. The difference is that transcribing remains very loyal to the original score, while with arranging there are more freedoms in order to adjust or modify elements.

Transcribing in jazz music means converting a recording to sheet music. An example of this is writing down a jazz improvisation or theme.

During this process, you will listen carefully to which notes the musicians play. Then you write them down on paper.

In many cases, the jazz music is notated in the form of a lead sheet. This is a score that usually contains only the melody line with chord symbols. Leadsheets are often found in the Real Book. Here you will find a collection of transcribed jazz compositions.

On this website you will find mainly complete written scores of pieces of music. View my collection of transcriptions here.

Why should you do it?

The main reason is to learn the jazz language.

You should also do it to be influenced by your favorite musicians, to improve your technique on your instrument and to learn to listen on a deeper level. There are many reasons to consider.

For a jazz musician, transcribering is the way to learn all the aspects of this language and make it your own.

Just like learning each new language, this takes a lot of time and dedication. This is certainly not easy for everyone. Before you can communicate on a high level with others, you will have to practice a lot.

I can tell from my own experience that you will be delighted to learn the jazz language.

“Jazz is one of the few things you can do in society and express yourself freely and creativily.”

– Mulgrew Miller

Unlike classical music, jazz music does not always contain a score of the piece of music. Knowing how to transcribe yourself can help you a lot. Read my article: 7 tips for making great jazz transcriptions.

Finding your own style

Why should I transcribe if I want to find my own style?

Many jazz musicians strive to find their own recognizable style with which they can distinguish themselves from the competition.

Copying from other musicians does not seem to be the solution. You want to keep your own style as much as possible and do not want to let it change through external influences.

The truth is, however, that you can only have your own style if you’ve listened to recordings by other musicians and have imitated them.

By transcribing you will discover what suits you and does not fit with yourself. Everything you learn you can then mix again with your own music and compositions. In this way, you develop a critical music taste that will determine your ultimate style.

So you do not have to worry about transcribing at the expense of finding your own style. On the contrary, it will only get better.

An example of someone who was always busy with innovation and influences from outside was trumpeter Miles Davis. As a musician, he had experienced almost all developments in the jazz since World War II. Despite everything, his style was always immediately recognizable.

All musicians transcribe from time to time

In the beginning of the article I wrote it already; namely that all musicians transcribe from time to time.

By this I also mean the well-known musicians. Some of them say in interviews they have never been transcribed, but actually they did.

It does not necessarily matter if you write it down or not. This is a misconception that sometimes exists about making transcriptions. Some musicians know whole solos by heart and have not put a single note on paper.

The way you take the information is different for everyone. An advantage of writing it down is that others can study the transcription again.

In addition, everyone has his favorite players and examples in jazz. These people are the reason why you play jazz and they make sure you’re always inspired.


Transcribing is more than just a writing process.

It helps you with the jazz language and playing, but especially to get to know yourself better.

Is transcribing than the answer to everything? No, it is not. Transcribing is only the starting point.

Ultimately, it’s about what you want to accomplish with it. If you’ve learned something valuable by transcribing, you’re already on the right track. Keep developing and inspired.

And do not forget to share your succes with others.

7 Tips for Making Awesome Jazz Transcriptions

Making jazz transcriptions is a great way to improve your playing and understanding of jazz music.

It helps to bring improvisation ideas of top musicians into your own improvisations and you are actively engaged in learning the jazz language. In addition, it’s very good for the development of your musical ear. This is because you are concentrated on listening to the musical elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics and timbre (sound color).

Making jazz transcripts is not always easy. What do you need to keep in mind when making a transcription? Here are 7 tips for making awesome jazz transcriptions that you can apply immediately.

#1: Use tools to slow down the music

When you are transcribing a piece of music you will find that the recording is often too fast. This will really be a problem if there are many notes played at a high tempo. Fortunately, there are some tools to slow down the music:

  • Transcribe! is probably the best-known program to slow down the music. In addition, the program has many possibilities, such as changing the pitch and looping certain sections within the track. This way you do not have to manually rewind every time. Transcribe! Is available for an affordable price.
  • Audacity is a free program to record and edit music. You can also use this program to slow down music and loop certain sections, but it is not specifically intended for transcriptions.
  • Youtube has a handy feature to slow down the music of videos. You simply search for a video on Youtube that you want to slow down or speed up. Then click on the control bar ‘settings’ at the rightbottom of the video. Click on ‘speed’ and now you can choose between 0.5 which is half the speed or 1.0 which is the normal speed.

#2: Take your time to listen!

Making a transcription can be a real challenge. Finding the right notes of a particular solo or the right rhythm can take hours before you get it right. That’s why you really need to take your time.


Do not just listen to which notes are played, but also to how the notes are being phrased. Phrasing is the way in which a musical sentence is articulated. This allows you to get a lot of information and a better understanding of the musician that you are transcribing.

In the long run, this process will go faster because you train your musical ear. Transcribing will be easier the more you do it.

Also read my article: Transcribing: What Is It and Why Should You Do It?

#3: Listen to the bass tones and tonality

Determining the tonality can greatly help you when finding out a piece of music. By doing this in an early stage, you can understand the rest of the piece much better. You find the tonality by listening carefully to the bass tones that determine the foundation of the harmony.

Make sure you have a good sound system, so that all bass tones are easily hearable. Another possibility is to use headphones.

#4: Make use of a notation program to notate transcriptions

Of course it’s fine to notate your transcriptions on paper, but it works much faster if you use a notation program. In addition, you can immediately listen back to the work you have done. This is useful, for example, if you want to find a complicated rhythm. You can convert the recorded music to midi or audio files and print it directly. There are many different notation programs, but the most well-known are Sibelius and Finale.

Also, this immediately looks a lot more professional. You will definitely impress the audience with your own transcription.

#5: Check if it is feasible

Before you start making a transcription, it’s a good idea to see if it’s at all feasible what you want to transcribe. In some cases it’s just too much work or almost impossible to do. So be sure you can do it.

jazz transcriptions homer simpson

For example, a very long piece of music or an unclear recording. In this situation, you can always consider making a shorter or adapted transcription of the piece of music.

#6: Provide an ergonomic work environment

Making a transcription can sometimes be a demanding task. Often you have been focused on listening and writing for a long time. Always take care of an ergonomic work environment. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Position your chair so that you are in a straight position behind the computer or piano. It can help to lean backwards in a greater angle than 90 °.
  • Put your shoulders in a relaxed position and try not to pull them up.
  • Make sure both feet are comfortably placed on the ground. The position of your feet ensures that your body and posture are in balance.
  • Use a long headphone cable when working with headphones. This way you do not have to turn your head in order to keep in a good position. As a result, you reduce neck problems and work more efficiently.
  • Take a break regularly. It can really do well to walk for a moment after 50 minutes, move a bit and give your eyes and ears some rest. Drink or eat something. It is advisable to do something completely different during the break.

#7: Be critical, but not too critical

Of course, it’s good to be critical of your work, but being too critical can delay everything unnecessarily. Sometimes the recording is unclear and then you can not hear everything right. First, try working on the simpler sections and wait with the difficult sections. You can always pay attention to this later.

It’s almost impossible to transcribe something perfectly with just a sound recording. Making amazing jazz transcriptions is not always at your fingertips. But with some experience you will notice that you will get closer every time!

What do you think of this article and these tips? Do you use them already?

I would like to hear from you in the comments below!