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Jazz Lingo - Common Jazz Terms

The Jazz Guitar Lessons

Know your standard changes and blow some lines you jazz cat

When I first encountered jazz I was a bit baffled by all the terms being used and had to ask one of my older jazzer mates to sit down an explain some stuff to me - so I thought I'd give you a heads up on the commonly used lingo.

Video Lesson


Playing The Song

A Standard is a song that is commonly used as a basis for improvisation, considered the standard repertiore for a jazz musician. The standards are not clearly defined and most players would have their own set of Standards they like to play and consider 'essential', but it varies from player to player. Many standards were show tunes from musicals between 1930-1950.

Real Book (Fake Book)
Are sheet music books that contain melodies, chords and sometimes lyrics to popular standards. There are several different editions, covered in the previous lesson in this series.

Is what you find in The Real Books, the chart is the sheet music for a song. "Have you got a chart for that?".

The head is the melody of the song, usually played at the beginning and the end of an improvisation performance. You'll hear people say "I'll play the head at the start and you take it at the end after Johnny's taken his solo".

The changes are the chord progressions used in a song. It's a reference to the either or both the changes of chord and changes of key.

Rhythm Changes
Is a specific set of chord changes that were first used in "I Got Rhythm" by George Gershwin and has since been used as the chord progression for many heads including Oleo, Anthropology, Cotton Tail and even Meet The Flinstones!!

A Section
The first part of the melody is often called the A Section. A very common jazz structure (also called form) is AABA, where the initial melody is played twice, then the Bridge (B) is played and then the A Section is played again. The structure is usually used for the solos as well as the head.

Bridge (or B Section)
Is a new set of changes and melody in the song. Some songs don't have a B Section, some will have even more sections (C Section etc). Always worth looking at the form of any standard you learn.


Blow (or blowing)
Is a commonly used term for taking a solo, I guess it comes from trumpet and sax players that have to blow to make a sound, but you'll commonly hear phrases like "these are a nice set of changes to blow over" coming from a piano player.

Jazz licks are often called lines, they are uually a bit longer than a standard blues lick, and often follow a set of chord changes rather than a short lick that fits over one chord.

Your chops are your technique, having great chops means you have good technique. Used in all styles but you hear it a lot in jazz.

Outside (or getting out)
Moving outside when you use notes 'outside' the normal harmony to create dissonance that you should probably resolve.

Woodshed (or shedding)
Is locking yourself away and practicing. It's all about practice and if you want to play jazz you will have to lock yourself away for many hours in the shed practicing your chops and your lines!

The Group

Is the combination of musicians in a group, sometimes used like rock musicians would use the word 'band' but jazz musicians are often in many groups at once so the band term doesn't really fit... like "the combo that played last week at the Blue Note was awesome".

In The Pocket
When a band is playing really tight and locked into a great swing groove so you really feel it, it's "in the pocket".

Train Wreck
When someone gets lost or there is disagreement about where the group should be in a song you get a train wreck, different people playing different parts of the song at the same time. Can be pretty scary, I've been involved in a few :) however they are best avoided.

For some reason jazz players I used to hang out with all called other jazz musicians cats. Appeared in a lot of jazz books I've read too but uncertain if it's universally used.







Lesson ID: JA-005