How do you read this? (Real Book)

So I am throwing myself in the deep seas once again… As in trying to learn to play jazz with near to nothing experience (not absolutely nothing thanks to @JoshFossgreen and B2B)

I need to study to play with these musicians and explained them how much of a newbie I am. I asked them to give me the material way ahead so that I have time to study…

And all I got was these three pages… They seem too short to be whole songs… Do they repeat somehow? Are they just guidelines?

Help me!


Real book (and most jazz sheet music) give you what’s called the “head”. It’s essentially the melody of the song you remember.

Everything else is improvisation. What is also contained in the sheet music is the chord progression. You use it his to improvise over. The “head”, although a melody, is really a musical idea to use as a foundation for improvisation. How long is the song? How long are you improvising is the answer. You usually play the head again at the end post soloing.

If you are going to play jazz, you might want to start doing some deep listening. This will help you understand the form.


Thanks for the explanation as to what “the head” is @John_E
I’ve been messing around with a few jazz ( and I use the term loosely) tunes and often wondered what it meant


I know I’m the problem here BUT every time I hear the word ‘Jazz’ all I can think of is the TV series The Fast Show - Nice!


Uh, wow. I keep trying to think of something witty to say but… damn. I would have had to hand those pages of alien text right back to them and just excuse my self from the room.

I’m going to punt on this one… @JoshFossgreen @Gio @joergkutter


The only one with a bass ‘head’ is So What.
This is a very iconic bass line.

The others don’t have a bass line as written because there isn’t one.
Every person/band who ever covered it plays it differently or emulates someone who did already.

Even on So What, once you are past the ‘head’ you are on your own to improvise a bass line.
The only thing you need is the chord changes (which you have).
Well, that and complete memorization of scales or at the very least some chord tones in each of the chords.

Listen to each track over and over.
You will hear themes the bassist plays, you can pseudo-emulate, or do your own thing.
Unless you are soloing somewhere in there, your job is to stay in the background for the other soloists and play off the drummer and soloists.

This is NOT easy stuff @Fahri.
Start with root notes and get used to the changes.
So What is a little easier as there are very few chord changes.


I used to love that show @Barney :joy::joy::joy:

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Thanks a lot @John_E you explained it much more simply than 3-4 videos that I have found online!

At first look afro blues seemed easier because of the simpler melody…

Wednesday I’ll take trial lesson and hopefully find simpler ways to go along with others and get better in time.

My walking bass game is nothing super sustainable but if I study I can connect arpeggios quite fine… Let’s see


Yes, as @John_E pretty much has already explained, that page (per song) is all there is (unless you find arrangements for combos or big bands etc. where someone used these ideas and expanded on them and wrote out the harmonies for brass and woodwinds etc.).

So What is a modal piece; it is based off of the dorian mode, and the melody is really just playing the dorian scale. What makes So What kind of easy, but really also tricky, is that it stays on that D-7 chord for a long time, and then modulates up half a step (to Eb-7) for eight bars and then back to D-7. So, it’s an A-A-B-A structure, but all the A’s are on that one chord (D-7). And, yes, the bass plays the melody here (nice exercise) and then, for the solos, you basically have to “agree” with the rest of the rhythm section on a groove - here, I would suggest what John also said: listen to lot of recordings of this tune.

All Blues is, haha, a blues, but it is in 6/8, which might require some getting used to.

Yes, but All Blues has a fairly iconic, “established” bass line that you might want to learn as well! Again, listen to the recordings.

Also, So What is fairly fast, All Blues can be much slower, but Afro Blue is again going at a fairly brisk clip, so these changes are coming at you in a fast pace. Afro Blues looks to have an ABCAB structure with solos on the C section. And it’s in 3/4.

This! It is actually because you don’t have much more information and thus you are supposed to fill in “all the rest” - this makes jazz very interesting, but also challenging.

Maybe a better piece to start with is Blue Bossa and, as started in B2B, Song For My Father.


Here’s a video for So What by Dan Hawkins:

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That’s fantastic! Thanks a lot.


Good luck @Fahri !
Those lead sheets are the jazz musicians short hand. There are a lot of bits in there that are short hand, and it would really help to sit down with an experienced player and go through each chart with a recording of the song.
Having a guide can make a huge difference.
I know that for me, in the early days of playing jazz, listening to the song felt like being lost on the ocean. Everything felt/looked/sounded the same.

Some helpful tips for reading the charts:
Highlight the repeat signs!!
Watch for first and second endings.
If there are no repeat signs, the music repeats from the end, back to the very beginning.
On Afro Blue - the big squiggle with the number 7 means you play 7 bars of F-7 (while someone is improvising melodic ideas).
Again on Afro Blue - the notes at the bottom tell you what to do when the melody has been played and the band moves on to playing solos. There are two options there, so it would be good to know what version the band goes for.

For the bass duties - you’re responsible for playing a bass line to the chords given that sounds good with the groove the band has set up.
If they play it like the recordings, great.
So What is improvised walking the whole time.
All Blues has a written bass line that you need to learn.
Afro Blue has lots of different versions. Coltrane has a 16 bar break, not an 8 bar break. The composer (Mongo Santamaria) has a different arrangement entirely.

The best thing you can do here is make sure you can tell - when listening along to recordings in your practice - what part of the song they are in. Getting lost is part of the learning process, but the most valuable and confidence-building thing you can have playing jazz is the confidence in your ear that if (when) you get lost you can tell what’s happening in the music enough to get back on track.

Best of luck!
Holler if there are any specific questions.


Thanks a lot @joergkutter, after watching the video that @Mikich shared (and a couple of more lessons on So What) I can really tell what is happening more easily… Last friday I went to a Jam session and So What was one of the pieces that came up. When I was listening to this this bass player I was amazed by his skill and presence but after studying the song and reading replies here I felt like he kind of overdid it and did not really supported the band very much… In any case I think he was quite good!

@eric.kiser by the way this video is done with my new mobile setup!

Thank you so much for all the input Gio that will be for sure usefull. I am also all about this “Jazz Guide” idea and actually one of the guitarists there offered me kinda affordable lessons on the subject. Which will be super interesting because I have never had live lessons in person so far…


I never had live, but Zoom lessons, which were great themselves. It is awesome you get a chance to have affordable LIVE lessons in your area. This is exciting, can’t wait to see your progression into jazz.


Yes, I would agree… He could have played a bit less and thus would have helped to get a bit more “solidity” into the jam. Mostly, though, the drummer and the bass player were not really connecting or listening to each other… not sure who is to blame (more) :grin: Probably they haven’t played together at all before!?

Funny how the people in the foreground left as soon as the bass solo started :joy: :rofl: Then again, I am not sure I would have slapped almost from the get-go… or, at all!

But, yeah, it is easy to criticize ans much harder to be there and play :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


Yeah that’s the whole deal actually…

I agree 100%… Also he was one of the only two bass players available at that moment (not counting me) I imagine that he was just enjoying himself


I thought he was playing with as much taste and restraint as everyone else on that stage. It’s a jam session - Turn the fun up to maximum and the worries down to minimum.

He was 100% successful based on the giant smiles on his face.

That was a cool way to play the song - a fun and heavy groove. A bass player’s playground.

Also of note - the saxophone player in that video is playing the melody to a John Coltrane tune that uses the exact same form/chords/changes as So What: Impressions.
Fun stuff!




Some updates on my situation… I put myself to studying the “So What” some days ago and it was pretty easy to get the melody under my fingers including the chord change and I was happy enough…

Thought I can simply study a couple of walking bass options so that when the time comes to play with the other two guys I can at least accompany them. The date was 1st of July.

So I thought to be open and honest about it and wrote them up saying “I have studied this one piece and hope to crack another one of the three by next week, being completely new to the Jazz World it is taking time…”

This must have sounded soo bad for the drummer that the he started a big rant about how one should have years of experience to play jazz and if this is a new world to me he does not want to be in this project anymore…

I am sure I have mentioned several times how much of a beginner I am when we have met and the initial announcement was “Studying Jazz Together” but every time he was replying to me saying “I prefer a 3/10 bassist with enthusiasm to study to a 7/10 with high pretenses”… After his rant he left the whatsapp group. Which was super strange as well because I already told them that I wouldn’t get offended if they don’t find my level adeguate and go on with another bassist so I’d expect to be the one leaving the group…

However in these 8-10 days or so I got really motivated to “go out there and just do it” and found myself in a Jazz Jam last friday (the reason I missed the B2B Hang sadly) and even went on the stage (which was a total disaster but that is another story)… Also the trial lesson I did last night went pretty well so now I just need to understand how much time I can spare on this road…

So the moral of the story is even just the possibility of a new road can present you more options once you start walking it…

Thanks again to all who has been super kind sharing their knowledge


Good on ya for going to the jam and having a go @Fahri . Definitely got bigger balls than me especially when it comes to jazz.
As for the drummer, all I’m going to say is that some can be strange animals and leave it at that :joy: