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Valuable Tips And Hints To Help Learn, “Autumn Leaves”

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Guitarist Larry Tamanini shares some tips and hints to help learn the ‘standard of standards’ – “Autumn Leaves”.

What’s Up, Jazz Guitar Friends!? Larry Tamanini here writing for Jazz Guitar Today and happy to share some tips and hints to help learn the most standard”y” of all jazz standards, “Autumn Leaves”. 

 If you are new to jazz guitar and have spent time playing gigs in Blues, Rock, or any other kind of bands- it can be quite intimidating to navigate any jazz chart, and “Autumn Leaves” seems to be the first jazz standard most people will encounter. There are many excellent reasons for that since the melody has a nice call and response part in the A sections and it is one of the more thoroughly composed 32-bar songs ever written. 

Here are some great tips before we jump in –

1. FORM- Autumn Leaves is a 32-bar AAB song form with 2 repeated A sections and 1 long 16-bar B section that can be broken up into two parts.

2. HARMONIC TERRAIN-  AL is a minor key tune that starts major and resolves to the relative minor. This cycle reverses itself in the B section so realizing that you will be outlining ii-V’s of a tonic and its relative minor is essential

3. PICK-UP NOTES- The melody to this song has a 3-beat pick-up starting on beat 2. If you are coming from a tab or beginner background it can be really hard to get the boat out of the port if you don’t know how to start.

Alright! Let’s jump into the leaves!!

We’re going to learn this one in G minor and understanding the relationship that Gminor and its relative major Bb have is essential to understanding how this song functions. Since most jazz standards move in 4 bar phrases we are going to map out are ii-v’s the same way. 


Understanding how these harmonic phrases work with each other is the key component to learning Autumn Leaves.  Sad ii-V (minor) Happy ii-V (Major) 

The way this song starts out is just like summer turning into fall. The opening four bars of this tune are just like the early days of autumn and an extension of the summer, bright and happy with that ii-V-I-IV in Bb (C-7/F7/Bbmajor/Ebmajor/) but the next 4 bars are sad resolving back to G minor just like the weather…. It’s getting colder, the leaves are changing and get the rake out for all those leaves on the relative minor( /A-7b5/D7/Gminor/Gminor/). 

Let’s revisit the melody now: The pick-up notes G-A-Bb clearly establish the key and ensuing call and response motif that happens with the 3-note scalular ascending pattern that resolves to the third of every other chord. G-A-Bb to Eb(3rd of Cminor) F-G-A to D(3rd of Bb major) Eb-F-G to C (third of A-7b5) and finally D-E-F# to Bb (third of Gminor). The second time through the melody resolves itself to a G note but it’s a pretty brilliant melody with a very noticeable pattern once you break it down.

Our first 8 bars of the B section are the complete opposite of our A section starting with a 4 bar ii-V in G minor followed by a 4 bar ii-V in Bb. It moves just like the season. Imagine you are in the middle of fall and it’s getting cold, starting in the B you play those first 4 bars and get to the major part and it’s like that last week in October when it gets up to 60 degrees but get the rake ready dude, she’s not coming back and the last 8 bars are all based around Gminor and a few turnarounds to keep it interesting. Lyrically we’re at the “and I miss you most of all” part with another 4 bar minor ii-V-i 


The whole point of this ii-V is to get me to that last A-7b5 and here are 2 ways to try and both achieve the same goal. One is stepwise and the other is chromatic (try both and try to get some cool lines on top if you want a fun comp exercise) The final 4 bars of this song are another 4 bar ii-V7-i in G minor and at this point of the tune, you should feel pretty confident about understanding how those ii-v’s are working.

In conclusion “Autumn Leaves” is an amazingly crafted simple tune that has been around since 1946 for a reason and I believe that it is one of the best melodies ever written. Also, an excellent tune to use as a litmus test to see how you can handle getting into jazz guitar – a few other tips would be to learn the lyrics and listen to a few versions, try to learn as much as you can about the song and once you get comfortable in G Minor try to move it to another key because guitar players love doing this one in E minor for those big open strings!!! 

Some of my favorite recordings of this great song are:

Bireli Lagrene -Live in Marciac

Cannonball Adderly- Somethin’ Else

Bobby Timmons  – In Person

Jimmy Bruno “Lionel’s Hat” – Sleight of hand

More about Larry Tamanini at: www.LTjazz.com and www.YouTube.com/@LTJazzGuitar


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