How to write a jazz etude


Have you ever looked  at chord changes and had no idea what to do? Have you ever taken a solo, and it sounded like you were playing a different song than the rest of the band? Jazz solos are usually spontaneously created, but if you don't know what to play, writing out a jazz etude is a great place to start.


0.  Start by writing either a one step or two step blues etude

1.  Pick a tune from our guided lead sheet page.

2.  Boil down changes

WTF - what the function?  Some lead sheets or big band charts have a lot of unnecessary harmonic information. 


3.  Identify and classify ii-V's


Find the ii-V chord progressions in the chart.  Look for minor 7 to dominant 7 to major 7 chord qualities that have roots which are a fourth interval apart.  To find the key center of a ii-v without a I, go up a fourth interval from the dominant 7 chord. 

The ii chord in a minor key is a minor 7b5 (ø7) and the V chord is a 7b9.  


4.  Choose a lick and transpose it to the correct key.

5.  Write licks for non ii-V based chord changes

6.  Connect licks

Using the same lick over a new chord or using the same lick over a different part of the chord is called a sequence.  Sequences can be either diatonic (in the key) or chromatic (outside of the key).


Certain notes in a chord have a tendency to lead to a particular note in the following chord.  The 3rd of one chord leads to the 7th of the next or vice versa.  The 5th and 9th have the same relationship.  Using these tendencies when going from one lick to the next helps keep continuity in your lines.   


The only way for an etude to work is to make it sound like YOUR solo.  Memorize it and be able to play it at multiple tempos.  Sing your solo. Test yourself and try to write out your solo IN A DIFFERENT KEY!


Listening is the best way to get the sound and feel of jazz into your ear and into your playing.  Here are some listening examples to get you started.  Find one tune you like and dig in.  Don't just listen to it once!   Work on transcribing your own licks using our guided transcription page.  Transcribing is THE BEST thing you can do to improve your ear and to acquire new language.  


See You In The Shed