Progressions: A Guide to Making Practice Productive and Fun

Q: I’m just now three weeks in to my bass lessons so I apologize for the “newb” question. Where can I go to find songs in a specific chord progression that I can play along with? For instance, I’ve learned 12 bar blues in G Major. Now I’m doing web searches to find tunes I can apply what I’ve learned. Lots of sites provide tabs, but I can’t seem to find one that lets me search for something so specific. What do you recommend?

A: First things first: never apologize for asking a question, or for being a newbie. And good for you for being so proactive in your quest!

I think the best place to look for progressions of any kind is the Real Book, which has lead sheets for hundreds of tunes of all types, especially if you get an older version. I like the 6th edition in bass clef, which you can find on Amazon or other places that sell books of that sort.

In addition to the chord changes, you’ll also get the melodies, which is great for exploring reading notation. This book has everything from 12 bar blues to Stevie Wonder tunes to Beatles tunes, but it focuses largely on jazz standards.

The tunes aren’t organized by style or anything, but you can easily flip through until you find what you something that fits.

Specifically for blues, there are also blues real books as well.

If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, there’s one thing better than the Real Book, and that’s the Real Book-style app, iRealB (check out my review of the app).

iRealB also has a Macintosh version of the application, which is fantastic.

Not only does iRealB give you access to every one of the songs from the Real Book (once you download them from the forum), it has a play-along (a la band-in-a-box) feature that allows you to set tempo, style and mix in and out whatever instruments you wish. This is fanastic for practicing to changes.

The app also allows you to make your own chord charts and have it play those changes back for you to play along. It even comes with dozens of practice chord change types (including the blues) before you ever even get to the forum to download other collections of tunes.

I can’t recommend this app enough as a study aid. I still recommend that you get a physical Real Book too, or if you’re not an “Apple person” and don’t do Mac or iOS.

Also, thousands of charts have been added to the forum by other users so you can often find other tunes that you may be looking for or even request them of someone there. Most of all, have fun!

Readers, which tools or routines work for you when practicing playing through changes? Tell us about it in the comments.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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Share your thoughts

  1. “Band in a Box” is what I use. Enter the chords and style of music you want and it gives you a bunch of instruments that vamp on those chords. great for practice especially with walking as it’s what I use. start it slow in the key and slowly speed it up. you can change the amount of times it goes round, if you want a soloist from trumpet to vibes and even writes lines for you which you can play along with to practice sight reading.

    • The problem with both BIAB and iRealB is that there’s no human time feeling in either. BIAB has gotten much better, but both of these solutions don’t offer players the experience of playing with other real humans.

  2. For those that don’t have a device, thousands of chord charts are available at; http://www.jazzstudies.us

  3. there’s a simple tool for windows: Chord Pulse –> http://www.chordpulse.com/ very easy to use, do not cost too much… but sounds sometimes awfull, anyway this can be an option for those who can’t pay for Band In a Box, and still don’t have Ithings… for poor bassists, as me lol.

  4. It should be noted that irealb is also available for Android. It will be the most educational 10 dollars (roughly) you ever spend!

  5. Also, you can find out the chord changes of tunes you like (and know well, which helps in trascribing them) write them down in a “real book style” and do exercises on those! The same thing applies for you OWN tunes, if you have any.

  6. It is a wonderful resource…

  7. An awesome post! Thanks a lot!

  8. At my site, http://www.playjazznow.com, you can get FREE chord charts for hundreds of progressions, and purchase backing tracks played by live musicians.

  9. http://www.realbook.us/ is also a great resource. It’s free and also features a very simple midi player which is quite useful.