Unlike traditional music scores, Lead Sheets emerged less than 100 years ago as a new system of representing music coinciding with the birth of jazz in the United States.   Jazz musicians found that traditional music didnít and couldnít meet their needs, so they developed a more flexible chord-based system resulting in this new written style.

A Lead Sheet is a simple score that shows the bare essentials of a piece of music and usually contains the melody with Lyrics (if any), Chord symbols, Key & Time Signatures.   It outlines the structure of the song showing the various sections with repeats, codas and so on.   Often, Letters in a square Box such as A, B, C represent the sections of the song and can be used to decide on how a version of the song will progress to be performed.   For example, A - A - B - A - B - C.

Any musician can use a lead sheet to develop their part - Guitar, Bass, Saxophone, Keyboard, Drums and so on.   Leads sheets were compiled into a collection called a Fake Book with the Real Book, which everybody seemed to have a copy of, became almost the industry standard for Jazz.   For many years this book was actually "illegal", which legend has that the book started as a pass-around at the Berklee College of Music in the í70ís and then spread from there.   It contains a large variety of tunes from the first 40-55 years of jazz.   It also features some compositions from more modern jazz composers of the í70ís.

It was hard to find for a long time, however, the publishing rights on the songs were eventually secured and it is now legal and easily purchased.   Today, Lead Sheets have become very popular with numerous Fake Books for most common styles of music, except classical, available often with simplified chords.   Here is a sample from the original 1970's Fake Book:
Musicians need to be well versed both on their insturment and in music theory to be able to improvise and perform using Lead Sheets.   This was the original purpose of Fake Books to provide several hundred Lead Sheets of standard tunes for performance as musicians had heard the songs before, which helped them to improvise and perform live even if they had never actually played the song before.

Lead sheets are best used when youíre working with musicians who are able to improvise their own parts:  the bass player can invent a bass line and the guitar and keyboard can improvise their own accompaniment part by reading the chord symbols.
    For example;
  • The actual melody will only be performed verbatim by a melodic instrument or singer.
  • A Bass guitarist will look at the chord symbol rather than the melody and generally play the chord root.
  • A Guitarist will use the Chord Symbol as the basis for their part.
  • A Keyboard player might create a part using the chords shown, as the accompaniment.
  • A drummer would mostly ignore the chord symbols, though use the song form as an outline and be aware of where fills might be needed to signal a new section.

One of the biggest misconceptions when first learning how to read jazz chord changes, especially from lead sheets out of the Real Book, is that the chords you see are the chords you play, which isnít necessarily the case. When comping through lead sheet chords, you need to develop the ability to see a basic chord, such as Dm7, G7 or Cmaj7, and interpret them in a creative style by adding colors to each of these changes.

The first thing to know when adding chord colors to basic changes is the options you have for each of these chords when comping. To help you understand your options, here are the common chord colors applied to basic chord changes:

 Major 7 =  maj7, maj6, maj9, maj6/9
 Dominant 7 =  7, 9, 13, 7#11
 Minor 7 =  m7, m6, m9, m6/9, m11
 Half Diminished =  m7b5, m11b5, m9b5
 Altered Chords (7 Alt) =  7b9, 7#9, 7b5, 7#5, 7b9b5, 7b9#5, 7#9b5, 7#9#5
          1ST STRING       1ST STRING - LEFT
          2ND STRING       2ND STRING - LEFT
          3RD STRING       3RD STRING - LEFT
          4TH STRING       4TH STRING - LEFT
          5TH STRING       5TH STRING - LEFT
          6TH STRING       6TH STRING - LEFT


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