How to Read Lead Sheets

The lead sheet is the basic form of notation for the jazz repertoire. Composed of the melody, written in treble clef, and chord symbols, written above the staff, a lead sheet confers only the most basic elements of a tune. The ability to read and interpret lead sheets is a fundamental skill for every jazz player. In this lesson, learn how to interpret notation and chord symbols common to jazz lead sheets.
Lesson Stats
When added: 2/25/14
Duration: 39:42
Chord Changes to Tunes Used:
Untitled Original Blues Head
I Love You (excerpt)
In a Sentimental Mood (excerpt)
My Foolish Heart (excerpt)
My One and Only Love (excerpt)
My Favorite Things (excerpt)
My Funny Valentine (excerpt)
My Romance (excerpt)
Very Early (excerpt)
Wave (excerpt)
Yesterday (excerpt)
Practice Sessions
Practice Session 1: Play the Blues Tune Transcription
Practice Session 2: Play the Blues Tune Lead Sheet
Prerequisite Lessons

Q. Were there lead sheets before jazz was around?

A. Lead sheets were not invented by jazz players. Shorthand music notation existed well before Bebop was invented. Figured bass from the baroque era served largely the same purpose but instead of a melody line and chord symbols, it consisted of a bass line underneath which arabic numerals served to indicate the intervals to be formed above each bass note by the performer.

Q. What is the backstory of the Real Books used in jazz?

A. Nobody knows for sure but legend has it that the term "real book" is a play on the term "fake book." Fake books were originally books of lead sheets of popular tunes often with awkward harmony. Real Books include tunes associated with jazz. Read more at the Real Book Wikipedia page.

Further Reading
It is assumed that you can read and play treble clef notation before you watch this lesson. If you need work on this skill, consult one of the books below. Both are available on
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