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Summertime: How To Learn The Iconic Standard

Kevin Guin

Bass Edu

Summertime: How To Learn The Iconic Standard

Summertime for Bass…

When you are adding another tune to your repertoire, especially one that will stretch your abilities, it is best to build on something familiar to help smooth out the process.

Summertime, the iconic Gershwin tune which has become a standard of the jazz idiom is something that you don’t want to leave to chance if only for the reason that somewhere on your gig, someone is going to call the tune and you are going to want to have a slammin’ version of it no matter what. 

The form of the tune is what I think of as an extended blues form – a 16-bar blues form. It has minor “one” and “four” chords as a minor blues would naturally have. And it is also frequently played with major chord to kick off the turnaround line. 

When playing in standard blues situations here in Chicago, I noticed that a rare minor tune would be 1,4,5 minor. But in the most basic jazz form of minor blues the turnaround goes from b6 to 5. In Cm that means going from Ab7 to G7. 

But something to be aware of in the jazz idiom where chord qualities are modified quite a bit more often is the prevalence of the major 7th chord to kick off the turnaround (followed by the dominant V7) which gives a genuine air of sophistication to the sound of the harmony. 

The major 7th chord in this context, especially if it is played as a Lydian chord (with the #11) is such an incredibly poignant sound! Take note that this is what I have put into the accompanying pdf chord chart and play-along audio files for our lesson. 

At any rate it will help those of you who are new to thinking so much about the numerical aspect of chordal harmony to understand how a 12-bar blues can become a 16-bar song form. 

The easiest way to describe how the four extra bars are added is this: you add two 2-measure 2-5’s. First you add one of them after the four-chord to set up the one-chord, ie, the resolution/return to the one-chord is delayed. Then, after the one-chord you add another 2-5 to setup the turnaround line. That adds the extra four measures to give you a 16-bar form. 

The extension of a standard blues was a very smart way to modify a 12-bar tune and it worked like a charm for George Gershwin! Thank you in absentia, Sir. 

And speaking of smart – the best way for bass players to begin getting a tune form under your fingers and in your ears is the following: 

  • Sing the roots
  • Sing the roots and fifths
  • Play and sing the triads
  • After you have gained some confidence see if you can sing in time with your instrument as you play lines.
  • Of course you should learn the melody. You will find that this is an approachable tune in every respect. 

I hope that you can find meaning in the study of these great, iconic standard tunes. In so doing you will develop your musical abilities in a noticeably strong manner. 

If you truly need, as a developing musician, to go the distance for your musical skills then you can write out the chord chart for Summertime in all twelve keys and play walking bass lines through each form. You could do 2 keys a week and you will be rocking the entire bass in no-time flat! Your knowledge of your bass instrument will go through the roof. 

Make sure to check out my video lesson for learning Summertime and to also click the link to get a download of the pdf chart and the audio play-along files. I try my best to make them as helpful as possible. 

Click here to download accompanying pdf and MP3 files for this lesson

It is my wish that you make a friend to take along with you to dig deeply into these materials, cultivate patience in the learning process and also have a great time. 

Thanks to all for stopping in.


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