For Musicians Only: Part 3 of the Play-a-long Series, Learning Jazz Standards

March 7, 2019

Sometimes, something exists that you've never noticed before, but actually this "something" is very useful. That's just the case with a musician, Brent Vaarstra, who's doing a similar thing to one of the things that the Five Cities Jazz Monitor is trying to do: help jazz musicians in various ways. 


In the past, especially several years ago, Mr. Vaarstra used YouTube and an application called Band-in-a-Box to build playalongs that could be used for free by jazz musicians around the world. His playalongs are called "Learning Jazz Standards", and they include - probably - hundreds of jazz standards that can be used as play-a-longs. As long as you have access to YouTube, you can use these playalongs as much as you like, and they're definitely a help, and an inspiration, to those who want to become better jazz improvisers. Many of the playalongs get tens to hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. To find a video by Mr. Vaarstra, search for "Tune Up Backing Track" or whatever tune you are searching for, and in the case of most jazz standards, the LJS (short for "Learning Jazz Standards") should be one of the first options to show. 


However, in case anyone was wondering, this article isn't an advertisement, and therefore we are going to explain the cons to the LJS playalongs, as well as the pros.


While LJS playalongs are superior to most other playalong applications, the LJS (short for Learning Jazz Standards) playalongs have some downsides. First, if you play them at normal speed, they're often too long; if you're inspired one day, that's great, but otherwise, the playalongs can be a challenge to get through. Second, while many of the LJS playalongs are excellent, some aren't. They're not always inspirational, and like many other playalong applications, they're often too slow for more advanced improvisers. (You can get around this problem by using YouTube's setting for adjusting video speed.) Another problem with LJS playalongs is that, sometimes, you improvise over a chord in the Real Book, for example, and it doesn't seem to work with the chords provided by the playalong.


However, it's best to keep in mind that the problems mentioned in the last couple paragraphs are typical problems found in playalongs, so they should be expected. Overall, the LJS playalongs are a great alternative to the standard playalong methods.


Another issue to note about the LJS playalongs is that the videos don't come with a chord sequence or lead sheet, so you'll need to provide that yourself. (iRealPro provides chord changes for its playalongs, and Aebersold playalongs typically include whole sheet music arrangements that correspond to the playalong recordings.)


Finally, keep in mind that people typically access YouTube (the medium for LJS playalongs) through a mobile device or a computer, and sound played through either a mobile device or a computer will not be loud enough to be used as a backing track. The best solution, which probably we've mentioned before, is to buy a Bluetooth speaker. You can "pair", as Apple says, an Apple device with a Bluetooth device so any music you play on YouTube through your iPhone will instead be played through the Bluetooth speaker. If you get a good Bluetooth speaker, it will be loud enough that you can play along with it on your instrument. Details about pairing an iPhone with a Bluetooth speaker can be found here. Some choices for Bluetooth speakers that you can purchase are found here. (Note: we cannot guarantee that the Bluetooth speakers will work with the device, or that they will provide the desired volume or sound quality.) Probably, when you're buying a Bluetooth speaker, you shouldn't pick the Alexa speakers - those are designed to do other functions. 


Well, that should be all that you need to know. Hopefully, the LJS playalongs will be a help to any jazz musicians who are looking for quality accompaniment to their improvisation.

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