How to learn Jazz Standards: Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise (sheet music)

How to learn Jazz Standards: Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise (with lead sheet music)

Step 1: learn the tune melody.

The tune we’ll look at for this lesson is, “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise”. This tune is very much a standard and everyone should know it. It’s fairly easy to learn, and has a lot of room for exploration. It’s in the old real book and the new real book.

The first step in learning a tune is memorizing it as quickly as possible. First play the melody and bass notes. Repeat the process over and over again until you get it. Resist the temptation to do anything other than learn the melody and bass notes. Any improvisation, filling in, licks, reharmonizations, or anything else will simply prolong the
memorization experience.

Once the tune is learned, there will be plenty of time to experiment with it. The other reason is that at a jam session everyone is going to be playing the chords that are written in a fake book. No one will know your reharmonizations, so it’s important to always remember the original way a tune goes.

VERY IMPORTANT: Work out trouble spots!

Musicians have a tendency is to skip over trouble spots because we don’t like them. Obviously, this is BAD. It’s important to start at the point of trouble and work outwards. If there is a problem with a three note passage in the sixth measure of a song, start right at the notes that are
giving you problems.

Play slowly and evenly and with a metronome if you have one. As you learn the passage, spread out in both directions by a beat or two and play it again. Rinse. Repeat as necessary. In this manner, you will be able to learn it mistake-free. If you are into classical music, you should practice trouble spots in the same exact way.

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Step 2: Left Hand.

The left hand is our bass player, and sometimes drummer, and almost always the weakest link in our solo playing. Why is this? It’s because jazz piano players often concentrate on playing improvised melodies as if they were horn players. This means single note lines. The odd thing about this is that we have at our disposal 88 notes and ten musicians (fingers) at any one time, so why not use them?

I need to dispel a myth here. Short fingers are not bad, ok? Most of us can’t reach a 12th like Oscar Peterson, right? Well, a lot of people can’t even reach an octave without straining, yet I’ve seen some of them ripping it up on the piano.

You don’t need long fingers to be a great solo piano player!

A good left hand makes up for all the short fingers in the world. Classical players are forced into doing technical playing with their left hand, but with jazz players it’s totally up to us. So we need discipline. To be good at anything, you need discipline.

Note: You should get the lead sheet for “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise” if you have not already. You can easily find it in our Library. You will notice that it is fairly simple with a basic melody, chords, and lyrics. So now the trick is to take a simple lead sheet and make it sounding big.

To do this, you need a strong left hand, for one. We have very good methods and practice books in our Library, for example the “Solo Jazz Piano – The Linear Approach”, by Beil Olmstead.

Doing that will contribute a lot to learning and really KNOWING a tune.

Playing It:

So let’s get on with playing the tune! By now, you know the melody and bass notes. For this first part we’ll go through the first line of the tune and fill out the left hand just a bit, playing the bass note and the 7th or 3rd depending on the sound.

learn jazz standards sheet music

You’ll notice that the sound fills out somewhat and begins to take on a more stylistic edge. Now, let’s try it again, but this time we will play the bass notes low and jump up an octave to play the 7th and 3rd of each chord in the first line. Playing like this is a very simple version of what is called “stride piano”.

learn jazz standards sheet music

You can hear how that works. Now, let’s put some more into it. We’ll play the first line again by playing the bass note along with the 7th (or 3rd), then jump up an octave and play the 3rd, 7th, and 9th of the chord in some inversion. Sound complicated and difficult? Well, it is, but it gets less when you practice it.

learn jazz standards sheet music

Step 3: The Right Hand

After all that, we can look forward to visiting our right hand, that old friend who keeps passages clean and sparkly while befuddling the left hand with its own lack of brilliance

The right hand is the singer of your hand band. You have five digits to do whatever you want, as long as you keep something in mind:


The melody is the singular most important aspect of playing a song. Without the melody, the voice is lost, and then what is a song? Some tunes are more rhythmic in nature, and we’ll cover those later.

Let’s try playing the melody in the ‘A’ section, note for note, as it is written. Read the words, sing them out loud. The words can give you a very good idea of what the composer was looking for as far as style and such goes. Simple melodies like this one leave a lot of room for doing what you want.

learn jazz standards sheet music

Now we’ll play the melody in a slightly different way. Two notes at once, but in different directions where possible. When the melody moves down, the harmony moves up, and vice versa. Play the melody notes on top, the harmony notes on the bottom. This is a good exercise in knowing the harmonic relationships in a tune. As an exercise, try playing the harmony notes on the top and the melody on the bottom.

learn jazz standards sheet music

The next example will be a mixture of single notes and chords. As always, the melody is enhanced with volume or by some other means, so it doesn’t get lost in the mix. In this example, the chords are simply built off the chord symbol and played when appropriate.

learn jazz standards sheet music

Step 4: Putting it all together

Well, now you have mastered the left hand, have the right hand in the palm of… well, you know what I mean. It’s time to sound like a professional and play it sweet and tasty. Once again, start simple. Play the melody and the bass line. Then play the bass notes with 7th’s or 3rd’s, and play the melody.

Try all the things you read above and see what you can do. Remember, solo piano is a matter of personal taste. I can give you all the information in the world, but it won’t matter until you try stuff and practice. Try stuff and practice. That could be our mantra.

Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise (sheet music) Background track with melody

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