How to Read Lead Sheets

How To Read Lead Sheets Tutorial

This lesson provides an introduction on how to read lead sheets for jazz piano. Unlike traditional piano music and notation, lead sheets usually just contain one stave of music containing the melody. The chord symbols are notated above the stave to indicate what chord should be played.

We use Miles Davis’ ‘Tune Up’ as the form is very short and there are a number of major 251 progressions making it a great tune for applying basic jazz theory. The lesson starts by playing through the changes as simple as possible and we then add chord extensions and alterations to make the tune sound jazzier.

Lesson Score & Transcription

To download a .pdf copy of the chord changes and full transcription… head over to the Transcription Library on the Pro Member dashboard .

  • marc

    Hi hayden
    have you the transcriptions of this video with all the chords that you use ? Thank you

    • Hayden

      Hi Marc, Apologies for the late reply… i missed the notification for these comments. I will put a transcription together for you. Cheers, Hayden

      • marc

        Hello hayden
        Thank you for all the answers and congratulations for your website. It is great.
        There are many other questions :
        About the player, can you tell me how the AB loop works.

        Another problem : Sometimes, when I am in “pause” and after a long time (when I play piano after that you said in the video) , the video is deconnected…I have to connect again in your website….Have you an idea ?(I have a mac)

        I am happy because I finish the video (How to read lead sheet ) and I play Tune-up with extension chords.
        Sometimes, you play the chord note by note. It is difficult to see what you play exactly .
        I look forward your transcription for the video.

        Another question : Do you think that memorizing the tunes is a good solution to progress ?

        Have a good week end .


        • Hayden

          Hi Marc,

          Thank you – glad you like the website!

          I will shortly be making a video explaining the AB loop feature… i will send this out to all students.

          The problem with the video disconnecting… how often is this happening? I have not been aware of anything but I will look into this for you.

          Yes you should try to memorise the melody and the chord changes…. the melody is obviously very important.

          You should remember the chord changes in terms of the progressions. For example, the first line is a 251 in D major. Then the 2nd line is a 251 a whole step down (251 in C Major). This makes it easier to remember because you don’t have to think of the individual chords (which is 6 pieces of information)… you are just thinking 251 in D Major, and then 251 in C major… then try to do this for the entire song.

          Does that make sense?

          • marc

            Thank you for your answer hayden
            Now I memorize this tune because I played it a lot of times…
            But from now, I would try to memorize the next tunes in thinking about progressions of 251.
            I start “tenderly part 1” the other song of the beginner. What do you recommend after finishing this lesson ? To continue with tenderly part 2 and start little improvisation with tenderly part 2.
            Or I don’t start tenderly part 2 , start blue in green and start improvisation with blue in green.

            About the flow player , the message on the mac (after I put the video on “pause” and try to play again after waiting a long time is :
            html5 = video not properly encoded
            https : //

            This message appears at every time that I put the video in “pause” a long time (About 5 minutes) and I want to play again.

            Have a good day.


          • Hayden

            Hi Marc,

            I would recommend that you mainly work on Tenderly, you will find this tune much easier… Blue In Green is a difficult tune because there is lots of altered harmony to deal with.

            Spend some time on Tenderly Part 1 until you are very comfortable with the arrangement. Spend as much time as you need. Then move onto Tenderly Part 2.

            In Tenderly Part 2, we also look at some more advanced voicings… in particular upper structure triads.

            Let me know if you have any further questions 🙂

            ps. thanks for sending the error with the flow player… i will look into this shortly.

  • marc

    Hi hayden
    Another question: Is it possible to do that for the small hands ?
    It is very hard to do : C (root) – D ( 9th) .
    Sincerely yours

    • Hayden

      If you can’t reach that, you can ‘roll’ up the chord and use the sustain pedal for the low note. I would recommend that you keep trying to stretch for these notes and you will find that your reach will get bigger with time.

  • marc

    I start again with “tunes up” and I have two questions about the last measure E-7 and A7. The purpose of this last measure is to return to the first measure and play one more time. But when I want to finish this song , how I play the last measure ?

    After playing with simple chords ( first part of the video), must I continue with the extension chords (Kenny Baron….etc…) or can I start another tune like tenderly…So, do not forget that I am a beginner…Marc

    • Hayden

      Hi Marc,

      To finish the song, just go to the 1 chord which would be D Major7. This would create a complete 251 and that would be a nice resolution to end the tune. You can do this on any tune when you want to finish… just do a complete 251 in the key of the tune (This tune is written in D Major)

      For example play E-7, A7 and then Dmaj9. A nice voicing for the D Major would be:

      Root and 5th in the left hand (D and A)
      maj3, 5, maj7 and 9 in the right hand (F#, A, C# and E) – this is like an F#-7 chord… you can then run this up the keyboard in your right hand with the F#-A-C#-E … all the way up.

      I would recommend that you start on another tune like Tenderly, but remember you can always revisit the tunes that you have learned previously. When you learn some new theory, I would recommend that you go back through the tunes that you know and then apply the theory. It’s a great way to learn in context!

      Hope this helps 🙂

  • marc

    Hi hayden
    I have another question added to my last message.

    What is the first lesson that you recommend to start jazz improvisation ?

    Have a good weekend.


  • Barb Miller

    Hi Hayden, What is the recommended order for all of your beginner lessons?

  • Barb Miller

    Why are the 9th and 11th chords called 7th chords?

    • Hayden

      Hi Barb, Good question!

      Here is an important point that you need to understand with regards to chord extensions:

      If the chord is G-7, as a jazz arranger, you need to decide how to play a G-7 to produce a nice sophisticated jazzy sound.

      You need to understand that with any chord, you have the creative freedom to choose what notes to include, your options for minor chords are root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th & 13th (if you add another 3rd on top of the 13 you are back to the root so 13 is the highest extension)

      Generally speaking, the higher the extension you include, the richer and ‘more complex’ the sound will be. Complex doesn’t always mean good, sometimes just a plain chord with the root, 3rd, and 7th will sound just fine. Variety is the key.

      Another important point is:

      Jazz musicians often abbreviate chords to just ‘7’, eg. G-7 or C7 – even if the chord contains higher extensions such as 9, 11 or 13.

      This is like shorthand.

      It also applied to lead sheets…. just because the chord symbol says ‘7’ … you have the freedom to add in extensions and alterations. That is the beauty of playing jazz music… you have a lot of freedom to interpret chords how you want to.

      First I would recommend watching this lesson on chord extensions:

      Then check out these 2 lessons on voicing major and minor chords:

      Major Chords:
      Minor Chords:

      Hope this helps 🙂