Donna Lee Lesson with Jens Larson, Mike Outram, Nick Homes, Sergio Wagner

Donna Lee is a classic jazz tune, nice chord changes, challenging melody, and tons of classic recordings to pore over.

So last week my buddy Nick Homes invited me, Jens Larson and Sergio Wagner to contribute a chorus on Donna Lee for his splendid YouTube channel along with some analysis. It was fun to do this, and great that the world is so small now that four chaps from Argentina, Netherlands & London can just come together to make something so easily :) Huge thanks to Nick for putting this together!

You can hear each solo and commentary from the players, grab the Notation/TAB, and check out all the websites and marvellous things that these chaps are up to below.

PS – There’s oodles of material like this for jazz guitarists inside ElectricCampfire, so if you’re not a member yet and are crying into your beer at night wishing if only there was some place on the Interwebs where you could find someone who would assess your strengths and weaknesses, and, from a discussion of your musical interests, help devise a road map for your progress – well then *aheeemmmm* Look no further :)

Donna Lee Video

In this lesson I’m going to show you a way to get started with improvising on chord changes using a classic jazz tune Donna Lee.

There are two parts to this, this first one is an exercise, the second is a game.

The Exercise

#1 – I want you to simultaneously play the root note of the chord and sing the third. Here are the first three chords and their 3rds:

Ab∆ – So you play the Ab, and sing the third which is a C
F7 – Play F, sing A
Bb7 – Play Bb, sing D

Do this for all the chords in Donna Lee.

#2 – Now we swap that round so we play the thirds and sing the roots.

Ab∆ – Play C, sing Ab
F7 – Play A, sing F
Bb7 – Play D, sing Bb

So what that does is it kind of splits your thinking between your awareness of the harmony and then what you’re playing on top of the harmony. And I think this is a really important thing for you to work on.

I find that often with beginning improvisers, they’ll get into playing something and then they’ll kind of lose track of where the chords are. And then you get into this horrible thing of, arghh! I don’t know where I am! This might be ok on a tune where there’s one chord, or one key, but when the chords are a bit more involved you want to level up to being able to keep track of the chords. Plus it opens up a world of creativity in how you might do this, plus it’ll awaken your appreciation of how this works in the music you already know.

So I made this exercise to force you to address what the chord is whilst simultaneously doing something specific in relation to it. By combining thinking, playing and singing you’re working on different aspects of that awareness.

Take your medicine. It’s good for you!

The Game – Join The Dots

Righto, so now we’re going to do a little game of Join The Dots.

Basically, our ‘dots’ are the 3rds of each chord and for every chord change you’re going to play the third on beat 1, and the game is to beautifully join them up. Here’s where you can be as creative as you like.

To get started I’d suggest doing this slow and just looking at two or three chords at a time.

Try to stick to hitting the 3rd on beat one each time. Avoid just drifting off into playing intuitively. Trust me, this sound will become intuitive eventually, but at first you have to do a bunch of un-intuitive ‘thinking your way through it’ sort of practice before it becomes second nature.

Don’t beat yourself up! Remember to approach this like a game.

So give that a try, and let me know how it goes!


Download the notation for my Donna Lee solo here