By Pete BarenBregge
Jazz Editor

What is a Real Book?
A Real Book is also known as a Fake Book. Either way, it is a collection of song lead sheets. The term “fake book” comes from the original idea that with the fake book, you could “fake” your way through a tune you may not actually know.

What do you do with a Real Book or Fake Book and why do you need one?
There are many Real Books available, so select the one that serves your stylistic or genre needs—but make sure it is a legal version that has all the copyrights clearly notated at the bottom of the first page of each song. A jazz Fake Book is simply a collection of jazz lead sheets with the melody and the chord progressions. Usually it will contain a mix of standards both new and old, bebop, more contemporary jazz tunes, various Latin tunes and styles, and lyrics and a verse on many of the standards. Books are sometimes available transposed for B-flat or E-flat instruments, but usually the C edition is the most common and therefore the default.

The uses are varied, for example:

  • For use on jazz gigs, jam sessions, club dates/casuals.
  • For combos or individuals.
  • For teachers, or instrumental/vocal groups.
  • To study and analyze compositions.
  • Educational—learn essential jazz tunes.
  • A reference of jazz repertoire.
  • Style guidelines are provided for each song, such as swing, ballad, rock, salsa, bossa
  • nova, and so on. Suggested tempos are usually included as well.
  • Learn the form of various songs. The lead sheets are often notated with rehearsal letters
  • to assist with understanding the form and musical phrases.
  • Play through tunes on piano (or guitar) with right-hand melody and left-hand chords.
  • Practice comping as well.
  • Learn to play through chord progressions.
  • To practice sight reading and to gain experience.

Other features and tips:

  • Many arrangements of jazz tunes include introductions and optional endings.
  • Clear lead sheets with accurate chord symbols.
  • Suggested substitute chord progressions are shown above the main chord symbols.
  • Many jazz standards include the song verse.
  • An authorized (jazz) real book or fake book is a professional-quality legal resource.
  • An invaluable tool for musicians.
  • Practice the songs in different keys and tempos.
  • Arrange songs to practice arranging and to make a more interesting performance.

Click here to check out Alfred’s available Real Books!

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