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5 Easy Modal Jazz Standards

Modal tunes are unique in that they tend to spend a significant amount of time on one chord before switching to the next chord.  Many other tunes in jazz have a faster harmonic rhythm, moving more quickly between chords.

Easier modal tunes are great for beginners to experiment with using different scales/pitch collections for each chord.

Here are 5 Easy Modal Jazz Standards to learn:

  1.  So What – Miles Davis’ begins his classic Kind of Blue album with this great modal tune!  This is kind of an easy tune….but don’t get lost!  It’s only 2 chords for 32 bars, AABA form.  It’s easy to go to the bridge at the wrong time if you aren’t careful!  The bassist normally covers the melody, accompanied by rhythmic hits from the horns or from the comp instruments.
  2. Little Sunflower – This Freddie Hubbard tune is a lot of fun, and there are only three chords.
  3. Impressions – This tune is basically John Coltrane’s version of So What – with the same two chords.   However, this tune is usually played much faster than So What.  The melody is also more involved.
  4. Milestones – This is a lively uptempo, but there are really only two key centers (concert G minor and concert A minor), making this a good first uptempo chart.
  5. Beatrice – Harmonically this is more complex than the others on the list because the chords (and the modes) goes by more quickly, changing about every four beats.  However, the melody isn’t hard, and the tempo is relaxed.  This is a fantastic tune that should be in every jazz musician’s repertoire!
Camden Hughes
Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at


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