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Learn How to Play “My Shining Hour”

Welcome to episode 101 of the LJS Podcast where today Brent will teach you how to play one of his favorite jazz standards, “My Shining Hour” by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Learn the melody, chords, and how the harmony works. Brent improvises a chorus at the end to tie it all together. Listen in!

Listen to episode 101

In today’s episode, I’m trying something a little bit different than I’ve done before.

I’ve had learning jazz standards on my mind a lot lately, as I’ve been working on a new eBook and eCourse geared towards studying what I call my 10 Master Jazz Standards. This will be coming out in April of 2018 and it’s called “The Jazz Standards Playbook.”

So since it’s all fresh on my mind, I thought it would be fun and helpful to teach you how to play a jazz standard. One of my favorite jazz standards is “My Shining Hour” by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. I just love the triumphant melody and harmony. In general, I find it fun to improvise over.

While I do encourage you to do some homework on this song, such as listening to a lot of recordings and try learning the melody and chords by ear, I walk you through the basics. Here’s what I go over:

  1. I play through the head for you so you can get acquainted.

  2. I play the melody in it’s purest form with a metronome.

  3. I teach you the chords and how they function in the harmony.

  4. I demonstrate a chorus of improvisation for my own (and hopefully yours too) pleasure.

Use this episode as a resource for learning this awesome jazz standard. Since this is the first time doing an episode like this, let me know if you thought this was helpful in the comments below.

Also, if you’re checking out this episode at the time it came out, be sure to participate in our Birthday Month Raffle.

Important Links

“My Shining Hour” from The Sky’s the Limit

Chord charts and backing track for “My Shining Hour”

Read the Transcript

Brent: What’s up everybody, my name is Brent, I am the jazz musician behind the website, which is a blog and a podcast all geared towards helping you become a better jazz musician.

Wow, I am so excited for you to be here today. Thank you so much for joining me. Whether you’re a regular listener, or if you are listening for the very first time, welcome, and I am excited to give you as much value as I can today.

And today’s episode, I’m actually going to do something I’ve never done before, which is teach you how to play a jazz standard. And, you know, I’m also trying to do different things on the show, try different things, see how you guys like them, and …
So, if you like a show like this today, please let me know. That would be awesome.

Today I am going to teach you one of my favorite jazz standards, which is, “My Shining Hour.” Really, really cool tune. So, I’m really excited to jump into that today. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Going to be a lot of me playing my guitar for me. Remember, it doesn’t matter what instrument you play. This is for all instruments. I just happen to be a guitar player.

But I’m excited to do that today, it’s going to be a lot of fun. But before we get into the show today, this month … If you’ve been listening to the show for the last month or so, you know that this month, February of 2018, is our birthday month. That’s right, so on episode 104, coming up here, we are celebrating our two year birthday of the podcast.

The blog has been around a lot longer than that, all everything else we have, but the podcast has been around for two years, and we celebrated episode 100 last week. I had my jazz mentor Justin Nielsen on the show. Man, that was an awesome episode. I have already gotten lots of awesome comments from you guys.

So, you know, be sure … If you haven’t listened to that one go back to episode 100, after you listen to this episode, of course, and be sure to check that out because he really lays down the love for you guys.

Okay. So, you know, to celebrate this birthday month, we are doing an awesome raffle in which we are giving away … And we never do this, by the way. This is just a very rare thing.

We’re giving away our courses, our e-courses, our jazz practicing course, 30 Days to Better Jazz Playing, our ear training course, How to Play with Your Hear. We’re giving away our entire play along collection, it’s like 245 play alongs that we’ve created over the years. We’re giving away our e-books, like Zero to Improv …
I mean, we’re giving away a lot of prizes for our raffle this month, and it’s really all easy stuff that you can do, like write a review for this podcast on iTunes, share our 100th episode on Facebook, sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t done that, suggest an episode topic, so it’s a win-win there. You get to, you know, share with us what you want to hear on this podcast and then you get entered into our raffle.Just all kinds of things just to help support us this month, but in return enter you into an awesome raffle to possibly win these prizes. So, if you just want to support the podcast regardless of the prizes, or if you want to get involved in the prizes and the raffle, go to and you can enter there.

Really appreciate all your help already guys, it’s … We’re already getting lots of entries, and really appreciate it. And there’s, like, 17 different chances to win any of our prizes. So, there’s a pretty good chance that you could be somebody if you get involved.
So, again

All right now, really quickly before we start, just a little sneak preview of the rest of this month of our birthday celebration month. We asked a bunch of you to submit recordings of your jazz tips, advice, and just sharing your stories, what you’re working on, and a lot of you did that. I’m so excited to share that, and on episode 104, our birthday episode, we are going to be sharing the entire episode’s worth of stuff.

But also, just to lead up to that, to give you a little sneak preview, starting next week we are having two episodes, actually. So, we’re doing a bonus episode. It’s going to be episode 102 and 103 all in the same week. Wow, lucky right? And I’m going to be featuring, actually, just singled out recordings that I received from listeners like you who really had a lot of value to bring and kind of left me some longer recordings that I’d really like to share leading up into episode 104.

So, be sure to listen to this. They’re … I mean, this is really great stuff, and I’m just so thankful for everybody that has submitted recordings, and it’s just been really awesome. So, I’m really excited to share what you guys have shared with me with all of you. So, that’s going to be super fun.

Okay, that’s all for now. Without further adieu, let’s jump in today’s lesson.

So, learning jazz standards has been on my mind a lot lately, and no, not because I have a website called, but because for the last six months I have been working hard, along with my team, on a new e-book and companion course called, “The Jazz Standards Playbook,” and we are going to be coming out with that in April, and you’ll be hearing me talk a little bit more about that.

But, it’s a study of 10 what I call master jazz standards that kind of really dig deep into these standards and analyze them. And the idea is if you really know these 10 you can know so much about jazz harmony and jazz language in general, and in turn it’s going to be so much easier to learn all the other jazz standards if you know and really study these 10.

And, so, I thought today it would be really fun to teach you guys a jazz standard, and the jazz standard I’m going to teach you today isn’t part of the 10 master standards that I’ve included in this book that’s coming out, but it’s a really great standard, and it’s my personal … One of my personal favorite jazz standards, and it is called, “My Shining Hour,” by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

And, so, I’m not sure if you know this one already, but either way, this will be a great review for you if you do, and for those of you who don’t, feel free to grab your instruments and work along with me through this.

Now, I’m going to be teaching you guys this song in the key of concert E flat, which actually happens to be the key that is original to when it was first performed, which is in the 1943 film called, “The Sky is the Limit,” and I’m going to be linking that in the show notes today if you want to watch the video of that on YouTube. It’s super great, you really have to check out that scene where Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie are singing this together.

And, so, you can go to the show notes at to check that out. So, definitely check out the recordings of this stuff, but know that if you are a B flat instrument, like a tenor saxophone player, you’re going to be playing this in F major, right? That’s you transpose a whole step up. And if you’re an E flat instrument, like an alto sax player, you’ll be playing in C major.

So, knowing how to transpose from concert keys, if you’re a horn player, or you play a different instrument other than a C instrument, like a player or a guitar, is really important for you to be able to do. So, I’m going to be teaching this in concert E flat major, so just know your transpositions for this.

So, in this episode, I’m going to be playing the melody for you as straight as possible so you can help learn the melody that way. I’m going to go through the chords with you, and then I’m just going to practice improvising over it myself a little bit. But it’s up to you to do all the extra homework, list listening to tons of recordings of this, trying to see how other musicians play the melody. Try to learn the chords yourself, by ear, from song, you know? So, this should be just a good resource episode for you to help you learn this song, but there’s so much more homework you should do.

Okay, so, first things first, let me just play through the song and the melody of it for you so you can hear how it goes.

(Musical example playing)

All right, so there there’s just my little solo guitar version of that. So, make sure, again, that you’re checking out lots of recordings of this, getting familiar with the melody, familiar with the harmony, and it’s good to learn the lyrics as well, because not only will that help you memorize the song, I mean, words and lyrics are so easy for us, as humans, to digest, but also it helps you understand the intention, or the meaning, behind the song.

Okay, so, now I’m going to go ahead, I’m going to play the melody as straight as possible, and I’m basing this off of Fred Astaire singing it on that film, The Sky is the Limit. So, I’m really getting down the basics here, trying to get the original thing.

And, so, I’m going to play it for you, and I’m going to do it with a metronome. I’m going to have the clicks on beats two and four. I like to have the clicks on beats two and four when I practice, in general.
Okay, so, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.

(Musical example playing)

All right, I’m going to play it one more time here. Don’t worry if you can’t hear the harmony just yet, I’m going to give you some more harmonic context later. So, let’s do it one more time.
Two, three, four, one, two, three, four.

(Musical example playing)

All right, so, let’s go over the chords. Now, I always do suggest learning chords by ear, but I’m going to spell them out for you here, and if you want, I’ll have the chord chart available for you at, that’s the show notes for today if you want to follow along with this. If you’re on your commute, your run, whatever it is, don’t worry about it, you can just listen along here.

Okay, so, again, we’re in the key if concert E flat, and our first chord is the one chord, E flat major seven. So, that’s for one bar.
This could be …

And the second bar is C minor seven. Sometimes people make it a dominant seven, right? It’s the sixth chord. C minor seven is the sixth chord, E flat major seven. So, that totally works, making a dominant seventh chord, so …

And then two, the two chord, F minor seven for one bar. B flat seven, and then back to the one. Okay? So, so far we have ….

(Musical example playing)

E flat major seven. C minor seven. F minor seven. B flat seven.
Okay, then back to the one chord, E flat major seven. Da, da, da. It kind of hangs out there a second. Da, da, de, do, de, da, and then it goes … So, it’s two bars. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, and then we’re going to a two-five-one into the relative minor.

Now, if you don’t know what relative minor means that’s okay, but in the key of E flat major, what is the relative minor? C minor.
So, if we’re talking about a two-five-one into C minor, what’s that going to be? D minor seven flat five, G Seven, or flat nine, whatever it is, G seven flat nine, to C minor seven. So, we’re just hanging out on the E flat major seven for tow bars, da, da, da, do, da, da, da. Then D minor seven flat five for one bar. G seven flat nine for one bar. And then C minor seven for one bar.

Okay? So, let’s review what we’ve got so far. So, starting at the beginning, beat one, one, six, two, five, one for two bars, then two, five into relative minor. Okay? So, B flat major seven, C minor seven, F minor seven, B flat seven, E flat major seven for two bars, and then D minor seven flat five for one bar, G seven flat nine for one bar, C minor seven for one bar. Okay? We’ll go over this in metronome in a second.

So, when we land on that C minor seven, the six chord, the relative minor, one bar, and then we go to the six minor seven flat five in the key of C minor, which is A minor seven flat five. So, da, da, da, okay? For one bar, and then back to a two, D minor seven flat five, da, da, da, da, da, that’s the five chord there.

So, again, starting from when we land on the C minor seven. So, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, back to the one again. Now, have you noticed that, so far, we’ve just been doing one, six, two, five chord progressions, both in the major key, the parent major key, E flat major, concert E flat major, and then two five ones, one six two five ones, in C minor, okay?

From the beginning again. One, six, two, five, one for two measures, two, five into six, E minor seven flat five, D minor seven flat five, G seven. Okay, now, one bar of C minor seven, and now we go two dominant of the major key, the parent major key, which is what? It’s F seven, for one bar, and then we’re going to turn that F seven into an F minor seven now, so it’s proper minor two chord, and then five B flat seven, into …

Well, then we go into the bridge, but let’s back up for a second. I don’t want to give you too much here.

Okay, so let’s start when we get to the relative minor. So, it was hanging out in the E flat for two keys, da, da, de, do, de, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, okay, then C minor seven, A minor seven flat five, D minor seven flat five, G seven, C minor seven, F seven, F minor seven, B flat seven.

Okay? So, again, from that C minor seven. C minor seven, A minor seven flat five, D minor seven flat five, G seven, C minor seven, F seven, F minor seven, B flat seven. All these are one bar each, okay?
So, now we’re going to go into the bridge, this is the bridge of the song. Now, what we’re going to do is a two five one into the four chord of the parent major key, E flat … Concert E flat major, okay? What is the four chord of concert E flat major? A flat major. So, what’s a two five one into A flat major? That’s B flat minor seven, E flat seven, A flat minor seven … Or, sorry, A flat major seven, that’s definitely not a minor seven.

Okay? So, B flat minor seven, E flat seven, A flat major seven. Okay.
So, again, we’re going back from that C minor seven here. C minor seven, F seven, F minor seven, B flat seven, now here’s the bridge. B flat minor seven, E flat seven, A flat major seven.

Okay, here’s the next part, now it’s going to go from an A flat major seven to an A flat minor seven. A flat minor seven, D flat seven, as if we’re going to go into the key of G flat major seven, like a two five and a G flat major seven, but we’re not, we’re going to go A flat minor seven, D flat seven, and now we’re going to do a three, six, two, five, into the key of E flat major seven, to come back around to the top of the form again.

So it’s A flat minor seven, D flat seven, G minor seven, C seven, F minor seven, B flat seven, and those last for two beats each. So, let me go back again so I’m not confusing you here. So, here’s the … The top of the bridge here, it’s B flat minor seven, E flat seven, A flat major seven. That’s two bars, that A flat major seven.
Then A flat minor seven for one bar, D flat seven for one bar, and then these are the two beats each, G minor seven, C seven, F minor seven, B flat seven, all right? Let me play the bridge for you really quick.

(Musical example playing)

Two measures here. E flat minor seven. Right? Three, six, two, five. G minor seven, C seven, F minor seven, B flat seven. Okay? Cool, right?

All right, now we’re back at the last A section of the song, okay? So, now, back at the E flat major seven, we just did a three, six, two, five, leading back into it. So, E flat major seven … Now, this kind of hangs out here for a while. Now, there’s different charts tell you different things, I just kind of think that E flat major seven, hanging out on it is what people normally do, so it’s one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one two, three four, so, two beats of A flat seven, so a dominant four chord.

So, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one two, three four dominant, four, then two beats of the three, G minor seven, two beats of C seven, right? The six. The dominant six, and then two F minor seven. Five B flat seven. One, C major seven.

Okay? So, the last stay, it sounds like this.

(Musical example playing)

Three four, that’s one bar each.

So, the hardest part to get is just to know how many beats each chord is being played, and that’s a little bit easier … It’s a little harder to do on a recording, obviously, here. So, let me go ahead and play this along with a metronome, and maybe that will help you get a better idea. And again, if you take a look at the chord chart you can follow along,

Okay, so let me do a go with the metronome here.
Two, three, four, one, two, three, four.

(Musical example playing)

Here’s the bridge.

(Musical example playing)

Last stay.

(Musical example playing)

I’m going to do it again. Here’s top.

(Musical example playing)

Two, five, one.
Two, five. That was a minor.

(Musical example playing)

Bridge. Two, five, D flat major.

(Musical example playing)

Three, six, two, five.

(Musical example playing)

Four, three, six, two, five, one.

(Musical example playing)

All right, got it? So, that is the harmony. I love the harmony to that song, it’s such a great song, and I love how it goes into the relative minor, then it goes to the four chord, and the bridge, and the minor four. It’s really cool, it’s a really cool song. Really great harmony. When you have the melody over top of it it sounds super awesome.

Now, if I were working with you one on one, in a private lesson or something, well, we would be going over this a lot. We would be jamming it together and all that stuff. For you, you’ll have to, again, do your homework outside of this episode, but also listen back to sections and maybe try to get those chords solidified for yourself.
But I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to get a backing track up here, and I’m going to play the melody. I’ll try to play it as straight as possible, and I’m going to just improvise a little bit over top of it. Now, improvisation over top of a song like this, that’s a totally different lesson, that’s a totally different story. I mean, mapping out the guide tones, playing the arpeggios of the chords, all things you can do to help you start to navigate this song.

Ultimately, you just have to learn jazz language and work on it, right? We talk a lot about that in this podcast. But just let me … Let me have a go at it, and let me get this backing track up and show you how it sounds in totality here.

(Musical example playing)

All right, let’s leave it at one chorus there, that will be enough for me. Okay, so, that’s My Shining Hour. I really love this song. I just wanted to share it with you, regardless of whether you know it already or not, and if you want to use this episode to help you learn the song that would be really great.

And also, at the same time, I want to know, is this kind of podcast episode … Is this helpful for you to have me run through a song with you?

You know, I’m always open to trying new things. I’m trying to, you know, check out different things. And, so, if you want to leave your feedback for me just go to the show notes, and just leave a comment. Let me know if this was helpful or not, or if I should do more of this stuff.
All right, so, learn My Shining Hour.

All right, that’s all for today’s show. I want to thank you so much for listening. Thanks for tuning in, and remember, this is our podcast birthday celebration month, and so we’re doing a special raffle. If you want to get involved in that raffle, go to, and there are some different ways you can enter that raffle, such as writing a kind rating and review on iTunes for us, subscribing to our newsletter, giving a podcast episode idea, a lot of different things that will give you additional entries into winning prizes like our e-courses, our e-books, our play alongs, all sorts of things.

And it just, at the end of the day, really helps us out. So, thank you so much for participating in that.
Now, as I said at the beginning of the episode, I’m really excited to have on some special guests next week, and we’re actually going to do an additional episode next week, so two episodes featuring listeners like you who have recorded in some different advice and tips that we’re going to be talking about, leading up to episode 104 where we’re going to have a bunch of you on to talk to all of us, which I’m really excited about.

Okay, so, I’ll see you next time on episode 102.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Hi, Brent. "My Shining Hour" is one of my favorite tunes, but I would rather hear more of your insights on the techniques of improvising, musicianship and practicing than simple instruction on what the chords of a particular tune are. I can learn the chords from a lead sheet; I look to you for advice on what to do with them once I've learned them. LJS is a great podcast series!

  2. I enjoyed the lesson Brett and particularly your solo guitar version at the beginning. It would be great to have a transcription of it included, but I guess that is asking too much!

  3. Thanks, Brent, for covering this tune! I've been trying to learn it on my own, too, so this lesson was super practical! Thanks also for telling us about the link to the Fred Astaire Joan Leslie clip on YouTube. It was classic!


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