The Jazz Lingo

Here is a common list of terms that you will hear thrown around the band stand while playing and/or hanging around the Jazz scene. It’s not a complete list, but it should get you up to speed enough to enjoy the gig.


A musical performance or a job. “I’ve got a gig tonight”.


A jazz combo is a small(ish) musical ensemble that plays jazz. Usually consisting of a rhythm section and a horn section, often trumpet, trombone, and saxophone with rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums.


Jazz standards are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded byjazz musicians, and widely known by listeners. When someone asks you “what standards do you know?” they are asking you what Jazz tunes you know.  So Standards = Songs, Tunes, etc.


The primary melody of the tune.  You may be on a band stand, where a horn player or vocalist will look at you and point to their head.  This is the universal Jazz musician sign for, “let’s play the head”.  Typically they will point at their temple, not the very top of head. Because “Top” means something else.


The Structure of the tune. Format of the Tune including phrases and chord progressions. It’s what we play over and over again while performing the song. Each time we go through the song’s progression of chords, we go through “the form”.

From Wikipedia… “The form is an even more general and abstract concept dealing with the theoretical context in which the actual music is being played: the chord progression, its sections and other miscellaneous events such as kicks or time changes are all important information that the musician, or musicians, must keep track of and usually repeat many times (commonly eight to fifteen or more). The “form” does not include the melody to the piece, and as such there is a difference between knowing the head and merely knowing the form. Two important standard forms over which hundreds of heads have been written are the 12-bar blues and rhythm changes. There are also heads written based on the forms of other tunes, such as Charlie Parker’s Ornithology, based on Morgan Lewis’s chord changes in How High the Moon. So often on the bandstand at a jam session, though it is frowned upon, musicians can get away with knowing the form if they don’t know the head. “

Common Forms for Jazz standards: Blues, Rhythm Changes,  AABA, AAB,  ABA, ABAC,

You may ask a musician on the band stand, “what’s the form?” and they just may say, “AABA”, without further comment.  That will most commonly mean that it’s a 32 bar form tune, where each section has 8 measures.  They may say, “Rhythm Changes”, which is also a 32 bar form, based on the song, “I Got Rhythm.”  For blues, 12 bar blues is the most common, however there are other common blues forms like the 16 bar blues.  We will get more into forms in a subsequent lesson, but for now it’s just to understand the concept of the term.


The Top of the form.  It’s common when working with a group to signal the top of form on the solo’s to make sure everyone is in the same place.  Hand signal for top is very top of your head.  This does not mean play the melody, this means we are at the top of the form.


The A Section, usually refers to the A section of a form, unless explicitly talking about the key of A.


The B Section of the form (unless referencing key signature). The B is also often synonymous with the “bridge”.


The C Section and same comment about key applies.  Note that depending on the length of the form it’s possible to use other letters, ie. E, F, G, etc. but it’s not common to see that in practice.


The bridge is commonly a section of the form following A section. Often synonymous with B section.

From Wikipedia…  “In music, especially western popular music, a bridge is a contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material section. The bridge may be the third eight-bar phrase in a thirty-two-bar form (the B in AABA), or may be used more loosely in verse-chorus form, or, in a compound AABA form, used as a contrast to a full AABA section. Bridge may be considered as a substitution of the classic Circle progression.

The term comes from a German word for bridge, Steg, used by the Meistersingers of the 15th to 18th century to describe a transitional section in medieval bar form.[2] The German term became widely known in 1920s Germany through musicologist Alfred Lorentz[3] and his exhaustive studies of Richard Wagner’s adaptations of bar form in his popular 19th century neo-medieval operas. The term entered the English lexicon in the 1930s—translated as bridge—via composers fleeing Nazi Germany who, working in Hollywood and on Broadway, used the term to describe similar transitional sections in the American popular music they were writing.

The bridge is often used to contrast with and prepare for the return of the verse and the chorus. “The b section of the popular song chorus is often called the bridge or release.”[4] For example, the B of AABA in thirty-two-bar form, with the verse surrounding the whole. While the bridge in verse-chorus and other forms is C, for example: ABABCAB. Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of the song or to prepare the listener for the climax. The term may also refer to the section between the verse and the chorus, though this is more commonly called the pre-chorus or link. The lyrics of the theme, The Song That Goes Like This, from the musical play Spamalot spoofs the abuse of the bridge in romantic songwriting: Now we can go straight / into the middle eight / a bridge that is too far for me.[citation needed] Similarly, in the Axis of Awesome song This Is How You Write a Love Song, the lyrics humorously map the movement of the song from chorus to chorus using bridges.[citation needed] Led Zeppelin makes an in-joke regarding the use of bridges in popular music in their song, The Crunge, asking, at the end, “Where’s the confounded bridge?” The song, humorously, does not have a bridge.

Turn Around

A series of chord changes that get you back to a starting point.  Commonly used at the end of a tune, form or section (like an A section).
ie. |    C7    A7  |   Dmin7     G7      |   leads you back to  C7


The end of the tune.  “Head Out” would mean play the head and then end the tune. Means we are going to end the tune.  If there is a coda, we are going to play the coda.  If the tune uses a tag, we are going to play the tag.


End section of a tune. Also the out. Could be used with a tag.  Usually a written ending.

(from wikipedia)  Coda (Italian for “tail”, plural code) is a term used in music in a number of different senses, primarily to designate a passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end. Technically, it is an expanded cadence. It may be as simple as a few measures, or as complex as an entire section. The presence of a coda as a structural element in a movement is especially clear in works written in particular musical forms. Codas were commonly used in both sonata form and variation movements during the Classical era. In a sonata form movement, the recapitulation section will, in general, follow the exposition in its thematic content, while adhering to the home key. The recapitulation often ends with a passage that sounds like a termination, paralleling the music that ended the exposition; thus, any music coming after this termination will be perceived as extra material, i.e., as a coda. In works in variation form, the coda occurs following the last variation and will be very noticeable as the first music not based on the theme. One of the ways that Beethoven extended and intensified Classical practice was to expand the coda sections, producing a final section sometimes of equal musical weight to the foregoing exposition, development, and recapitulation sections and completing the musical argument. For one famous example, see Symphony No. 8 (Beethoven).[3][page needed][clarification needed] Musical purpose[edit source | editbeta] Charles Burkhart suggests that the reason codas are common, even necessary, is that, in the climax of the main body of a piece, a “particularly effortful passage”, often an expanded phrase, is often created by “working an idea through to its structural conclusions” and that, after all this momentum is created, a coda is required to “look back” on the main body, allow listeners to “take it all in”, and “create a sense of balance.”[4]

This is the coda sign


Vamp can refer to a section that may be written, or just commonly played, or just improvised. We may vamp a tag, we may vamp an intro.  We may just vamp on a cord.  It means keep repeating a section until we agree to move on.


A repeated section. Usually towards the ending or part of the ending. It’s common to tag something 2-3 times.  Or it’s common to tag a section during a vamp.


Do I really need to define the introduction of the tune?  It’s the introduction to the melody of the tune.  Wait, I didn’t define melody either.  It’s the same as the head.

The Verse

“Do you know the verse?”  A lot of jazz standards that come from musicals have verses that lead up to the song. Think of them as an extended intro.  Verses are more popular among vocal arrangements of songs because they help setup the lyrics of the actual head for the tune.


Many tunes have an alternative melody or  what we will call a shout chorus.  In some cases it’s a set of rhythmic hits and most often it’s a combination of alternative melody and possibly chord changes.

Sometimes shout chorus’s are done behind solo sections. Sometimes they are done as part of an arrangement to end a tune.  Tunes like A-Train have very widely known shout choruses.


It’s common for someone on the band stand to look at you and say, “Go”.  That means it’s your turn to solo or improvise.  Other slang is “Blow”, which if you are a non-wind instrument, do not take offense; just take a solo.

So what is a solo?  Good question. In Jazz we make up the music on the fly, often playing some ideas that we have played before in the same or different order. Maybe using riffs or licks, or we are just making it up as we go.  This whole process is called the solo, an improvised solo or improv’ (improvisation).

Trade or Trading

The practice of sharing solo sections by switching back and forth between soloists.


Commonly referred to the practice of trading solo sections with another soloist. Not exclusively drummers and horn players. All soloists can trade sections. When someone on the band stand signals or shout’s 4’s – they mean let’s trade solo sections 4 measures at a time.

Other common forms of trading sections include: Eights, 12, Sections of the Form, Bridge, or the entire form, and multiple times through the form… aka multiple chorus’s.


Websters: an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation; also : a piece based on such a phrase.


Websters: a phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation; also : a piece based on such a phrase.

Shedding or Shed

Slang for practicing something. “I need to shed that.” = “I need to practice that”.

Ya dig?

While not exclusive to Jazz, “Ya dig?” is a common expression. It means, “Do you understand what I am saying?”  It can also be a question about your preference. ie. “Do you like how this sounds?”

.widget-footer-top-area {
.widget-footer {