The Beginners Guide to Autumn Leaves on Guitar

Welcome to your Autumn Leaves beginner jazz guitar lesson. I will show you the easiest and most musical approach to learning this great jazz standard and also throw in a free PDF lead sheet. Let’s get started!

Use this lesson to:

  • Learn the chords.
  • Play the melody.
  • Grab a few tricks for sounding hip.
  • Have fun while you learn!

Your Autumn Leaves Lead Sheet PDF

Here is a simple chord chart of this great tune. I have included some suggested scales and chord substitutions to put in. Disclaimer: This is a non-profit study strictly for educational purposes. I do not own the rights for Autumn Leaves. No melody is written, only chord changes.

Autumn Leaves Leadhseet

Autumn Leaves Leadhseet

Autumn Leaves Video Tutorial

In this video I outline an easy and systematic approach to playing the melody and chords to Autumn Leaves. Check it out then let’s examine the tune in detail.


How Do I Memorize this Song?

Your first step in learning any tune is to memorize the chord changes and the melody. Once you do away with the sheet music you can then start creating REAL music. 4 steps to quickly memorize this song:

  1. Listen – listen to 5 different versions. I made this easy for you by selecting my favorite 5 into a Youtube playlist, check it out here.
  2. Use your Brain – Analyze the structure of the song. How many sections are there? Do chords repeat? What key is it in? Hint: The form is A A B A and LOTS of chords repeat, and the key is G Major or E minor (same thing).
  3. Learn the Words – Learning lyrics not only helps you to memorize a song but enables you to really dig into the meaning of it. Your national anthem isn’t just a nice melody it has meaning and significance. Autumn leaves is a love song, learn the words and it will show in your playing.
  4. Use a Play Alongor better yet make your own! I often use garageband or even just a BOSS looper to play along with myself. Throw yourself out there, start soloing along right away.

How to Solo: the Easy Way

Before I throw a whole bucket of music theory at you here is some musical fast food: You can solo on E Aeolian or natural minor scale over this WHOLE tune. Here is an Aeolian fret diagram, just centre the white dot over any E (e.g. 7th fret on your A string) and BAM, you have your scale. fingering Here is what E Natural Minor or Aeolian sounds like: Now, change the b7 (D note) to D# on the B7 chord. This scale is E Harmonic minor (sounds exotic right?). Can you hear the difference between the two?

A Better Approach; examine each chord individually.

So you know how to easily solo on this tune, now let’s check out each chord for a better approach. Jazz is about outlining the chord changes so let’s get down to business. The following tips are all included in the free PDF above, so make sure you have that as we progress. Side note: Feel free to click on any scale or arpeggio – it will link to an in depth lesson.

The Am7 Chord

This chord is the II (two) chord in our key of G major. On II chords you play the dorian mode and you can add in the 9th, 11th and 13th as extensions to a plain minor 7 chord. Here is a little summary and a few links if you would like to learn more about minor chords.

The D7 Chord

The V chord is a powerful thing. In the key of G major our V chord is D7. It leads really nicely to G and you can add on many different notes to colour this chord up.

The Home Chord: Gmaj7

This chord is your tonic major resting chord. I wrote a whole lesson on this chord here.

Great job on making it this far! To dive even further into these chords, check out my lesson on the II V I progression.

Cmaj7: The Lydian IV Chord

This is your IV chord, check out my full lesson on this awesome colorful chord here.

  • Chord: Cmaj7 (or C6, Gmaj9, Gmaj69, Gmaj13, Cmaj7#11)
  • Scale: Lydian Mode
  • Possible extensions: 9, 13
  • Guide tones: 3, 7 (Your target notes)
  • Arpeggio: R, 3, 5, 7

F#m7b5: The Half Diminished Chord

This chord is functioning as the ii chord in our minor key of E minor. It prepares the B7 chord which leads nicely to Em and is really simple to learn because there aren’t too many options or alterations.

The B7b9 Chord

This dude is the V7 chord leading to our tonic minor key center – E minor. We treat dominant chords leading to minor chords differently to ones leading to major chords. I recommend you check out my V7 chords in a minor key lesson for a full explanation on this.

The E minor chord

Your home minor chord is E minor. Minor chords are tricky because you have a few options of scales and chords to choose from. Below is a brief overview of your options, for a more in depth look check out my minor ii V lesson.

Those Hard Descending Chords

So in the last section of the tunes there is this part: Em9     Eb9     Dm9     Db9 What scale do you play over these chords? Well, long story short – what is happening here is tritone substitution. But let me cut out all the musical theory hodge podge: Use the Lydian Dominant Scale over Eb9 and Db9 respectively and Dorian over the Dm9. Easy. Well that concludes this Autumn Leaves beginner jazz guitar lesson. Spend some time exploring each chord and its unique scale and alterations – you will set your self up great to learn other tunes faster that way because jazz standards all use the same chords, just in a different order. Remember to take your time and most importantly; have fun! Return to Beginner Jazz Guitar Lessons here. Thanks for stopping by, feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions. ~ Sam Blakelock |


  1. says

    I’m going to take up playin jazz on guitar as I have being playin Tenor Sax a long time still no good. Nobody wants to show you something that might make the penny drop. My favourite sax player is, Scott Hamilton, Seen loads of time and asked him a few things, but really they do not have time to show you a knack. As money is time and if you haven’t got it.It’s hard

  2. WireDog says


    Thanks for this. The lead sheet won’t load for iPad. Was it removed for cw issues? Would love to have that as this is my first endeavor into jazz guitar.

    Thanks again mate.

    PS. Love NZ. One day I hope to go there and do a road trip in a mini from Kaitaia to Invircargill. ;)

    • pickupjazzadmin says

      Thanks for the note! I just updated the leadsheet now for you – thanks for letting me know.


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