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

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.


  3. Dean says

    Hello, thanks for this great lesson.
    I can’t seem to find where to download the PDF lead sheet though.

  4. Cruz says

    How did you strum and pluck at the same time… Its awesomee….but…Could you make a video tutorial on it! Cause im too noob, ahaha thanks!

  5. josiah says

    Hi, I’m starting in a jazz band and your ebook helps a lot!!! I don’t really know how to read sheet music though and that is a problem because that’s all they use. Do you have any lessons for reading music.

    • Sam Blakelock says

      Thanks, Josiah! To learn how to read I used some berklee sightreading books and the realbook.

  6. fra says

    this is awesome…. i’ve learned the whole piece just in a couple of hours reading this article – other tutorial i’ve found spend a lot of time in deep-theory-discussion OR are ONLY a slow-motion-video version that not includes tabs or chord sheets…. This is simple perfect, a 100% working combination of theory and practical solutions. Great. Thank you.

  7. Tono says

    Hiii Sam, how are you?…I lovely your web, I think is very interesting, I am beginner about Jazz but with you I can know a lot of things very interesting, I donwload your ebook “Jazz Guitar chord chart”, thank you for it….. for me is the best book about Jazz for beginers (like me)… I am spanish ( I am writing you since Canary Island), and in spanish I didnt found nothing interesting….

    I would like make you a request……..Take Five :) ….

    Thank you for all and I am waiting for more videos of your master class…..


    • Sam Blakelock says

      Gracias Tono! I really appreciate you checking out the site.

      Please reach out if I can help you further! I’ll consider making a Take Five video, that’s such a great song.

  8. Charles says

    Thanks Sam,
    This is a no messing about, how its done look into Jazz.
    You have shown me what Ive been messing around looking for for ages in one video.
    Im hooked.
    Thanks again

  9. Xwpis ONOMA says

    Nice lesson. Most jazz players I’ve seen (and situations I had to jam with outhers) would play that using the Bb major scale = Gm Aeolian. Of course in addition to this, seasoned players could use a variety of other approaches including passing accidental notes for more color. So for instead of Am in your chart, I would start a whole tone (2 steps) up. Well done, thanks!

  10. Alex Ward says

    Hey Sam, thanks for the lesson. I can’t see the pdf anywhere? any chance you could email it me? thanks!

    • Sam Blakelock says

      Hi Alex, It’s just the PDF for the chords at the moment sorry!

      You should be able to find the melody on google, or use my video to play along.


  11. says

    You brought beginning jazz guitar to life for me, have been meaning to start playing extended chords but never had such a great start before – usually boring, dry dusty books. Bravo!

  12. Noah says

    It seems you dont follow the lead sheet exactly when you play it in the video. Are these chord substitutions or alternate ways of naming?

    Also do you have any tips on memorizing the B section? 16 bars seems like a lot


    • Sam Blakelock says

      Hi Noah,

      Yes, sometimes I added different alterations. The core chords are always the same though!

      To memorize the B section, look at the structure of the chords – there are a lot of repeated chords, it shouldn’t take you long to memorize the flow.

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