It’s Only a Paper Moon (Paper Moon hereafter) has been one of my favorite jazz tunes for a while. I first heard it performed, with lyrics, by Erin McKewon on her wonderful album Sign You Sinners (listen to it here). While that version will always have a place in my heart, I think Aaron Weinstein’s mandolin chord melody version of this son really solidified my love of it (link in the “Listen” section). I was lucky enough to take a lesson with Aaron once and essentially just covered this song for 2 hours – time well spent for sure!
Mandolin Sheet Music for the Breakdown
Anyway, here’s the mandolin sheet music for the breakdown –It’s Only a Paper Moon Full Breakdown. For a less busy mandolin sheet music chart, use this It’s Only a Paper Moon. Also, here’s a basic chord chart with lyrics (no melody). Note that I play this song in C, but often in Jazz it’s also played in Bb. Learning both keys is a great idea.
This song has such a rich history that there’s a lot to choose from. Below are a few that I like – but definitely search out some more:
- Aaron Weinstein (in C)
- Django Reinhardt (in C)
- Tiny Tim (in E)
- Oscar Peterson (in F)
- Ella Fitzgerald (in Bb)
This song is another Rhythm Change type song – for the most part. I would suggest reviewing my lesson on Rhythm Changes as it could help here.
Paper Moon is a jazz song in an AABA format. That means you’ll play the A part twice, followed by the B part, then another A part. Since the song ends with an A part, you end up playing three A’s in a row (i.e. AABA AABA AABA etc) – that can be tricky at first, so pay attention to where you are in the song.
Mandolin Sheet Music: Chords and Melody
The A Part can be broken down to A1 being the first 4 measures and A2 being the next four measures.
A1 is a Rhythm Change using a I#dim7 chord as a substitution for the VI chord which is I I#dim7 | ii7 V7. After that, it repeats the ii V7 before resolving on C to close the first phrase.
A2 is kind of a Rhythm Change with substitutions. In this case, it’s I I | IV iv. The F (or IV chord) is being subbed in for the Dmin7. Here, F (IV) is the relative major of Dmin7, so it’s an easy substitution. Following the IV (F) with the iv (Fm) is a really common way to get to the V7 of a key because it creates a chromatic path to the V. The F chord is F A C, Fmin is F Ab C, and G7 (the V7) is G B D F – the A (3rd of F) drops to Ab (the b3rd of F) then to G (the root of G7). After that, it’s just a turnaround with I V7.
The B part can also be split up into two phrases with B1 as the first 4 measures of the B part, and B2 being the next 4 measures.
B1 starts with IV to iv#dim7 before moving back to Rhythm Changes in C (I VI | ii V). Similar to the A2 section, there’s a chromatic movement here from A to G – F (F A C) to F#dim7 (F Ab Cb Eb) nicely resolving to C (C E G).
B2 starts with the same IV iv#dim7 but then hangs on the I (C) for a measure before going back to a variation of Rhythm Changes in C where the C is substituted for the iii7b5 chord (iii7b5 VI7 | ii7 V7). This is another common sub (Swing 42 uses this in its A2 part).
To play tunes like Paper Moon well, I believe you need to have a really good understanding of how the chords move in the song. I’ve provided a few examples of potential chord voicing options. I also include a chart with just double stops. You probably wouldn’t play this song with all double stops (though it could be good to use during a bass solo or something), but I find it helpful to look at double stop options with jazz charts. Often you’ll find some really interesting 2 note lines that you can use in solos.
Scales and Melodic Ideas
Great solos reference the melody – so learning how to play the melody in various locations is a great idea. I’ve provided a few examples in my full breakdown chart. Start with learning these positions well and being able mix / match them on demand. This will allow you to move around the neck while still playing the melody.
From a scale standpoint, using the C Major scale works well here – so brush up on that.
Personally, I like playing to the chords and melody over dogmatically playing a scale. The Double Stops I mentioned earlier can be great for this type of soloing idea.
Paper Moon is a great tune and has wonderful lyrics if you’d like to sing them. That combination makes this a great tune for Jazz / Swing jams in my opinion. Use this song as to practice your Rhythm Changes as well!
Feel free to leave a comment below with any questions or feedback. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this tune (or any other tune) click here for more information on private coaching – I have a great Chord Melody version of Paper Moon too. If you like this free content and would like more of it, considering donating to my site here – donations really help keep things going!
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