I begin with my favourite jazz musician of all time: John Coltrane, and to chose just one album is almost impossible.
Chic Corea’s output has been and continues to be varied  in genre but Acoustic Band  gives you an insight into his approach to standards like Autumn Leaves and So In Love. This is part 3 of my list of recommended jazz albums that I think you should be listening to. You can find the complete list in chapter 10 of  Learn Jazz Piano book 3. I’ve not included Oscar Peterson in his own right as you can hear him supporting the great sax player Ben Webster in his 1959 album. To transform the Dorian mode into the bebop Dorian scale, we insert our chromatic passing note between steps 3 and 4. Now compare the C bebop dominant scale: fig 45 (see above) with the G bebop dorian scale (fig 46) and you will notice that these two bebop scales share the same passing note.
In order to create a bebop scale to fit a half diminished chord (min7(5)), use the minor bebop scale 3 half steps up from that chord. If you wish to look further into this subject I would recommend David Baker’s How To Play Bebop. I’ve been asked to bundle all 20 playing jazz piano online video lessons into a discounted 20-pack. My Play Jazz Piano Online video course would not be complete without a tutorial about Rhythm changes. Next to a 12-bar blues, Rhythm Changes is the most important chord sequence in jazz, but I’ll tell you more about this nearer the time. There are countless excellent recordings of this song, but my personal favorite is by the pianist Hampton Hawes. C returns to the original melody, but remains in the same key, taking an extra four bars to conclude. A good songwriter takes great care when placing the targeted or emphasized melody note over its harmony. The two exceptions, in bars 4 and 12, occur at beat 2, as this is where the melodic accent falls. This new lesson combines your knowledge of rootless voicings (lesson 15) and tritone substitution (lesson 16). I show you how to use all these techniques with II-V-I and I-VI-II-V (turnaround) sequences. As always, this learn jazz piano video comes with 4 downloadable backing tracks, sheet music and a quiz. Besides the 30 minute video, I provide you with 4 downloadable backing tracks, sheet music and a quiz. Understandably, most of my jazz piano students want to improvise; their prime aim is to solo creatively. When comping, the spotlight is on the soloist, and it is our job as accompanist to both support them and make them sound good. Although this provides a clear indication of downbeats, it provides no melodic or rhythmic support to the melody.
The next illustration meets both these requirements by placing the melody note at the top of chords and tracing its rhythmic pattern. Of course, one can be far freer and more interactive with the soloist, but this is relative to how much or little support they require. I have to confess that there was a time when I sometimes had issues with the phrase ‘jazz singer.’ This was because I often found myself accompanying singers who were more cabaret than jazz, but performed standards in a ‘jazzy’ fashion simply by dragging the beat. So this article is not a disguised tirade against singers but rather an indication of how I help learning jazz pianists to work with them. In an ideal world the singer possesses a sound knowledge of music, has equal status with other band members and is considered to be a musician whose instrument happens to be the voice. The reality is that some vocalists have a minimal grasp of music for practical purposes but are expected to act as the bandleader: stating the keys, tempo and arrangement to band members.
Over the years I have advised vocalists as to their role and duties within a band situation.
Test this section with your singer by transposing the section down until the vocalist feels comfortable.
Double-check this new key by locating the section with the lowest note and ensuring the song is still in a singable range. Many female singers choose to stay within their lower range when singing jazz, but I always encourage vocalists to explore the upper register.
The final soloist (particularly the drummer) should hand over to the singer with precision, rather than with a wild flurry of notes (or beats). In the end it is the combination of preparation and effective communication that makes for a good musical relationship between the pianist and singer.
A moment after writing the title of this article, up popped an image of John Lee Hooker smiling and shaking his head.
In my last article I bypassed the fruitless attempt to define jazz and will do likewise with the blues, but we can still amuse ourselves by googling it.
I’d argue that it’s not necessarily melancholic and we’ll discuss the form later in this article.
When a potential student asks to be taught to play blues piano I have to admit to a rather grouchy response. I see my job as preparing students for a variety of blues tunes that they are likely to encounter at a gig. A blues sequence can take on a number of guises, varying in time signature, length and chord structure. The next example is a more ‘jazz’ version of this sequence, where, at bars 9 and 10, the V and IV chords are replaced with II – V.
I should point out that when I describe the above sequences as ‘basic’ I’m referring to the amount of chords rather than suggesting that they are in any way inferior or easier to perform. This is by no means an exhaustive list of blues variations but, hopefully, demonstrates that there is more to the blues than 12 bars and 3 chords. At this point, the temptation to make a stab at defining jazz is not a subject I wish to pursue, as our historic concept of jazz has now morphed into so many other types of music (which is surely a good thing) that the original meaning of the word has become blurred. This is the Jimi Hendrix ‘Purple Haze’ chord, it features in Come Together by the Beatles, and you’ll have also heard it in countless funk tunes. For soloing, you could take a horizontal approach (one scale played over a group of chords) and use F blues scale.
Here is a II – V – I sequence in Bb major featuring this same chord but now pointing towards its tonic. If all this is beginning to get a little technical for some readers, I hope that the above illustrations demonstrate that one chord has different functions in different contexts and cannot simply be used because of its appealing sound in isolation.
As with my number 1 ‘jazzy’ chord, I have nothing against this scale other than its constant use.
This time, rather than identifying chord function, here it’s a case of choosing other options. However, if you are soloing over, say, four bars of one dominant 7 chord, as in a basic blues, there are plenty more options than just running up and down the blues scale.
The Lydian Dominant: This derives from the melodic minor scale a perfect 4th Or just sharpen the 4th of the Mixolydian mode.
The diminished scale: When played over a dominant 7 chord, this scale repeats the alternate pattern of half tone, whole tone intervals. When soloing over these scales, ensure that you emphasise the chord tones (A and Eb) on strong beats in order to bring out the harmony.
So when my old jazz teacher (Howard Riley) said ‘don’t play jazz’ he was steering me away from ready-made sounds and licks, and towards creative exploration.
I would suggest that soloing is like setting out on an exploration and being surprised by new discoveries.
In other words, rather than mechanically delivering his line, he becomes involved in the process of discovery, just as we do in normal conversation or when we solo. Have you ever been asked the question “What do you do?” When I used to reply “I’m a singing coach” the usual annoying response was “Do you know anyone famous?” Now that I teach jazz piano, an equally infuriating reaction is “How can you teach improvisation?
Nowadays, there is far more access to jazz education, with full-time degree courses, jazz teachers, online tutorials, and books by the cartload. II-V-I’s in every key will is will get you so far, but until you get out there and play with other musicians your progress will eventually hit a brick wall. Even if you have a personal teacher playing alongside you, there is still a difference between this relatively safe activity and playing in a room with a group of fellow musicians.
So, assuming that you are now playing with other musicians and doing the odd gig, is there really any need to learn theory? This has to be an essential requirement, for the simple reason that a lead sheet comprises of the top line (melody) plus chord symbols. Most tunes begin in one key but then move through a number of related keys before eventually returning to the original key (the key signature). Choose any chord, no matter how complex, and there’s bound to be a scale or mode that can be played over it. Studying: Hopefully, my learn jazz piano course and eBooks are helping you, but there is an ever growing number of resources now on the internet. For each album, I’ve given you the pianist on the session, when the leader is other than a pianist. Some of you have followed my old learn jazz piano iTunes audio only podcasts over the last few years.
Keyboard                 The ideal is to practice on an acoustic piano, as the sound and action will always be superior to an electronic keyboard.


Recording facility: this will enable you to record, say, the song’s bass line, so that you can practice over it. Resist the temptation to only play in the easy keys, as you will soon be encountering certain standards in ‘difficult’ keys. I – VI – II – V                        This common turnaround often appears at the end of a tune to lead you back to the start.
2          Listen to recordings         In my work as a vocal coach I’m often dismayed by singers replicating Sinatra’s version of I’ve Got You Under My Skin, or Eva Cassidy’s interpretation of Over The Rainbow.
When researching a song, I suggest you start with a relatively ‘straight’ version rather than an interpretation.
The solution is to approach scales and arpeggios musically and in a manner appropriate to jazz.
Next, play these broken chords, also with a swing feel. In this example you are practicing arpeggios, but over a I – VI – II – V turnaround. There are three chord patterns that come up frequently: the II – V – I sequence, the II – V sequence and the I – VI – II – V turnaround. II – V – I                    Develop the ability to solo and comp through the II – V – I sequence in all major and minor keys.
I – VI – II – V             This common turnaround often appears at the end of a tune to lead you back to the start. How you approach these sequences depend on the areas in your playing that need strengthening: rootless voicings, soloing, comping etc. Before backing tracks were available, we all played along to the original album track; in fact I still enjoy comping behind my favorite players, and recommend that you do the same.
I would only suggest practising to a metronome if your playing needs tightening up or if your tempos are slowing down.
In short, rather than mindlessly running up and down scales and churning out tunes that you know, structure your practice session so that it is both productive and enjoyable.
Try googling ‘swing’ and you will encounter an array of words and phrases such as groove and feel, which are of little practical use to a learning musician.
For practical purposes swing is about the rhythmic placement of eighth notes (or quavers where I come from).
The following phrase mainly consists of 8 even eighth notes played over a II-V-I sequence in F major.
To convert this to a dotted rhythm is not the way forward as this leads to a stilted and artificial approximation of swing. A more accurate representation is to introduce eighth note triplets that contain a rest midway. However, the convention is to show the notes as even eights (as shown in the first illustration) based on the assumption that the musician already knows that the piece has a swing feel. Clearly, when we listen to the masters playing these so-called swung eights, the rhythmic placement seems to vary not just from player to player, but from bar to bar. Over the years, my main self-criticism as a player has been my lack of consistency with regard to rhythmic accuracy.
I therefore encourage my students to sometimes think less about being creative and focus more on rhythmic accuracy.
Play a constant stream of smooth eighth notes.  At first it doesn’t matter which notes you play, as long as they are even. Now leave some gaps between your phrases, but still hear and feel the 8s, even though you are not actually playing them.
Learning to play a constant string of smooth and even eighth notes, over a bass line or ‘locked in’ rhythm section is the first step to achieving a swing feel. From a teaching perspective, another essential part of the equation relates to levels of energy.
Over my years as a student of jazz I have been given two pieces of advice that I always try to pass on. Map: The A section is mostly a I-VI-II-V turnaround but with a move to the subdominant (IV) at bar 6. In  the first eight bars of Victor Young’s Beautiful Love each sweet note occurs on beat 1 and above the chord. Blue In Green, credited to Miles Davis but probably composed by Bill Evans, has a cyclical structure that never seems to resolve.
In the following example, rather than writing out the complete melody, I’ve illustrated just the target notes, plus a suggested left-hand accompaniment. Jazz Piano School is holding her annual concert in Esplanade Piano Recital Studio, on the evening of 3rd December. However, it has to be a recording with McCoy Tyner, The obvious choice would be A Love Supreme, but I’ve chosen My Favourite Things because you can hear his approach to standards. There’s something to be said for the argument that if a minor7 chord is functioning as a II, then adding a note between 7 and 8 (rather than 3 and 4) results in more chord tones occurring on downbeats. Next to a 12-bar blues, this is the most important chord sequence in jazz, and  is one that every jazz musician needs to be familiar with. Subsequently, jazz composers took to retaining the chord changes but replacing Gershwin’s tune with their own. I used All The Things You Are and Take The A Train to demonstrate how to interpret a song structure and then reharmonise it. In order to do this, you need to interpret the song’s map and identify all its key centres. The solo introduction is a little flowery, but once the trio kicks in, Hawes creates one glorious idea after another. This jazz piano lesson combines your knowledge of rootless voicings (lesson 15) and tritone substitution (lesson 16). However, my 40 years as a pro keyboard player has taught me that being given the opportunity to solo comes as a bonus. I have since come to work with some wonderful singers that are every bit as skillful as any jazz instrumentalist.
This situation often stems from the singer being required to front the band as a focal point. Incidentally, if you have any doubts about Bennett’s credentials as a jazz singer, listen to the two albums he made with Bill Evans.
Whether the song comes to a dead stop or slows down, it is again the singer’s responsibility to convey their intention to the band.
As this is an article rather than a book, I’ll just be focusing on varying blues structures rather than chord choices, scales, licks etc. In the 40’s the Bebop players took this to its logical conclusion, giving the sequence a complete makeover. But in retrospect, I now feel that what we were doing had little connection with what I now think of as jazz. I suppose one could list various attributes to a traditional concept of jazz and say that it involves improvisation, it swings (see my take on this in previous article), is often instrumental and usually has a structure and chord sequence.
Our solo is now more likely to be vertical (appropriate note choices over each individual chord). There are blues guitarists (that I won’t name) that have built a career out of endlessly running up and down this scale. But I’ll start with an example of where you can use the blues scale to good effect other than in a blues: a minor II – V – I sequence. But however much we fill our heads with jazz theory, there is still no substitute for the two activities that jazz musicians have always engaged in: listening and playing together.
Some single line players (sax etc) have been known to get away without knowing their chords, but for us piano players it’s our bread and butter.
You may have your favourite voicings and know scales that work over each chord, but playing a solo by referring to each chord individually will sound unmusical and disjointed.
The danger here is that just running up and down these scales and modes will produce bad jazz. But in the end it’s finding your own balance between studying the theory and just playing the music. One of the  best ways to  study jazz piano is by playing with other people, whether with friends, with your teacher, at an evening class or summer school etc etc. Studying, of course, includes practice, and this doesn’t  just mean strolling through your favourite tunes and licks!
The average time a trial usually lasts is two weeks, In fact, a juror can get through a few cases in this time, or sit around in the waiting room and not be called at all.
Instead, it might move to another II – V.   Use fig 85, below, to practice switching through a series of random II – V’s.
Some musicians get by without being able to read a note of music, but I would not have stayed in regular work over the years without this skill. You can make a start by playing scales in swing 8s, but here are a couple of suggestions that combine technique with your jazz practice. As well as strengthening your technique, you are also developing your own licks, rather than copying from others.
Then along came playalong CDs: collections of recorded backing tracks bundled with the sheet music. These apps display the chord chart (not the melody) and provide a rhythm track for hundreds of standards.
But of course both musicians had an implicit understanding of the word without the need for analysis or elucidation. The theory can be pinned down and explained, but whether or not the theory can be translated into practice is another matter.


On occasion, when finding myself playing alongside classically trained musicians, I encountered another example of the difference in rhythmic feel: their idea of where the downbeat occurred differed from mine. In other words this constant stream of 8s are always there ‘in the ether’ whether you’re actually playing them or not. Many of my students arrive for a lesson after a full-on day at work and are still buzzing with high energy.
I then relate this to jazz improvisation and show you how to employ this technique in your solos. I recommend that you first revisit this tune by listening to track 3 of the Miles Davis album: Kind Of Blue. Rhythm Changes is based on the chord sequence of the song  I Got Rhythm by George Gershwin. It not only leaves more room for the bass player; these voicings will also inspire your right hand to play far more interesting solos. A more realistic expectation for a pianist is that we will spend most of our working lives accompanying soloists and singers, in other words, comping. At one end of the spectrum, if the soloist has limited experience, they may require plenty of rhythmic and melodic help. Your role, therefore, is to follow the singer until the song falls into tempo (or falls apart!) on beat 1 of the chorus.
To indicate an approaching tag (extended ending), the singer might revolve a finger clockwise. Blues is a feeling, something you have to live.” I tried explaining that I’m a jazz piano teacher and that teaching the blues is part of my job but the image faded. But for teaching purposes I find it unhelpful to separate them into two distinct compartments.
In other words, rather than pointing to their tonics (1) these dominant 7s stand in their own right. In those days I was listening to lots of great organ players like Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, but I suspect that I was just trying to mimic them rather than striving for something that expressed my own creativity. In most musical instances a dominant 7 has a function: it either leads to or wants to lead to its tonic. This is not some test to expose weaknesses but rather an easy and usually relaxed meeting point during which a learning jazz pianist can solo while I provide a bass line. This is why I choose to listen to the likes of Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix rather than those six-note wonders.
I can’t imagine that fifty years ago jazz players had the same access to teachers, courses or even books on the practical aspects of playing jazz.
These tracks will help you with timing and acquainting yourself with a piece, but they are no substitute for the real thing.
Even if you are just playing to the barman one can only benefit from this shift up in gear: this is now a gig rather than a practice section or rehearsal. You must work towards recognising chord symbols for all major, minor and dominant seven chords in every key.
All songs have a map: chords fall into groups and these groups of chords usually belong to a key centre. But, that said, you need to gain some knowledge of these scales and how they relate to chords. Whatever gets you beyond just sitting at home and playing to backing tracks, the interaction and communication with other musicians is essential. In a way, this is the easiest way to learn jazz piano, as you don’t need to be doing anything consciously. But I didn’t take into account that I would eventually have to learn to make and edit videos and then find someone that would put my dream together. Apart from being able to tune out the piano track, these playalongs are less flexible than apps (see below), in that each track is in a fixed key and tempo. Not only can you turn instruments off, you can also change the key, tempo and style of each song. If you want to get more creative, use a sequencer such as Garage Band or Logic to build up your own track. But we can’t escape the fact that the only real way forward is the combination of listening to the jazz masters and playing with other musicians. Some may also be stressed after driving through London traffic or as a result of being packed on to a rush hour tube train. Put another way, if you make an active effort to swing the result will be stilted and artificial.
Jazz composers have substituted Gershwin’s  tune with their own, but have kept the chord sequence.
More importantly, players were drawn to the chord changes, finding them to be an ideal vehicle for improvisation.
Therefore, unless a student has no ambition or desire to play with other musicians or jazz singers, comping is an art that has to be learnt. Once again, it should be the singer’s responsibility to ‘bring the band in,’ but the leader or drummer can help out here.
If we have to take a stab at separating them, it could be said that, say, Muddy Waters is in the blues camp. Of course we all have to start somewhere and, hopefully, their influence gradually rubbed off, leading me away from just making jazzy sounds.
But in the two songs mentioned above this is not the case, as in these instances the dominant 7 is acting as a tonic chord. There is no longer the option to stop half way through if something goes wrong but there’s also the added buzz that only comes from performing rather than rehearsing. For me, I know that this skill has enabled me to work as a pro musician for 40 years but, generally speaking, I’d say that you can get by just by reading the treble clef, in other words, the top line or melody of a tune. The big clue is to be found in the dominant 7 chord, which usually ‘points’ towards its tonic, in other words, the key centre.
Is it just possible that the thought of practising conjures up the brain numbing activity of running up and down scales and arpeggios? You may be able to breeze through Autumn Leaves in Bb but what if the singer asks you to play it in B? However, if you wish to try this method of practice, I’d suggest the excellent Jamey Aebersold series. While in this hyper or agitated state their playing is likely to be rushed and uneven and it can sometimes take 30 minutes before they settle down. Actually, there are a few variations of this sequence you need to know, and I take you through the options in this 30-minute video lesson. If they are playing or singing a melody, then the melody, or at least its outline, may need to be stated clearly. But as soon as we try attaching a ‘jazz only’ label to jazz musicians it becomes nigh impossible to assert that their music has no connection with the blues.
Unless the entire composition or solo is based solely around one chord, just to play it in isolation purely because of its attractive sound can be a meaningless gesture that has no relevance in the bigger picture.
In other words, it’s a non-functioning chord: It can stand in its own right or move to anywhere it chooses. Perhaps they did just ‘make stuff up’ but they would have also learned by listening to other musicians. The difference, for example, between C7 and C major 7 is whether the note ‘B’ is natural or flattened. I can’t even add up, yet was forced to stare at balance sheets and listen to the evidence of accountants for weeks on end. You can find an excellent example of Monk’s unique swing feel on YouTube in his live version of Don’t Blame Me (live in Denmark, 1966).
I’m not suggesting that there is an optimum state that one should aim for in order to swing but, for me, I’m at my best when relaxed but alert. There is, perhaps, less of a blues influence in the playing of Bill Evans than, say, Oscar Peterson. More importantly, their musical progress would have evolved through the act of playing alongside fellow musicians. Once you have identified a group of chords that all belong to one key centre, you can then play through this passage in a way that makes musical sense. These 3s and 7s need to be highlighted in order to illuminate the harmonic line of your solo.
His left hand is mostly playing a strict four to the bar stride, but pay close attention to his right hand phrasing. Anyone with experience of programming music with the aid of a computer will know the dangers of quantizing: forcing beats into their precise slots dehumanises the music. It could also be said that some European jazz has evolved through influences other than the blues. Now I’ll not admit that what I then did to save myself from going crazy took place in the actual court room under the table, because I want you to know that I was paying attention for every single minute of those mind-numbing nine months. So, instead, I’ll tell you that in the lunch and tea breaks I  got this bright idea to write a book on learning jazz piano. This book would be based around a web site where you could watch videos, download backing tracks and even do a quiz.




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