For classically trained pianists, jazz piano might sound like a foreign language. Classical pianists used to play the music exactly as written on the music score, but playing jazz, on the other hand, involves understanding a different set of rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures as well as syncopation and improvisation. To get started on jazz, it is especially helpful to have good listening skills, and a basic understanding of jazz harmony. Below is a list of steps I recommend for getting started on jazz piano:
- Listen, listen and listen! Listening to great jazz classics such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington… would give you some ideas and inspirations and help you get started. It is interesting to note that earlier jazz musicians learnt jazz by actually ‘doing’ – playing and experimenting jazz in real life, and thus they all had very distinctive and individual styles when playing jazz. As jazz piano is very different to classical pieces, it is good to develop a habit of listening to jazz, so that you get the hang of the overall feeling and start to recognise rhythmic patterns and structures.
- Learn all major and minor scales. To understand jazz harmony, it is important to know your major and minor scales really well. This is the fundamental step before getting to know the major and minor triads, the 7th chords and experimenting with jazz voicing.
- Learn to ‘swing’ – the essential rhythmic component of jazz. Jazz pieces swing, which gives you this great feeling that makes you want to tap your feet and move to the beat. It can be simply explained as two subsequent eighth notes being read and played as dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note (‘long-short’ notes).
- Improvisation. This is usually the most challenging part for classically trained pianists, because they were used to read and play music exactly as written. Improvisation is the art of letting go, freeing yourself from the confines of music scores and using your imagination to lead the music. Learning and playing blues scale is a good starting point for improvisation.
If you are interested in getting started on jazz and learning some great jazz piano music, I invite you to contact me on my mobile 0411 383 376 or send me an email.