How to Be an Excellent Newcomer to Jazz

You may remember your first piano lessons and how you felt that playing well was very far away.  Maybe you also have memories of studying scales and really hating them.  Do you remember learning your first pieces to add to your repertoire in your first few months?

All useful memories; but would I be correct in saying that you did not practice as much as you should have?  For a majority, I would guess that that is an accurate statement.  Sometimes the teacher was boring or too strict, or you didn't like the pieces, or too much attention was given to something you didn't enjoy or think was necessary.  There are both good and bad memories of starting out on the piano for everybody.

Now you have discovered jazz, perhaps through YouTube, and you really enjoy and/or admire how the musicians of all instruments can play without music, improvise and be rhytmical and melodic all at the same time.  You enjoy the lush chords and blues notes, the unique sounds that jazz can provide, and perhaps you wonder how to play like that.  Naturally, I would suggest purchasing my eBook from this blog as a good starting point, but more generally, I would like to discuss how you can best be a jazz 'student'; I prefer the word 'newcomer', so that you progress more rapidly to improvising for yourself and understanding what those jazz musicians, of all instruments, are doing and how they are doing it.

First of all, and this may take a few weeks of effort, learn every major scale.  Play it well, with both hands, at speed, with your eyes closed, ascending and descending, using the correct fingering.  Without this hugely important foundation, nothing else will be easy or make sense.  Once you know the major scales, learn the blues scales in C, F, G, Eb, Bb, Ab, A, D and G.  Know them immediately.

Secondly, identify and internalise every major 7th, dominant 7th and minor 7th chord in all keys.  This could be done over 2 days of a few hours.  Don't worry about inversions for now; they will come naturally as and when you need to play them.

Thirdly, listen to as much jazz every day as you can.  Listen to the videos posted in my videos section above, and read what I wrote underneath them.  Go to YT or buy jazz albums from wherever you may buy music.  Spend about 1 month internalising your favourite melodies, bass lines and improvisational ideas.  Spend some time at the piano trying to copy what you hear.  Make a note of your favourite songs and try to find the lead sheets for them (easily available with simple google searches usually).  Try to memorise some of the chord progressions without the intention of learning the song in its entirety.

Now you are ready to start learning how to play jazz piano!

Don't be surprised by the above.  There is absolutely no point in starting a jazz piano journey without the above points completed fully.  There is too much 'stuff' to know and acknowledge that, without the above, is incomprehensible or at the very least, very difficult to grasp.  Allow me to expand upon them for your educational pleasures:

Major scales:  Without these, you cannot rapidly identify chords, find note values, create improvised ideas, develop stronger finger muscles, feel at ease on the keyboard itself or have greater command over the instrument.  Blues scales are very prevalent in jazz improvisation and if you can't find a flattened 5th or slide from a minor 3rd to major 3rd, you won't sound much good if you consider yourself a jazz pianist!

Chord types:  M7, 7 and m7 chords are the basis for every jazz song ever written.  Without knowing these immediately in all keys, you will struggle to play any song at all, from easy ones like Fly Me To The Moon, up to complicated ones like Body and Soul and 'Round Midnight.  Once you have these chords internalised, you will feel much more comfortable when you begin to add carefully selected jazz songs to yout repertoire.

Listen:  If you don't do this, you will have no idea what jazz even sounds like.  You will not know what style you like so you can then try to emulate it as your own preferred style and you will not know what exists so that you don't think something doesn't exist!  You will be unable to recognise chord types, the blues won't touch you properly and you will have absolutely nothing to go on in your own improvisations.  One improvisational technique is to copy something you heard somewhere; how can you have 'chops' if you never listen to any?  Becoming a good jazz pianist is a journey of self-discovery and part of this is to discover what you like and don't like so you can fine-tune your own style.  Listening allows you to do that, as well as increase your knowledge of repertoire songs.

I hope this post gives newcomers something to think about before beginning the more technical side of the jazz pianist's journey :)  Don't forget that my eBook:  A Philosophical Approach to Jazz Piano is available from this blog for only £3.99!

Best to all,