What Jazz Piano is Not

Over the last few weeks, I have been both composing and subscribing to new YouTube channels which focus on jazz piano in some way, be it the owner is a pianist and has uploaded some song interpretations, if they have simply provided a very good collection of jazz piano music or, and this is the highlight of my post, if they post educational videos for aspiring jazz pianists.

I very rarely pass opinion; it gets you into hot water and can even be frowned upon, but I urge you to read this post not as a swipe (negative review) at such uploaders/pianists, but as an indirect thumbs down in their general direction as I directly encourage you, the reader of my blog, to take such videos with a pinch of salt and to actually realise the difference between a jazz piano educator of value, and someone who can play the piano relatively well and happens to know how to name some jazzy chords.  The difference is enormous.

First, let's look at what you need as foundational abilities to be an above-average jazz pianist:

1.  Major scale knowledge of all 12 keys
2.  Dexterity in both hands is incredibly important
3.  Knowledge of major/minor and dominant/major 7th chords in all 12 keys
4.  Blues scale knowledge in at least C, F, G, Eb, Ab, Bb, but preferably just know the scales in all 12 keys
5.  An appreciation for the 'sound' of jazz; when you listen to every single one of the videos I have in my recommended video page, you should be doing a combination of crying, head bopping, foot tapping, jaw-on-floor amazement faces, etc... If you just listen to them then click the next, you're in the wrong place.
6.  A feeling of swing
7.  A repertoire of at least 10 numbers you can play well enough so you can use them as practice tunes for improvisation and performance (of around 30-40 mins)
8.  Patience
9.  Confidence in your ability, no matter your level.  Simplicity is just as good as virtuosity when palced correctly
10.  Be the proud owner of my jazz book:  A Philosophical Approach to Jazz Piano

With the 10 steps above completed, assuming you didn't have more than half of them already, give yourself 2 solid months of practice and dedication; 2 months is not a lot and will pass very quickly with at least an hour a day.  I am a strong supporter of what Liszt used to say:  Every hand is different.  Do not waste time getting perfecting fingering.  Some people would have me hanged for such a comment but I stand firm; it is futile to waste valuable 'improving' time on going against what comes naturally to you so don't do it!

 Once the above has been achieved, you are technically no longer in need of the poor YT videos which allegedly teach jazz piano.  The performers are regularly poor, make mistakes during demonstration, mumble too fast since they don't know how to 'teach', only 'share what they know' in some casual way, do not enforce strict practice methods and do not take into account so many things that I don't have the space or time to write a list of...!  Oh, they also seem to like showing off their speed abilities, the likes of which are poor and irritating to watch.

Jazz piano, in other words, is not just knowing the 9 things above or internalising my eBook, #10.  It is absolutely not just playing fast scales, transcribing everything that exists already and becoming a machine; some kind of piano freak who can internalise all these songs so quickly and play them back with no heart, meaning or Purpose.

Jazz is about bringing your experiences to the table; a table which already has the 10 foundational points listed above so that no technical challenge is too great.  When you sit down to play a song for either yourself or an audience, of any size, ask yourself first 'What is my purpose?'  Then play it based on experience, emotion, feeling... if you need to play a fast blues scale at one point before sliding into a lovely Major 9th chord, great, you can do that because you spent 2 months mastering the 10 points above.  Don't just play a fast blues scale and then another one and another one ad nausem because that is not jazz, that's a finger workout or you showing off, or a combination of both.

Jazz piano is not about playing complicated chords and fast, silly scales.  It does not want you to show off.  It does not want you to offer the listener a 'sealed book'; in other words, you wouldn't give someone Pride and Prejudice but seal it shut with glue, would you?  They can only read the back cover, that means.  The same with your playing:  don't let them have a glimpse of blues, speed and fancy chords; that means nothing.  Jazz wants you to develop a story, use ornaments when you feel they are necessary and not just all the time, willy-nilly let's say.

The 'educational' jazz videos on YT, the majority (not all, and not even only for piano; some guitar ones are just as dreadful, I notice) of them, do not contain anything I have written in this blog, so go to them with caution.  Go to them with a greater mind than that of the 'teacher'; go there to steal some basic ideas rather than to learn from them.  If they play a nice little riff you like in all of the 10 mins, just take those few seconds and ignore the rest.

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Thank you for reading!