On Virtual Jazz Tutors


Fearful of the content of this post, I wish to begin by making two things clear:

1.  Every tutor, no mater how 'good' they are, has at least a few things to help you on your jazz journey.  All tutors have one thing in general:  their intention to teach and impart knowledge is genuine, so don't forget that;


2.  I do not claim that my methods are the 'best' and incomparably so, I merely wish to share what works for me and what I have learnt from the mastership of Liszt and Peterson, as well as my own discoveries.

This post focuses on the current abundance of online 'jazz piano tutors' and my advice for handling this flood of information.  I end with some of my own words of advice which should be taken with the same pinch of salt as the information in the videos about which I discuss.

Issue:  For obvious money-making reasons, many, many pianists have taken to YouTube (myself not included, and so it shall remain) to share their knowledge of the piano and jazz theory.  More often than not, this involves selling courses too which provide further demonstrations and information to that which is already available in the (usually) informative videos.  Herein lies my first discomfort:  these educators are indeed good pianists and have indeed studied jazz in some way, but lack either teaching ability (hesitation, stuttering, mixed sentences, bad examples, obvious inability to demonstrate that which is discussed, etc) or (more often than not) philosophy (such as my whole blog is based upon).  I feel that any subject in the world requires a philosophical approach, otherwise it remains meaningless facts and figures.

Advice:  When enjoying one tutorial, watch it with the intention of taking away just one bit of information, one sentence let's say.  Don't worry, there are plenty more videos from which to take other (often repeated) information.  Generally listen, but stick with one piece of advice per video, even if this involves returning to the beginning and picking out something that sticks in your mind.  Note this down and move on to the next video.  Eventually, over a week or a month, you will have perhaps one page of maybe 20-30 ideas or hints or tips.  This is excellent and your having controlled the flood of talking and information is more beneficial to your learning than trying to remember as much as possible.

Issue:  The majority of videos focus too much on showing off the speed capabilities of the tutor, which can be more depressing and confusing to the student than encouraging.  Encouragement and teaching are two different things, the former being demonstrated on purpose at a fixed time when the student is in some way prepared to be amazed rather than just witnessing occasional showing off by the tutor to demonstrate a point and then get lost in his (haven't seen a her jazz tutor yet ? ) own fancy stuff, much to the confusion of the student viewing.

Advice:  Don't be put of by your virtual tutor putting his own showing off before your education.  Most of them are not professionals, do not have real world experience  and / or are only making the videos for money because they know the majority of viewers will be impressed.  Those impressed by their teacher rather than fulfilled by his educational value are not good students.  Are you a good student?  As above, take away what you feel is important or the one thing you understand; you could even copy an improvisation idea if you liked the sound of it, but above all, do not be discouraged or even impressed by a showing off tutor, virtual or real.  Jazz (and all) education must be about the transfer of ideas and inspiration, with a sprinkle of new information in manageable doses.

Issue:  Many jazz piano video tutors offer improvisational ideas which are either too complicated, too basic and / or bland.  I find it a shame that 'tutors' who are otherwise good pianists, find it necessary to share their talent publicly but not share it well.  Should I be making jazz piano education videos (which will not happen, I repeat), I would focus on a particular style and offer a variety of ideas for the different user.  Of course, the majority of these tutors do not have much (if any) real world experience so can't provide many examples... they usually settle for fast, empty and too bluesy.  Please, don't be the same.

Advice:  Do not take any improvisation ideas from these amateur videos.  Maybe that is bold, but you will not make any progress if you base your learning, especially from an early stage, on these kinds of videos.  You must listen to masters of the art, and masters of the art alone.  Listen to the difference between versions of the same song played at different speeds, in a different key and with a different rhythm.  Sometimes, the lead instrument may not be piano but vibes, or saxophone.  Sure, start with easier songs like C Jam Blues or Bags Groove but study the solos of the masters, and not the amateurs.  Please... please don't.

Final words:  Sure, it would be foolish of me to tell you to take all my advice on board when I have just told you not to do so with 'virtual tutors', but please see me more as an impartial virtual jazz philosopher rather than an online virtual tutor with videos.  If you study all of my posts, I focus on a theme, and I discuss that theme with advice and thoughts and experiences.  I wish for the reader to take what is required and ignore the rest if necessary.  In this same way, from this post, I advise you to do the following to become a much more advanced jazz pianist, no matter your current ability:

1.  Get inspired.  Spend a whole night listening to Oscar Peterson.  Spend the next night listening to Bill Evans.  Spend the next night listening to Billy Taylor.  Maybe move on to guitar and listen to Joe Pass, and the Lionel Hampton on the vibes.  Get inspired and acknowledge what makes you go "Yeaaaaaaaaaa, that's it".

2.  Don't forget your foundations.  You can't play well, physically or emotionally, if you don't know your scales and / or your fingers can't play them.  Every day, even for 15 minutes twice a day, play even one octave of each major scale with both hands simultaneously.  Play the blues scale in all 12 keys over 4 octaves every day as part of your basic training.  Play the 4 main chord types in all 12 keys chromatically (major, minor, major 7, minor 7) with both hands, e.g;  CM7, DbM7, DM7, EbM7, etc...  it's not difficult after a while.

3.  Develop your repertoire.  If you don't have any songs to play, what use is having a piano and reading a jazz piano blog ?  Learn one or two songs per week and really try to memorise it in one other key.  This will open up so many new chord progressions and connections for you.

4.  Buy my book.  I mean, it's 210 pages with 100 audio files for less than 5 Euros... If you compare with others, it's more than 3 times cheaper.

5.  Continue to visit here and do your best to share what you find interesting.  Once I know what feedback I get, I can make the blog more user-friendly.

Thank you for reading... feel free to contact me anytime.

Good luck...