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Learn Jazz Piano

Learn Jazz Piano

Learn Jazz PianoJazz music has a fairly long and established history now extending over a hundred years. Within jazz itself are many different styles and influences. These influences include the Blues, through Big Band Swing, the Bebop era, Latin music, and more recently, World music styles. At the heart of all of these different genres, styles and influences, however is one common thread: jazz is an improvised form.

During the Bebop era a method of learning how to improvise coalesced, and this method is the one now most taught in college and university programs. It involves the memorization of jazz standards, the familiarization of great solos from the masters, and the detailed study of form, chords and scales. This method is also how most musicians learn jazz piano.

An important resource to help students learn jazz piano are published anthologies, commonly called ‘fake books’. The most often recommended fake book that all jazz students own is The New Real Book published by Sher Music Company. It collects a couple hundred jazz and Latin standards as lead sheets in single volume. Lead sheets reduce arrangement to their essential melodies and chord progressions. This volume is available in standard keys for common jazz instruments. Students will then choose other common anthologies based on their needs and particular interests.

Another incredible learning resource for students that wish to learn jazz piano is the collection of Aebersold play along recordings. These recordings are a must for the up and coming jazz musician, The great pedagogue Jamey Aebersold presents over a hundred volumes of recordings of jazz standards. He employs master musicians proficient in all styles of jazz. The student plays along with these musicians, taking the head, or melody, solos, and accompaniment. Starting with volume 1 and using the suggested path for learning will reap untold musical rewards.

Listening to the great players is also an important part of how to learn jazz piano. Formal jazz programs usually focus their study on the greats of the Bebop era like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Bill Evans. They are the important innovators of modern playing styles.

From a technical standpoint, jazz pianists will have to come to grips to the difference between playing eighth-notes in a swing style, and in a straight style. In very basic terms, with a swing style, paired eight-notes are played as a triplet quarter-note plus an eighth-note. Swung eighths is the standard way of playing jazz. The exception is for Latin jazz, which is played with straight eighths.

This explanation of swung vs straight eighths is very simplistic, however. To play swing well takes a great deal of practice, and understanding of different playing styles suitable to different genres and contexts. You can swing hard or swing soft. You will also have to become proficient reading and playing syncopated rhythms characteristic of both swing and Latin styles.

In developing their technique, students will play and study transcribed solos of the masters. This practice deepens the student’s knowledge of jazz and can provide inspiration for creating solos.

For all its seemingly endless variations, jazz musicians work within relatively few musical forms and related chord progressions. A thorough understanding of the twelve bar blues and how its permutations are built is incredibly important to the jazz musician. So are other forms like the song form, and chord progressions like II-V-I, and the cycle of fifths. Standard progressions from pieces like I’ve Got Rhythm and Autumn Leaves, have become forms of their own, serving as a harmonic skeleton for improvisation. A skilled musician will recognize any of these musical ideas within a few measures of hearing it.

Probably the most unique aspect of the study of jazz piano, is the marriage between key centers, scales and chords. Players use the terms chords and scales interchangeably. They are the player’s foundation for improvisation. A thorough and regular practice of scales and chords will make up the bulk of the player’s technical exercises while they learn jazz piano.

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