How to Play Jazz Piano

by Erik Thiede on April 23, 2014

If you’ve always wanted to know how to play jazz piano, you’re about to get started. Jazz may be a complex musical genre, but you can play it if you master the basics first. Before you know it, you’ll have developed the skills you need to emulate jazz greats or compose your own music.

Jazz’s distinctive sound originated in the South. It’s important to understand its roots to get a feeling for how to play jazz piano. Born out of the songs of African American laborers, notably in New Orleans, Jazz owes its popularity to its unconventional rhythms, trademark chords, and its soulful style.

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While jazz music is recognizable, it is improvisational, which means changing certain aspects of a performance is encouraged. Depending on a musician’s emotions, skill level, playing style, etc., one version of a song can vary greatly from another. This allows for a good deal of creativity on your part.

How To Play Jazz Piano – The Chords

To get started, it’s a good idea for you to understand the chords used to play jazz. These particular chords go beyond the basic three note chords most budding musicians learn. The following lessons will be set in the key of C since that is an easier key to learn in than the others.

Let’s start with the sixth chord. You might see this chord

represented as C6 or Cadd6 on a chord chart. To play a C6 chord, starting with your right thumb, play the notes C-E-G-A. The A is your 6th because it is one step above the 5th note, G. Notice that we are keeping the G in the chord. In a Cadd6 chord, you would replace the G with the A. Try playing them both and listen to their subtle differences.

The next logical step is a seventh chord. When you play a C7 chord, you play the three notes C-E-G and add the C scale’s seventh note, lowered one half step. The seventh note is B, so you will add a B flat. Play the C-E-G-B flat combination and you will instantly recognize the sound.

A close relative of the seventh is the major seventh. This chord, indicated as Cmaj7 on a chord chart, has the seventh note of the scale added on to the end. In this case, it’s B. Play the C-E-G-B combination as a chord and compare it to the C7 chord.

After you have practiced playing the different chords, put them together in a progression. A progression is a series of chords. A common chord progression in jazz music is the 1-4-2-5. The numbers represent the first note of each chord as they relate to the key you are in. In the key of C, the first note of the scale (number 1) is the C. The fourth note is F, the second note is D, and the fifth note is G. So this chord progression would have the following chords, in order: C, F, D, G.

It’s not uncommon to play one or more of the chords in a minor key. For example, try playing the D as D minor, or a D minor 6th. Jazz is all about experimentation and expression, so have fun as you explore your chord options.

How To Play Jazz Piano – Adding the Bass

Now it’s time to add the bass. While you naturally have a few options, a common bass style is known as a walking bass. To perform this style, you basically play one note per beat of the measure, each note being one note from your chord. You “walk up” on the first chord and “walk down” on the second chord. Here’s a example: If your first chord is a C7, your bass could be the notes C-E-G-B flat. On the second chord, F, your bass notes might be A-F-C-A. You don’t have to play every note from the scale. The fourth note, played on the fourth beat, could be a note that transitions well into the next chord. For instance, if your third chord is D minor, your fourth note could be a C sharp.

You’ve only scratched the surface on learning how to play jazz piano, but what you’ve learned so far is enough to sound like you know what you’re doing! Practice and learn to improvise what you’ve learned. Then look for more lessons to take your skills further!

 How to Play Jazz Piano

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A Guide to Piano Instruction Books

by Tania Gleaves on April 22, 2014

Although you could certainly try to learn piano by just playing around with the keys, a better method is to invest in some piano instruction books.

There are a wide variety of books available on the market, so how do you know you are making the right decision? Here are a few hints on finding the right piano instruction books, and saving money.

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If you are taking formal lessons, you should buy the instruction books that your teacher recommends. This way you and your teacher are on the same page, so to speak, in your musical development. There are probably one or two books that your teacher will instruct from exclusively.

You can also branch out and get some fun books on your own. Try searching at a sheet music store for your favorite songs or styles of music. This will make learning the piano more fun and exciting.

While you are at the sheet music store, ask a member of the staff for recommendations. They can point you in the direction of some popular piano instruction books for your playing level.

All of these piano instruction books can add up fast. If you are serious about building a collection, it’s worth it to find some discount books. Watch for sales at your local sheet music store to get good deals on books.

You can also try used bookstores for vintage piano instruction books. These books will have more character and different songs than modern books. Some people even collect vintage and antique piano books as a hobby. Unique books will, of course, cost more than new books. But you can find some good standard vintage books at low prices to increase your repertoire.

Look for piano instruction books at yard sales or second hand stores. Many people pick up the piano as a hobby and then, unfortunately, drop it quickly. There are probably countless beginning instruction books floating around at rock bottom prices.

Another great place to look for discount piano instruction books is on ebay or other online auction sites. Books on auction sites are normally sold in lots, so you can get several books for one low price. Search for instruction books by genre or skill level to find great deals.

When you shop online, remember that you’ll have to pay for shipping in addition to the cost of the books. But normally this is not a problem since the price of the books is so low.

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