From the category archives:

Jazz Piano

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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In Introduction To the Jazz Piano Chord

by Erik Thiede on March 31, 2014

The Distinguished Sounds Of Jazz

One of the things that distinguishes jazz piano from classical piano, blues piano, or any other style is its chords. The Jazz piano chord move beyond the typical 3-note triad to a four-note combination (as well as extended chords) — making them an interesting “filler” of sorts. And since they’re pretty heavy on the major and minor 7th chords, shifting to this style should be fairly simple if you’re already familiar with the dominant 7th chord.

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Learning The Major And Minor 7th Chords

Remember the dominant 7th chords? Dominant 7th chords are created by playing triads with the B note between the A and C notes of the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Accomplishing a major 7th chord follows an almost exact procedure, except unlike with dominant 7th chords, the B note isn’t flat. So a major 7th chord in C would look like: C, E, G, and B.

When you play this chord and listen to its unique harmony, you’ll notice that it’s quite different from the typical C Major chord in classical music. By simply adding a fourth note to the traditional C major chord, you can completely change the dynamics of your music. Try out these Major 7th root chords to see what we mean:

A, C#, E, G#

Ab, C, Eb, G

B, D#, F#, A#

Bb, D, F, A

C, E, G, B

D, F#, A, C#

Db, F, Ab, C

E, G#, B, D#,

Eb, G, Bb, D

F, A, C, E

F#, A#, C#, E#

G, B, D, F#

7th Chord Inversions

Inverting these chords is almost as simple as adding a fourth finger into the mix because they follow an easy-to-remember pattern. And since we’re now working with four notes, the chords can be played four ways — three of them inverted. To invert any one of the chords above, just begin each one with its second, third, or fourth note and play remaining notes of the chord in order. As an example, look at the first major 7th chord above in its root form: A, C#, E, G#.

Inverting this chord by C# would create: C#, E, G#, A.

Inverting this chord by E would create: E, G#, A, C#

Inverting this chord by G# would create: G#, A, C#, E

See the pattern?

Playing minor 7th chords follows the same principle, only they’re played with minor chords.

Familiarity Breeds Appreciation

This is of course the basic principle behind the jazz piano chord because as you’ve probably heard in the music that you hear, they can get much more intricate than what’s introduced above. That’s because every key can create seven extended chords of some kind.

Just remember that each chord is built from a scale and although the jazz presents tremendous opportunity to improvise, creating new music from a familiar structure ensures that your audience can relate the to message that you’re trying to convey.

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Jazz Piano Chords

March 16, 2014

Believe it or not, jazz piano chords are easy to master and enhance your chord repertoire. Whether you want to become the next jazz legend or simply sit in on a jam, you can learn what you need to hold your own. Jazz owes its roots to the music of African American laborers in the […]

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Piano Jazz Lessons – Learning Through Its History and Its Music

March 11, 2014

Jazz Is The Answer To Story-Telling Questions Piano jazz lessons through studying notation and chords alone is not an easy feat because its very nature requires us establish how jazz is a reaction to meaningful explorations. This gives us sufficient reason to investigate its development from the late 18th and 19th centuries on through to […]

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A Jazz Piano Book – Is It Possible to Learn Jazz From a Book?

February 14, 2014

Supplement ‘Play Time’ With ‘Book Time’ Learning from a jazz piano book requires a serious approach — even when studying the basics. And part of achieving this success is arming yourself with a high quality jazz piano book. One of your most important goals in becoming a jazz pianist therefore is to surround your musical […]

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Preserving Your ‘Style’ In Jazz Piano Instruction

February 10, 2014

Wisdom And The Chance To Demonstrate It Hardly anyone believes that learning jazz piano instruction is a simple matter of sitting at the instrument and randomly pounding on keys. The context of this music is just too complex to be disregarded as a mishmash of unrelated notes and beats. The secret to learning its genius […]

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Learn To Play Jazz Piano and Abandon Past Traditions

February 8, 2014

No Other Genre of Music Offers Better Opportunities For Expression If you want to learn to play jazz piano, you must first value its opportunities for self-expression that this style grants so unselfishly. In almost any way that you please, jazz music becomes the vehicle for uniquely improvised sounds and rhythms — all to the […]

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Playing Jazz Piano Sheet Music

February 2, 2014

Traditional Piano Is Beneficial Although it isn’t a strict requirement, learning traditional piano is beneficial for learning how to play jazz piano sheet music. This is largely due to the fact that jazz is “classical deviation.” The problem with learning jazz before learning traditional methods is that the beginner may learn to deviate, but might […]

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Learning To Play Jazz Piano From Traditional Training to Improvisation

January 2, 2014

Opportunities To Extend Your Expressions Exist In Jazz Piano In learning to play jazz piano and other known styles, you’ll not only find opportunities to express yourself, you’ll also find opportunities to improvise. The same opportunities follow jazz music and although they provide for great fun, we want to warn you that learning to play […]

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Learn Big, Rich Jazz Chords On Piano

December 25, 2013

Jazz chords can sometimes be confusing at first glance. In this article, I am going to explain how jazz players usually interpret chords and pick tensions to create lush chords. Bear in mind, every musician has their own “tricks” that they use to form their jazz chords. However, there are some basic harmonic concepts that […]

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