One of the most popular genres of piano playing is jazz. Famed for its expressivity, improvised flare and vast variability, jazz music is an exciting playground for the pianist to explore, no matter what their ability level.
Whether you would consider yourself a well seasoned pianist, or a complete new beginner to the piano, we believe that everyone should give jazz piano a try at least once and who knows you may even find that it is your new favourite style of music to play!
In celebration of the launch of the Cambridge Jazz Festival and our all new Jazz sheet music range, we wanted to bring you the ultimate beginners guide to getting started with jazz piano.
One particular group of people who often want to try dipping a toe into the world of jazz piano is classically trained pianists who are looking to try something new, or pianists who learn with a teacher who is primarily a classical player often want to try their hand at jazz to shake up their practice routine, so today we’re going to be breaking down some of the key tips to get started with jazz piano and a few quick exercises to try if you’ve never played jazz piano before.
If this also sounds like you and you would like to learn more about how you can use your classical to enhance your jazz playing, we would highly recommend reading our interview with composer Jean Kleeb, who has many dedicated works to helping those transition from classical to jazz piano.
The Relationship Between Jazz and Piano
The beauty of jazz piano is that it can be as simple or advanced as you like. There is a real rabbithole of content out there for jazz piano and even the most seasoned of jazz musicians will tell you that you can’t learn it all in a lifetime of playing. One of jazz’s biggest downfall is that to the casual, non-musical onlooker, it can seem somewhat of a mysterious art that you either ‘get’ or you don't, but we do not believe this is the case.
Jazz does not need to be a mystery and in its most basic form is actually one of the easiest genres to pick up when beginning your piano journey as many jazz principles can be learned from learning just a few basic chord progressions and theory. Jazz piano uses all the typical chord theories that you would expect to find in Western music, such as majors, minors, augmented, diminished, seventh and so on, so these are a fantastic place to begin learning jazz.
If you are looking for places to get started, this article is a fantastic beginning where you will then be able to get started with some basics and then expand your chords and progressions.
Once you have begun to learn what can be classed as the ‘jazz sound’, you’ll be able to then learn more about the other core defining characteristic of jazz - the ‘feel’. This is predominantly driven from the root notes and is the driving force of the piece, determining things such as tempo, dynamics and mood that the melody (or right hand) is then able to dance over. To begin with, this is more than enough to get started before needing to move onto other jazz progressions such as improvisation and playing by ear with others (which we can move onto later).
Our friend Robin Phillips has actually helped us film a video all about Jazz chord progressions and timings for the beginner here.
Where To Get Started
The first thing that we would recommend doing when getting started with jazz piano is to listen to as much as possible! There are plenty of jazz greats out there who mastered their art on the piano across a plethora of different playing styles. From the legendary Theonius Monk to Duke Ellington, there are a number of names and even songs that you may recognise. If you are looking for some inspiration, check out our guide to the top jazz pianists of all time here. Or perhaps read our interview with famed British jazz pianist Iain Shaw here. Even consuming popular media such as Disney’s Soul is a fantastic place to begin!
This will help you realise which kinds of jazz piano you do and don’t like, for example do you prefer smooth jazz? Or are you more dazzled by the fast improvisation of bebop jazz?
Luckily, there are a number of excellent jazz books out there for beginners as well as those advancing through the grades who want to try their hands at jazz. We would highly recommend the ABRSM Jazz Piano Syllabus to help you get started. Likewise, other pieces such as Oscar Peterson’s Jazz Exercises is perfectly suited for both novice pianists and those classically trained pinaists looking to develop their jazz technique.
It’s All About The Feel
Much like any piano playing, jazz is about so much more than just being able to hit the right keys, it is all about the feeling and expression behind each note and what the piece is trying to say to the audience. That’s why we’d also highly recommend reading over our guides to piano improvisation and also how to improve your expression on piano, as both of these are fundamental parts of being able to communicate jazz through your instrument. Both of course take hours, months, if not years to progress and is a skill that you will always be learning, however when they begin to pay off, the results are more than worth the work!
Looking to learn more about jazz and more piano playing tips? Explore our blog here, or if you are looking to learn more about finding the right piano for you, contact our showroom team today or book a demonstration with our experts!