Category Archives: beginner jazz piano

Final Week – How to Play Jazz Piano

Here is a short video recapping my learning project journey:

To watch the video progress from week one, you can check out my YouTube playlist, or read the posts below.

To keep with the theme of my weekly posts, here are some reflections.

What I worked on:

  • I began my journey into the world of jazz piano by exploring:
    • jazz chord progressions (2-5-1)
    • the Blues
    • reading lead sheets
    • chord voicings and comping
    • two pieces – Misty and Autumn Leaves
    • early improvisation efforts

Wins:

  • Vlogging my entire experience and being vulnerable while learning a new skill
  • Making connections to my previous knowledge and adding to my music repertoire
  • Playing the piano without sheet music and experimenting. This is a new experience for me and I am really starting to enjoy the freedom.

Fails:

  • I had grand plans to become a gigging jazz musician by the end of this project, so I had to adjust my goals. I realized I need to practice a lot more.

What’s next?

  • I hope to continue improving my chord voicings, comping and reading lead sheet skills
  • Lots of jazzy Christmas music fun 🙂

Week 8 – How to Play Jazz Piano (Improv Attempts)

One of my biggest challenges in learning how to play jazz music has been figuring out how to practice.  With classical music, my practice has always been very “prescribed” – technical warm ups and practice, followed by working on specific pieces. This might include hands separate practice, slow metronome work and focusing on small sections.  In fact, it was very rare that I would do a full run through of a piece because it was not an efficient use of my practice time.  With my jazz learning project, I feel like I am always jumping to the “full run through” phase without taking the time to build a solid foundation.  Looks like I need to take my own advice! This week I tried slowing down and focusing on some of the fundamental aspects of crafting a solo.  My recap this week highlights that I have a long way to go!

What I worked on:

  • Started practicing how to solo (improvise) over “Autumn Leaves”.
  • Scales, scales and more scales!
soloing over autumn leaves A section
Example of different scale patterns

Wins:

  • I found a few great resources that help me understand why you choose particular scales to create your solos. It was a nice connection to my previous scale practice from studying classical music.

Fails:

  • I underestimated the amount of practice needed to incorporate these news scales in my soloing – I need more time.
  • I felt very “stiff” – afraid of playing the “wrong note”. I need to loosen up!

Resources used:

Next week will be my final learning project post. I plan to reflect on my progress over the last two months and make a plan for future practice.  This is only the beginning of my jazz journey!

Week 7: How to Play Jazz Piano (Autumn Leaves, Part I)

As we near the end of our learning projects, I started working on my final goal piece, the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves“. This has always been one of my favourites and my earliest introduction to jazz music.  After a little bit of analysis, I found that it follows the simple 2-5-1 chord progression I started working on at the beginning of my learning project.

I love that I can start transferring my new skills to different pieces! Here is my progress this week:

What I worked on:

Wins:

Fails:

  • This week was heavy on sheet music use, but I tried to use it as a tool (by analyzing the score) rather than a crutch.

Resources used:

Next week I will continue with Autumn Leaves, but I plan to go back to only using a lead sheet and begin practicing scales for improvising.

Week 6: How to Play Jazz Piano (without chord roots!)

This week was all about rootless voicings on the piano.  I carried on with my work on ‘Misty’ from last week and tried a different style of comping.  I originally planned on introducing another song this week, but I found the rootless voicings to be challenging and require more time.  I tried figuring out the voicings in my head at the piano, but it was too much to think about. So I decided to break it down by going back to the theory basics and writing out each chord, determining the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 13th.  Then, I wrote out the chords transitions so that there would be nice voice leading and common tones between the chords.

A side note about voice leading: I studied a lot of Bach chorales in my first and second year of music school, with the goal of understanding proper voice leading. There are lots of “rules” with voice leading, but they help with problems like:

“smoothness, independence and integrity or melodic lines, tonal fusion (the preference for simultaneous notes to form a consonant unity), variety, motion (towards a goal)” – Open Music Theory

Open Music Theory is an open source textbook (open educational resource). Cool!

In short, good voice leading makes music sound pleasing to the human ear! I really like the end result of my progress this week:

What I worked on:

  • continued with “Misty” – added a separate recording of the bass line in the left hand so I could comp using rootless voicings
  • rootless chord voicings – figuring out which notes to play and using good voice leading

Wins:

  • Starting to incorporate good voice leading
  • Overlaying multiple videos in my vlog

Fails:

  • I had to write out the chords this week (instead of figuring out the chords in my head). Although not my original plan, it allowed me to really understand the theoretical sides of rootless chords and good voice leading.

Resources Used:

Next week I am going to begin my final piece as part of my learning project. I am looking forward to learning my favourite jazz standard, “Autumn Leaves”.

Week 5: How to Play Jazz Piano (It’s “Comp” time!)

I think we have reached the halfway point in our learning projects! I feel like I am developing more independence in my jazz playing skills (for example, I can just sit down at the piano and experiment – get this – WITHOUT SHEET MUSIC!). Last week was all about reading a lead sheet and this week I focused on the art of comping. In a jazz group rhythm section, there is usually a bass player (responsible for the root of the chords), drums (rhythmic accompaniment) and piano/guitar to fill in the chord harmonies. Comping is essentially accompanying a soloist in an interesting way. Here is my progress with comping so far:

What I worked on:

  • Practicing the chords for “Misty” (focus on playing the root, 3rd and 7th notes)
  • Experimenting with different comping patterns for “Misty”. I learned about 3 different styles: walking bass, open voicings, rootless voicings. I chose open voicings this week.
Spread Voicings
Source: The Jazz Piano Site

Wins:

  • I felt like I was able to use my creative side and experiment with different comping rhythms and voicings. It was fun!

Fails:

  • Feeling hesitant with my chord voicing choices and concerned with playing the “wrong” notes. As soon as I relaxed, it felt a lot easier.

Resources used:

Next week I plan to continue experimenting with different comping styles (different rhythm patterns and rootless voicings) and try out a different jazz standard.  I think am ready to start jamming with other musicians – any takers?? 🙂

Week 4: How to Play Jazz Piano (‘Leading’ the Way)

This week I tackled how to read a lead sheet (or fake sheet) in jazz piano.  Basically a lead sheet has a melody line and chord symbols – the musician is expected to fill out the rest (using their understanding of the style of music and the type of accompaniment required). This is where my classical background and key knowledge was very helpful, since I already know how to read chord symbols and translate this to the piano.  But the challenge this week was to read a lead sheet like a real jazz musician – incorporate 3rds and 7ths in the voicings and always make sure the melody note is the played “on top” in the right hand. Hopefully my vlog this week explains my process with a jazz standard, “Misty”.

**Note – in a jazz group, there is a “rhythm section“. This usually includes piano (and guitar), drums and bass. The bass in responsible for playing the “root” of the chords, so the pianist usually omits the root of the chord when playing. Since I don’t have a rhythm section, I have included the root of the chords in my version!

What I worked on:

  • Analyzing and reading the lead sheet for the jazz standard, “Misty”
  • Used the 2-5-1 exercise and C Blues as a warm up

Wins:

  • I felt very invested in my learning project this week because I realized how much I enjoy the analytical side of music. Figuring out the chord voicings in my head was tough but rewarding!
  • Stayed on track with my practice plan this week. Short and frequent sessions as suggested by my classmates.
  • I learned how to do a video overlay in WeVideo (similar to what Amanda and Brooke did with their videos last week! Thanks for the idea!)

Fails:

  • None! It was a good week!

Resources used:

I hope you enjoyed watching what I mean by “classical fake jazz playing” and learning to read a lead sheet.  I am looking forward to pulling out my “Real Books” (massive collections of jazz standard lead sheets) and putting my new skills to work. Next week I would like to try another style of Blues (perhaps with a walking bass line) and start looking at comping patterns in the left hand.

Week 3 – How to Play Jazz Piano (The struggle is REAL)

Wow. What. A. Week. I know distractions are a part of life, but this week was something else. First we had (multiple) Thanksgiving dinners, followed by a teething baby who wouldn’t nap then a stomach bug that knocked our household out flat for 3 days. My classmate Melinda talks about her challenges with learning piano, like getting her own keyboard to practice.  It just goes to show that everyone has different struggles and we are all working towards our own goals!

Unfortunately I didn’t complete all my goals for practice this week. But, I managed to squeeze in short daily practice sessions and learn at least one new skill.  My vlog recap will give you a snapshot into my practice attempts this week!

After getting bored with the basic blues scale practice (mostly the shuffle pattern in the left hand), I googled “blues shuffles pattern piano” and came across this video:

I was so happy to see that it was:

  1. less than 5 minutes long
  2. a simple lesson with an outline (and part of a series, so potential for further learning)
  3. included music notation (sheet music)

Yes, I know my goal was to stay away from sheet music and focus on learning by ear, but I couldn’t resist.  I realized that I am very much a visual learner, and I was feeling frustrated by trying to learn only by ear. But, trying to stay true to my goal, I decided to make a compromise.  I used the sheet music for a brief moment to initially understand the pattern and voicings in the right hand.

  • LH = play the root and 5th of the chord
  • RH = play the 3rd and root of the chord (in that voicing)

From there, I was able to use audio only to figure out the pattern in each hand and easily put the whole lesson together.  Overall, I really enjoyed this practice because it felt like I understood the pattern and form. I could easily learn this arrangement in another key, which helps explain why you can’t just rely on reading sheet music – you have to really understand what you are playing so you can transfer the skills to other keys.

What I worked on:

  • Reviewed C Blues scale with shuffle pattern in LH
  • Learned a C Blues scale lick with a new shuffle pattern in both RH and LH

Wins:

  • I learned something new (C Blues lick) despite the chaos this week
  • Starting to feel very comfortable with the Blues form and scale
  • Found a good YouTube channel that may be helpful for future Blues practice.

Fails:

  • Only accomplished one of my goals this week (Blues scale) and didn’t do a lot of work on the 2-5-1 progression

Resources used:

This week I plan to tackle the lead sheet and learn how to read it like a real jazz musician. I am also excited by the David Magyel YouTube channel, so I will try another lesson. After the half-way point in our learning project, it will be useful to evaluate our progress. Maybe it will mean changing our end goals? What are your plans to reflect on your learning so far?

Week 2 – How to Play Jazz Piano

Last week I made my vlogging debut with the beginning of my jazz piano journey.  After two weeks of tracking my progress through video, I have learned a few things.  First, I need to adjust how and what I record to make the vlog more interesting.  In particular, I want to make sure I include some of the “work-in-progress” videos instead of focusing on getting a perfect “take”. I really love what my classmate Amanda is doing to make her vlogs enjoyable to watch. Second, I purchased a phone tripod to make the filming a little more professional and maybe eliminate bad angles.  Luckily a few of my classmates had a similar idea, so I found some good tripod recommendations on Twitter.

Here is my week 2 recap:

What I worked on:

  • Practiced the 2-5-1 (ii-V-I) progression in all 12 major keys (and added in a drum backing track to make it interesting).
  • Reviewed the C Blues scale (in the RH) and tried playing it with a Blues shuffle pattern in the LH.

Wins:

  • Still no sheet music! Focused on playing by ear.
  • Being able to play the C Blues scale easily from muscle memory.  I must have learned the scale at some point over the years and I remembered exactly what to do.
  • Squeezed in lots of short practice sessions (5 minutes or so), which is about all I can manage with an almost one-year-old roaming around.

Fails:

  • I had a lot of difficulty with the Blues shuffle pattern in the LH. I need to spend some slow practice time on this skill.
  • Difficulty choosing which resource to use next.  There are so many on YouTube, so it’s a challenge sorting through the videos. My classmate Daina is exploring Udemy.com, so I might look into that as an option.

Resources used:

Basic Music Theory: C Blues Scale

Week 2 is complete! This week I plan to continue working on the 2-5-1 progression (and see if there are any other useful videos for practice), playing the C Blues scale in the RH and Blues shuffle pattern in the LH and maybe start looking at jazz lead (fake) sheets.

Week 1 – How to Play Jazz Piano

Week 1 of my learning project journey is in the books! My biggest takeaway from the week is that this is going to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated.  Playing jazz compared to classical music requires a shift in how you think and process music.  Instead of relying on sheet music, I am focusing on using my ears to listen to the chords and my brain to figure out what I am playing.  From a theoretical standpoint, I find jazz music fascinating as you experiment with different chords and voicings.  But I also find it frustrating because I am so used to playing exactly what is written on a sheet of music.  In some ways, I compare it to learning a new language, where you are translating the words in your head before speaking.  This week I am “translating” the chords and creating a visual image in my mind before I play the notes on the piano.  Sometimes I rely on the feel of the keys and my hand position, but then my technical brain takes over as I want to know exactly what I am playing.  I anticipate this will be a continued struggle as I progress through my journey.

After my initial blog post about the learning project, I received some great feedback about where to look for resources online.  Similar to my classmate Brooke, I put a call-out on social media asking for advice of where to start. I received lots of useful information and of course some funny but unhelpful advice.

Untitled presentation
(The first video suggestion falls into the “unhelpful” category”)

To document my learning journey, I pondered with the idea of vlogging like my classmate Amanda. Like Amanda, I am completely new to vlogging, but we had a great discussion in class on Tuesday night about ways to document our journey in interesting ways. Here is my first attempt!

What I worked on:

  • Demonstrated what I already know (basic form of the 12 bar blues)
  • Practiced play 2-5-1 (ii-V-I) chord progressions using 3rds and 7ths voicings

Wins

  • I figured out the progression fairly quickly and immediately fell in love with the “jazzy” sound
  • I didn’t resort to using sheet music! This is a big one for me. I practiced strictly by ear.

Fails

  • A realization that playing jazz is a lot more difficult and mentally involved than I thought

Resources used:

Aimee Nolte’s YouTube channel is supposed to be great according to recommendations from my jazz friends. My only complaint is there is a lot of talking before you get to the main practice.

That’s a wrap on week 1! For the next week I will continue my 2-5-1 practice in all keys and maybe starting working on a more sophisticated 12 Bar Blues.