How to Start Playing Jazz Piano: A Step-By-Step Guide

by Madonna

Jazz piano is a world of musical expression and creativity, where improvisation and intricate harmonies come together to create captivating melodies. If you’ve ever been drawn to the sultry sounds of jazz and want to explore the piano in this genre, this article is your guide to getting started. We’ll walk you through the essential steps, from understanding the fundamentals of jazz to building a strong foundation for your piano journey.

Understanding the Basics of Jazz

Before delving into playing jazz on the piano, it’s essential to grasp the fundamental concepts of the genre.


1. Rhythm and Swing: Jazz is characterized by its distinctive sense of swing, which gives the music its groove. This rhythmic feel is central to jazz, and understanding it is crucial for any jazz pianist.


2. Harmony: Jazz is known for its complex and colorful harmonies. Learning about jazz chords, progressions, and voicings is vital for creating the unique harmonic language of this genre.


3. Improvisation: One of the most exciting aspects of jazz is improvisation. Jazz musicians often create melodies and solos on the spot, relying on their knowledge of scales, chords, and musical intuition.

Step 1: Learn Basic Piano Skills

Before you dive into jazz piano, it’s essential to have a solid foundation in piano playing. This includes understanding music theory, scales, finger technique, and basic piano proficiency. If you’re new to the piano, consider taking beginner piano lessons to build these skills.

Step 2: Start with Jazz Listening

Listening to jazz music is an integral part of learning to play jazz piano. Explore the works of jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock. Pay attention to the piano playing, chord progressions, and improvisation in their music. This will help you develop an ear for the jazz sound.

Step 3: Learn Jazz Scales

Jazz piano often involves the use of specific scales, such as the major scale, minor scale, blues scale, and various modes. Learning these scales and practicing them in different keys is essential for improvisation and harmonic understanding. Additionally, explore scales like the pentatonic and diminished scales, which are common in jazz.

Step 4: Dive into Jazz Chords

Jazz chords are an essential part of the genre. Familiarize yourself with basic jazz chords like major 7th, minor 7th, and dominant 7th chords. You’ll also encounter extended chords like ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords. Practice these chords in different voicings and inversions.

Step 5: Study Chord Progressions

Understanding jazz chord progressions is crucial for creating authentic jazz piano music. Learn about common progressions, like the ii-V-I and the blues progression, and practice playing them in various keys.

Step 6: Get to Know Jazz Standards

Jazz standards are timeless compositions that form the foundation of the jazz repertoire. Songs like “Autumn Leaves,” “All the Things You Are,” and “Blue Bossa” are excellent starting points. Learn the chord changes, melodies, and lyrics of these standards, and practice playing them on the piano.

Step 7: Transcribe Jazz Solos

Transcribing jazz solos from great pianists or other instrumentalists is a fantastic way to learn jazz phrasing, articulation, and improvisation techniques. Start with simple solos and gradually work your way up to more complex ones. Transcription is a valuable tool for developing your own improvisational skills.

Step 8: Explore Jazz Theory

Delve into jazz theory, which includes concepts like modes, chord substitutions, reharmonization, and the circle of fifths. Jazz theory provides insight into the harmonies and structures that make jazz unique.

Step 9: Study Rhythm and Phrasing

Jazz is renowned for its intricate and expressive rhythms. Work on your rhythmic skills, including syncopation, swing, and phrasing. Jazz piano players often use techniques like staccato, legato, and various articulations to shape their sound.

Step 10: Practice, Practice, Practice

Consistent practice is key to becoming proficient at jazz piano. Set aside dedicated time for daily practice. Focus on scales, chords, improvisation, and repertoire. Recording your practice sessions can help you track your progress and identify areas that need improvement.

Step 11: Play with Others

Playing with other musicians is an invaluable experience for a jazz pianist. Join or form a jazz ensemble, jam with other instrumentalists, or collaborate with vocalists. Playing with others allows you to apply what you’ve learned, develop your listening skills, and refine your ability to interact musically in a group setting.

Step 12: Seek Guidance from a Teacher

Consider taking lessons with a jazz piano teacher who can provide guidance, feedback, and personalized instruction. A teacher can help you navigate the complexities of jazz piano and tailor lessons to your specific goals and abilities.

See Also: 5 Things Your Piano Needs Repair: Things You Need To Know


Learning to play jazz piano is a rewarding journey that combines technical skill, creativity, and a deep appreciation for the genre’s rich history. While these steps provide a roadmap for getting started, remember that becoming a proficient jazz pianist is a lifelong endeavor. Embrace the challenges, enjoy the process, and savor the magic of creating your own unique jazz sound on the piano. With dedication and a passion for the art form, you can unlock the rhythmic and harmonic wonders of jazz music on the piano.


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