5 ways to deepen your jazz piano “swing feel”

If you’re learning jazz piano and feel that you’re not playing with a good sense of jazz rhythm, you’re not alone. Developing a good “swing feel” is something that can take some time, especially since we don’t hear popular music played with this rhythmic sense anymore, like musicians did during the 1920s-50s.

But don’t give up, because it can be done. Here are 5 effective ways to develop a deep sense of swing in your jazz piano playing:

1. Listen to jazz on a daily basis.
To really get the jazz feel, it’s important to immerse yourself in the music by listening to it on a daily basis. And make sure that in addition to listening to it casually, you set aside some quality time to close your eyes while listening, and feel it completely. This is probably the single-most important thing you can do for your jazz rhythmic sense.

2. Sing along with jazz solos
It doesn’t matter if you have a good singing voice or not. Put on one of your favorite solos and sing along, using “scat” syllables or even just on “la.” Repeat the same solo until you can sing it in your sleep!

3. Practice jazz melodies by themselves.
Play melodies with your right hand without playing anything with your left. By simplifying the overall pianistic texture, you can experiment with various rhythms for the melody, and really dig into the beat. Not many jazz pianists take the time to do this, with the result that horn players often play melodies better than they do. This means that most pianists miss the positive effects that practicing melodies by themselves will have on their playing. (Don’t let yourself be one of these pianists.)

4. Practice walking bass lines by themselves.
Just like with the melodies in #3 above, isolating walking bass lines without playing anything in your right hand will enable you to swing as hard as a good jazz bassist, since this is the way that they themselves practice: bass lines only. Later, you can add your RH again and it will still swing.

5. Jam with jazz musicians who swing harder than you do.
This will help you greatly, since you’ll have to rise to the challenge while absorbing their jazz feel at the same time.

Here’s a video I made to demonstrate some of these ideas:

How to dig in deeper to the jazz groove

Good luck!

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