It’s easy to get overwhelmed when learning a jazz tune, especially if you’re at the beginning or early-intermediate stages of jazz piano. To remedy this, I’ve given you 5 steps that you can use to organize your practicing and “get a handle” on those jazz standards you want to learn. Here’s how to get started:
- Learn the melody
I know it’s tempting to “kind of” learn the melody and jump right in with playing chords and improvising, but start by practicing the melody with your right hand alone. Melodies are important, and you’ll become a better pianist if you learn them well.
- Study the bass line
Jazz pianists usually go right to the chord progression, but it’ll be worth your effort to play the bass notes alone a few times. Memorize the bass line as a kind of countermelody in itself. Become a bass player. You’ll develop your musical ear in a good way and maybe discover some different ways of playing the bass line that would otherwise elude you.
- Learn good 1-handed rootless voicings
Practice them with your left hand, and then with your right. Both will come in handy, depending on the specific musical situation.
- Practice 2-handed chord voicings
Learning 2-handed, open voicings will show you how to spread chords out between your hands and also highlight the different sound of each note in a way that’s very clear and easy to “hear.” Learn a basic set of 2-handed voicings that you can draw upon when comping behind a soloist while a bass player “walks” underneath. The more options you have in terms of voicings, the better you’ll be able to respond to the musical mood from moment to moment in a playing situation.
- Learn how to play the tune as a piano solo
The main challenge when playing solo is to make your 2 hands sound like 3; playing melody, chords, and the bass line all at once. Tackling this challenge head-on will teach you a lot about the piano and it’s possibilities.
There you go; 5 basic aspects of learning a jazz tune on piano. Now get to work and have fun!
If you're at the point where you're ready for a thorough, step-by-step method of learning jazz piano, check out my video course. I'll also give you personal guidance and instruction as often as you like!