A curious occurrence when learning jazz piano

A recent email from a jazz piano student reminded me of something that drove me crazy for years:

I started learning “Autumn Leaves” when I was 15 years old. By the time I was about 18 or 19, I could play it really well. In fact it was probably my “best” jazz tune. I could improvise freely over the chord progression and generally sounded very good while playing it with other musicians.

But as I continued to practice, gain experience, and improve on other jazz tunes, “Autumn Leaves” didn’t get any better.

By the time I was in my 30s, I was living in New York City, playing with great musicians at the top jazz clubs, performing my own orchestrations at Carnegie Hall, and musical directing Broadway shows.

But I still played “Autumn Leaves” like I was 19!

Sure, I can laugh about it now, but this was very frustrating at the time. Has this ever happened to you? If so, I’m sure you can relate. You learn a tune to the best of your current ability, but then it becomes kind of “frozen.” Everything else gets better, except that tune!

Logically, it’s a mental challenge. right? You’ve improved, but somehow you revert to your habitual ways of playing tunes you’ve learned at a particular age. How do you get around this? Facing these types of challenges head-on will take you to the “next level” as a jazz pianist. You can it, but it’s not easy.

What tunes are you stuck on? Dig into them on a deeper level, and apply what you’ve recently learned to the material you learned early on. Then you’ll be a more consistent player and be able to express yourself as you are now, not as you were 5, 10, or 15 years ago.

Good luck!

Click HERE if you want personal guidance and step-by-step instruction with your jazz piano playing.


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