How to keep your jazz piano solos interesting over longer song forms

Let’s face it: some tunes are easier to solo over than others. When we think about “hard” jazz tunes, we usually think of tunes with challenging chord changes, like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” or many of Chick Corea’s compositions.

But what about the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim?

“Huh?”, you say? “Jobim? The guy who wrote ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ and all those other great bossas? His tunes are easy!”

Well, in one sense they are. But with sings like his classic bossa nova “Desafinado,” there are more subtle challenges. Challenges that many jazz pianists miss for a long time.

“Desafinado,” as an example, does indeed have chord changes that are pretty easy to navigate. But on the other hand, the tune is long. So long, in fact, that many pianists find that their solos kind of meander all over the place without having a clear shape. This isn’t as apparent on a shorter tune, where each chorus can bring fresh inspirations. But on a longer tune like “Desafinado” it can result in a boring, uninspired solo.

Luckily for us jazz pianists, there are some easy strategies you can use to prevent this meandering and sound great. One way is so easy that you’ll think it’s obvious:

Play more notes as you go along through your solo.

That’s it: start sparsely and get busier towards the middle and end of your improvisation. It’s easy, and will make your solo have a nice, dramatic arc that keeps your listener’s interest. It’s not the only way to play a solo, of course, but it’s one that is very common and effective.

Watch me demonstrate it on this short video:

Most importantly of all, try it out on about 20 jazz standards this week, and see for yourself how effective it is. And then you can pick and choose when to use it, especially on tunes with longer forms like “Desafinado.” Good luck!

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