When learning jazz piano, it’s tempting to become so ultra-focused on “what” we need to know, that we often forget that’s “how” we apply this knowledge is much more important.
Much more important.
It’s really about developing a healthy mindset to learning and playing jazz piano. Yes, learn your chord voicings. But in the moment, when you’re actually playing with other musicians, that #11 in the middle of your best voicing may not mean quite as much as you think it does. Are you playing it at a good time? Does it fit with what the soloist is playing melodically? Do you know the voicing so well that you can play it freely, without thinking too much about it. Or are you so focused on getting the notes correct that you forget to listen to the overall sound of the group, for instance.
How you apply the jazz vocabulary is much more important than knowing tons of stuff. A simpler chord voicing played well is better than a fancy voicing played stiffly. A simple, 3-note motif played with feeling is better than a mechanically-played bebop line, no matter how good the notes might sound theoretically.
This may all sound obvious, but the truth is that many jazz pianists, at all levels, are so caught up in “what” they’re playing that they don’t focus on “how” enough.
I was reminded about this while watching a Thelonious Monk video. Monk was soloing, and he spent about eight measures just repeating 2 notes a 4th apart: C and F. Just grooving on these 2 notes and varying their rhythms. But wow! He was 150 there! “In the moment.”
Are you brave enough to just play 2 notes for eight measures? Why not try it and see?
If you want to learn more about how to develop a healthy mindset to improve your jazz piano playing, check out Season 1 of my podcast, How To Learn Jazz Piano. Enjoy, you can find the podcast HERE.
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