Beginning Jazz

The first goal is to get you improvising in a way that comes easily, and without self-criticism.  After you get comfortable improvising, and know the basic chords, we’ll dive deep into the jazz vocabulary. Start by watching the Flowing Water Overview and then learn the first 4 lessons in that series. They’re pretty easy, but make sure you play each one for at least 10 minutes so you have time to absorb it. It’s very important to play these lessons slowly and with a steady beat. By doing this, you’ll be preparing a good foundation for everything that comes later!

“Flowing Water” Overview: Learning how the Flowing Water lessons will get you improvising fluently

“Flowing Water” Lesson 1: Starting very simply with white notes

“Flowing Water” Lesson 2: Slightly picking up the pace

“Flowing Water” Lesson 3: Adding an independent LH part

“Flowing Water” Lesson 4: LH plays a popular repeating bass part

Next, we’re going to learn the Blues Scale, one note at a time. The blues scale is used in jazz, blues, rock, and pop. I find that improvising with even one note can be very interesting. Make sure you keep listening to the steady background beat and varying your rhythms. You can probably go through these 6 lessons in one practice session. Make sure you have the C Blues Scale memorized before moving on to the Chords lessons that follow these.

Rock and Blues Basics 1: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 1):  Getting a good start, one note at a time

Rock and Blues Basics 2: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 2):  Adding a 2nd note

Rock and Blues Basics 3: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 3):  The first three notes in the Blues Scale

Rock and Blues Basics 4: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 4):  Adding a blues note; F#

Rock and Blues Basics 5: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 5):  Almost the whole scale

Rock and Blues Basics 6: The ‘C’ Blues Scale (Part 6):  The complete ‘C’ Blues Scale

Since jazz uses a fairly advanced harmonic language, you’ll learn it much easier if you know the more basic chords “inside and out” before starting the jazz lessons. Even if you already know triads, these next few lessons will give you a good workout in all 12 keys!

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 1: An easy way to learn major chords

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 2: Major chord workout

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 3: Major and minor triad workout

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 4: Minor triad construction

We’re going to start our study of jazz by improvising with the C Major Scale. Limber up your fingers by jamming along with me on this playalong video.

‘C’ Major Scale Workout

Hooray! You can already improvise and know basic chords pretty well. Now you’re ready to apply this knowledge to the jazz style. Let’s get started by watching this Series Overview and learning about the jazz “swing” rhythmic feel.

Intro To Jazz Series Overview

Intro to Jazz 47: What is “swing” feel?: A discussion/demonstration of jazz rhythm

As I explained on the Series Overview, we’re going to alternate between improvising with scales over chords, and getting to know some tunes that jazz musicians enjoy playing. Eventually the two will come together, and you’ll be able to easily improvise over complete tunes. The key is to go step-by-step with the improvising, and learn some tunes at the same time.

Intro to Jazz 1: The Dm7 chord:  An easy introduction to jazz improv

Intro to Jazz 2: The G7 chord:  Learning a new chord

Intro to Jazz 3: Improv over Dm7/ G7:  Moving between 2 chords

Great! Now that you’re getting comfortable playing a little jazz, let’s go a little farther in the Flowing Water series. The fluidity you’re developing with this series in particular will make the more advanced jazz will transfer very well to your jazz playing. (You’ll also be getting a lot of good finger exercise!)

“Flowing Water” Lesson 5: Changing direction with the RH

“Flowing Water” Lesson 6: Creating more complex melodies

Do you remember the C Blues Scale? (C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb) Spend a few minutes reviewing it by playing along the this C Blues Scale Workout.

‘C’ Blues Scale Workout

The next 2 lessons will help you develop hand independence and teach you the basic harmonic structure of the 12-bar blues, which is used in jazz as well as rock and blues. If you learn the basic chord progression as shown here, you’ll be able to understand the more complex jazz version later.

Rock and Blues Basics 7: Moving LH (Part 1):  Beginning to move the LH

Rock and Blues Basics 8: Moving LH (Part 2):  Playing a 12-bar blues progression

You already know the major and minor triads. Here are the 2 remaining types.

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 5: Diminished and augmented triads

Let’s mix it up a little by alternating between Jazz and Chords lessons. The better you learn chords, the easier you’ll be able to learn to play jazz standards.

Intro to Jazz 4: “Just Swinging”:  The LH plays a Charleston rhythm

Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 6: Comprehensive triad exercise

Intro to Jazz 5: The Cmaj7 chord:  Improvising over the tonic chord in ‘C’

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 7: Harmonization of the major scale

Intro to Jazz 6: Dm7/G7/Cmaj7:  The famous ii/V/I chord progression

Instead of learning more complex chords and scales at this point, let’s have some fun and apply what we already know to an exciting and very pianistic groove. This may be a bit of a challenge for you, but it’s a lot of fun to play!

Intro to Jazz 7: Jazz Rock:  A soulful jazz groove

Now, the Flowing Water lessons start to become more “song-like” as you improvise over a chord progression. (by the way, this same chord progression is the basis of hundreds of jazz tunes.)

“Flowing Water” Lesson 7: Adding chords to the LH part

“Flowing Water” Lesson 8: Arpeggiating the LH chords

By this point, you can improvise pretty well in C major. Now let’s learn another key.

 ‘F’ Major Scale Workout

Intro to Jazz 8: Improvising in F major:  Rhythmic chords in LH

Before we learn any new scales, I want you to get a taste of how to play a walking bass line. Eventually you’ll be able to improvise bass lines like this on any tune you wish. Have fun with this lessons, and later on we’ll return to walking bass lines.

Intro to Jazz 9: a Gm7/C7 groove w/ walking bass:  a useful jazz accompaniment

The next 3 lessons will further develop your hand independence and give you more experience improvising over different left hand chord progressions.

Intro to Jazz 10: ii/V/I in F major:  Gaining fluency in this key

Rock and Blues Basics 9: Moving LH (Part 3):  A classic rock chord sequence

Rock and Blues Basics 10: Moving LH (Part 4):  Alternating between 2 chords

Now it’s time for a fun challenge! Learn the ‘C’ Blues Scale Etude exactly as written, and then improvise in the same style and I show on the video.

‘C’ Blues Scale Etude: A cool, jazzy piece that uses the ‘C’ Blues Scale

Here’s a way to outline chords melodically that will help you learn all the keys better, and prepare the way for learning the “bebop” jazz style.

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 8: Getting to know each key better

Remember how you got a taste of playing walking bass lines? Now let’s look at how you they can be used in chord progressions.

Intro to Jazz 11: Two approaches to walking bass lines:  Using either chords or scales

Outlining chords in your walking bass line is an easy yet effective way to begin playing bass lines on whole tunes. Don’t underestimate how useful this will become for you. Even after you master more advanced walking bass techniques, this is a great “fall back” for when you can’t think of anything else to play. I use this all the time, especially when accompanying vocalists since it enables them to hear the harmony clearly.

Intro to Jazz 12: Walking a Bass Line in ‘F’: Outlining chords in the LH

Just a bit of fun here.

Intro to Jazz 13: 2-Handed Improv in ‘F’: A soloing technique used by Oscar Peterson

The majority of jazz tunes move from one key to another. Let’s get accustomed to doing this using just 2 keys to start with.

Intro to Jazz 14: Moving Between 2 Keys: ii/V/I in ‘C’ and ‘F’

Now we’re going to have an intensive series of lessons on chords and, in particular, beginning to use inversions for “smooth voiceleading.”

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 10: The Major V chord in minor keys

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 11: How to use the sustain pedal

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 12: Understanding inversions

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 13: Using inversions with the I – IV chord progression

 Chords, Chords, Chords! Lesson 14: Smooth voiceleading with I – vi

Now you have the necessary background to begin combining all the theory and techniques you already know, to begin playing jazz standards.  Let’s start by thoroughly learning ways to play and interpret melodies, and then further on we’ll come back to standards, by learning how to improvise over their chord progressions and use chord voicings with smooth voice-leading.

Intro to Jazz 15: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 1): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (Melody)

Intro to Jazz 16: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 2): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (Melody and Bass)

Intro to Jazz 17: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 3): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (Chords and Melody)

Intro to Jazz 18: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 4): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (Phrasing the melody like a vocalist)

Intro to Jazz 19: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 5): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (Embellishing and varying the melody)

In Flowing Water Lessons 9-10, you’ll continue to broaden your keyboard skills with a new chord progression and a very useful LH pattern that you can eventually use on jazz tunes too. 

“Flowing Water” Lesson 9: Improvising over a contemporary chord progression

“Flowing Water” Lesson 10: Exploring a more ‘open’ LH sound

Let’s get comfortable playing in G Major!

“Flowing Water” Lesson 11: “Flowing Water” in the key of ‘G’

‘G’ Major Scale Workout

“Flowing Water” Lesson 12: The famous I/vi/IV/V chord progression in ‘G’

The next 8 lessons will gradually develop your ability to play different things in your left hand while improvising with your right hand. And along the way, you’ll learn the basics of boogie woogie, which is found in jazz as well as blues and rock. Don’t rush through these lessons. (I still play exercises like these when I’m learning difficult jazz tunes.)

Rock and Blues Basics 11: Hand Independence (Part 1):  A more active LH pattern

Rock and Blues Basics 12: Hand Independence (Part 2):  Continuing with LH boogie style

Rock and Blues Basics 13: Hand Independence (Part 3):  More independence between the hands

Rock and Blues Basics 14: Hand Independence (Part 4):  Steady quarter-notes in both melody and accompaniment

Rock and Blues Basics 15: Hand Independence (Part 5):  Varying the melodic rhythms

Rock and Blues Basics 16: Hand Independence (Part 6):  Adding dotted quarter-notes

Rock and Blues Basics 17: Hand Independence (Part 7):  Applying a boogie pattern to the 12-bar blues

Rock and Blues Basics 18: Hand Independence (Part 8):  Jamming on the chords to “Freebird”

Now we’re going to dive deeper into jazz harmony.

Jazz Harmony 1: Harmonization of the Major Scale with 7th Chords:  The basic jazz harmonic ‘palette’

Jazz Harmony 2: The I/vi/ii/V Chord Progression:  The backbone of many jazz standards

By now, the Flowing Water lessons are probably very easy for you. Playing Lessons 13, 14, and 15 will help you  continue to gain fluency  and hand independence as an improviser.

“Flowing Water” Lesson 13: Open voicings in ‘G’ for a beautiful LH texture

“Flowing Water” Lesson 14: Improvising in the key of ‘F’

“Flowing Water” Lesson 15: Aiming for a more continuous melodic line

Let’s spend the next few lessons becoming fluent in more keys, and tapping into your innate creativity with the “Fingerpainting” video. You can have friends or family members help you with this one!

‘D’ Major Scale Workout

“Fingerpainting” at the piano: Learn to use musical ‘gestures’ to free your musical imagination

‘Eb’ Major Scale Workout

‘Db’ Major Scale Workout

Now, let’s return to “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” and begin improvising over the chord progression as well as use smooth voice-leading when playing the chords.

Intro to Jazz 20: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 6): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (Soloing with chord tones)

Intro to Jazz 21: 7 Steps to Standards (Part 7) (Beg): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (LH voicings with inversions)

These Flowing Water techniques will be very easy for you now, so you can enjoy this type of playing on a whole new level!

“Flowing Water” Lesson 16: A flowing melody over LH arpeggios

“Flowing Water” Lesson 17: Gaining melodic fluency in ‘G’

“Flowing Water” Lesson 18: More flowing melodies in ‘F’

Here is some more practice with left hand blues-based accompaniment patterns, hand independence, and using the blues scale in various types of rhythmic feels.

Rock and Blues Basics 19: “Rockin’ Blues”:  Uptempo 1950’s Rock and Roll

Rock and Blues Basics 20: “Blues Scale Boogie”:  Putting the elements together

Rock and Blues Basics 21: “Cool as a Cucumber”:  Applying the blues scale to cool jazz

Since you now know the ‘C’ Blues Scale inside and out, it will be fairly easy to learn the ‘A’ Blues Scale.

Rock and Blues Basics 22: Intro to the ‘A’ Blues Scale:  Improvising in a new key

‘A’ Blues Scale Workout

Rock and Blues Basics 24: “House of the Rising Sun”:  Improvise on a classic folk/blues song

The “7 Steps To Standards” approach will get you playing any swing-based jazz tune in a fun way with rhythmic fluidity.  Here’s George Gershwin’s classic song “S’Wonderful.”

Intro to Jazz 22: “S’Wonderful” (Steps 1 and 2) (Beg): Melody and bass

Intro to Jazz 23: “S’Wonderful” (Steps 3, 4 and 5) (Beg): Chords and melodic phrasing

Intro to Jazz 24: “S’Wonderful” (Steps 6 and 7) (Beg): Inversions and chord-tone soloing

After you’ve become able to improvise on melodies and with chord tones fairly well, the next step is to look at scales and modes in a systematic way.

Intro to Jazz 25: How to choose and use scales (Part 1) (Beg): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” measures 1-4

Intro to Jazz 26: How to choose and use scales (Part 2) (Beg): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” measures 5-8

Intro to Jazz 27: How to choose and use scales (Part 3) (Beg): Improvising over diminished chords

Intro to Jazz 28: How to choose and use scales (Part 4) (Beg): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” measures 9-12

Intro to Jazz 29: How to choose and use scales (Part 5) (Beg): F7 and Am7(b5) in the context of “Bye, Bye, Blackbird”

Intro to Jazz 30: How to choose and use scales (Part 6) (Beg): The VI7 chord (D7)

Intro to Jazz 31: How to choose and use scales (Part 7) (Beg): Bbm6 (The minor iv chord in major keys)

Intro to Jazz 32: How to choose and use scales (Part 8) (Beg): “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” (The whole tune)

Since you’ve already played a few walking bass lines, you’re in a good position to begin applying this knowledge to actual tunes.  This group of lessons will show you the fundamentals of playing walking bass “from the ground up.” Remember that your improvised bass lines don’t have to be complex.  Simple bass lines can be very effective as long as you keep a steady beat as you move through a tune’s chord changes.

Intro to Jazz 33: Walking Bass Lines (Part 1): An overview using the chords to “All The Things You Are”

Intro to Jazz 34: Walking Bass Lines (Part 2): I/vi/ii/V

Intro to Jazz 35: Walking Bass Lines (Part 3): Staying on one chord

Intro to Jazz 36: Walking Bass Lines (Part 4): 2 chords: many possibilities

Intro to Jazz 37: Walking Bass Lines (Part 5): Jazz Blues with some chord substitutions

Intro to Jazz 38: Walking Bass Lines (Part 6): Approaching chords from 1/2 step above

Intro to Jazz 39: Walking Bass Lines (Part 7): “Satin Doll”

Now that you know a lot of the concepts of how to walk bass lines, practice playing walking bass lines on 5-10 Real Book tunes of your choice.  At the same time, go on to the next lessons, which go right to the heart of authentic blues piano playing!

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 1: Experiencing the blues chord progression

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 2: Improvising “riffs” and “waves”

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 3: Playing short phrases over a steady beat

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 4: Slow “swing 8ths” in LH

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 5: Going up to the 7th with the LH

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 6: A bluesy variation of the 8th-note LH pattern

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 7: More variety with a slightly more complex LH

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 8: “Let’s Boogie” with parallel 6ths

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 10: The AAB blues lyric pattern

Classic Blues and New Orleans Piano Styles 11: How to improvise with 1-Bar Blues Licks

‘F’ Blues Scale Workout

‘Bb’ Blues Scale Etude: Exploring the bluesy side of jazz

In jazz, the Blues Scale is only one of many possible ways you can improvise on the blues.  By this point you’re ready for an intensive series of lessons on how to use jazz chords over a 12 bar blues progression as the basis for your melodic solos. If we work on this now, everything afterwards will be easier, I promise!

Intro to Jazz 23: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 1): Scales and Modes on the blues

Intro to Jazz 24: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 2): Notes of triad plus b3rd

Intro to Jazz 25: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 3): Chromatic notes from the 3rd to the 5th

Intro to Jazz 26: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 4): Mostly chromatic from the root to the 5th

Intro to Jazz 27: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 5): Mostly chromatic from the root to the 5th

Intro to Jazz 28: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 6): Mostly chromatic from the root to the 5th

Intro to Jazz 29: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 7): Mostly chromatic from the root to the 5th

Intro to Jazz 30: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 8): Mostly chromatic from the root to the 5th

Intro to Jazz 31: Jazz Blues Improv (Part 9): Mostly chromatic from the root to the 5th

We began our study of jazz with scales, and without you really knowing it, modes.  Now that you know how to improvise around the notes of a chord, let’s come back to scales and modes.  These are the 2 basic approached to improvising jazz: using scales and using chord tones as the basis of your improvised melodies. Since modes are often taught in an overly theoretical way, I’ve tried to give a balanced viewpoint here to help you understand them in a practical, musical way!

Intro to Jazz 40: Exploring Modes (Part 1): Overview of modes

Intro to Jazz 41: Exploring Modes (Part 2): The Ionian mode

Intro to Jazz 42: Exploring Modes (Part 3): The Lydian mode

Intro to Jazz 43: Exploring Modes (Part 4): A different way of looking at modes

Intro to Jazz 44: Exploring Modes (Part 5): Applying the Lydian mode to a tune

Intro to Jazz 45: Exploring Modes (Part 6): Understanding modes in the same overall key

Intro to Jazz 46: Exploring Modes (Part 7): The Mixolydian mode

Congratulations!!!  You now have a better practical understanding and ability to play jazz piano than most people who want to learn jazz!  Your next step is to keep learning jazz standards, such as those in The Real Book, and to now go on to the Jazz Piano University: Intermediate Level curriculum. Let me know how you’re doing!