A beginning improviser, coming from a classical background, recently asked me “Is it worth it to learn blues before jazz?”
This is a good question, since blues music came before jazz historically and they’ve been intertwined since jazz began in the early 1900’s.
My answer? Learn both at the same time. Here’s how:
When you’re just starting out with jazz and blues piano, begin by asking yourself what kind of jazz and blues you enjoy listening to. What specific artists and recordings drew you to the style in the first place? This, more than anything else, can be a great starting point for you. Every great jazz and/or blues musician has started by listening to and beginning to learn the songs and musical styles they love the most. Then, as you become more fluent, you have the ability to branch out.
Both blues and jazz are so vast because they’ve been around for so long now and have spawned countless different styles within each genre. And even though blues music did come first, I don’t think it’s necessary to learn it thoroughly before tackling jazz, any more than a classical pianist needs to learn Bach before delving into Mozart.
So start by choosing 2 or 3 recordings you enjoy, of either jazz or blues. Then identify exactly what type of jazz or blues they are: cool jazz, New Orleans, bebop, Chicago blues, jazz-rock, etc. Then begin learning the elements of jazz and blues while aiming to play in your chosen style. When you learn a new chord voicing, immediately apply it to the songs you want to learn.
Jazz and blues are like cousins. Work on both at once and they’ll feed each other as you get better and understand more and more musical connections between the two genres.
Good luck and “let the music flow!”
All my online students get full access to both my jazz and blues lessons. You can learn more here.