Do you know the biggest myth about learning jazz piano? It’s what holds back thousands of would-be jazz pianists every day and if you didn’t believe this myth, you’d be playing better and having a lot more fun.
What exactly is this myth? Here it is:
Myth: To learn jazz piano, you need to constantly learn more and more complicated things.
There. I’ve said it. You may be thinking, “Wait a minute! What about all those jazz books on my shelf that get harder and harder on every page? What about learning to play all the great and complex stuff that Herbie Hancock plays? What about 2-handed rootless voicings? Of course it gets more complex!”
But notice how I used the word constantly. The myth is that you constantly need to learn more and more complicated things.
This myth is completely untrue. You don’t need to do this. You don’t need to learn more complex things every day. You don’t need to get frustrated every time you turn a page in your jazz book. You don’t need to get discouraged every time you hear a great jazz pianist play. You don’t need to feel like you’ll “never get it.”
What if you bought a copy of The Real Book, volume 1, and learned the melody to “All of Me.” You learn the melody well, listen to a few famous recordings of the song, and keep enjoying the melody. For now, you don’t worry that you can’t play fancy chord voicings or walk a bass line or play it in all 12 keys or improvise a solo. You simply enjoy playing the melody, and enjoy playing it a lot.
After a week or two of this, you do a surprising thing: Instead of learning more complex things on “All of Me,” you simply learn another melody, like “Blue Bossa.” (If you want something more complex, then learn a bebop tune like “Blues For Alice.” That’ll give you something to practice!)
Once you’re in the groove of enjoying these melodies and know a few, then is the time to add to it. And by now, you’ll be ready!
I know; this goes against everything you might think about learning jazz. You imagine that you “won’t be getting anywhere” or that you’ll never learn all the other stuff.
But the fact is that if you do this for, say, 6 months, you’ll actually be further along than 99% of aspiring jazz pianists who do it the other way. Much further. You’ll be having the time of your life playing all these great melodies, you’ll know them inside and out, and you’ll have developed real fluency with the way you play them.
That’s more than most aspiring jazz pianists can do, and it’s only taken you 6 months! Then you’ll be able to gradually work on the “other stuff” in a way that adds to this fluency and doesn’t hinder you.
Always remember: aim for fluency and you’ll be able to eventually play anything you like. But if you never become fluent, jazz piano will always be a struggle for you.
Here are some jazz lessons to help you become the fluent improviser you have the potential to be.