A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
At a certain point in his career, notably during the late 1950s/early 60s, Coltrane enjoyed writing hard tunes. This is one of them!

“Lazy Bird” has a very difficult chord progression and is meant to be played at a fast tempo. That’s a pretty challenging combination, but with some patient yet persistent practice, you can learn to play it.

Recommended videos/recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

John Coltrane: Blue Train

Denny Zeitlin: Labyrinth

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
The only way to learn to improvise on a tune like “Lazy Bird” is to “take it to the woodshed.” When they needed to practice for extended periods of time, the old-time jazz saxophonists and trumpet players would literally take their instruments out to the woodshed in the backyard. This way they could practice scales and such for many hours without disturbing anyone in the house. Jazz musicians still sometimes use the term “woodshedding” to refer to practicing things that are technically or conceptually challenging.

“Woodshedding” a tune like “Lazy Bird” means that you practice different ways of improvising over the chord progression until it becomes easy for you. Then you can focus on playing clear melodic lines that have an internal logic and focus, so you don’t sound like you’re rambling.

Here are a few ways to practice soloing over “Lazy Bird:”

1. Improvise using chord tones only.
2. Play only one note per chord change
3. Play a stepwise melody in quarter notes, changing the scale to fit each new tonal center
4. Improvising very short phrases, with lots of space between them.

These are just a few of the ways you can become familiar with a challenging set of chord changes. Remember: be patient but persistent, and one day you’ll find that “Lazy Bird” isn’t so difficult for you after all!!!

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
A harmonic analysis of “Lazy Bird”
By flutist Pamela Carr

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