A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Midwestern Nights Dream” is a beautiful, atmospheric piece from guitarist Pat Metheny’s debut album, Bright Size Life. Metheny grew up in the Midwestern state of Missouri, and the folk music and wide-open spaces of that state are evident in this tune. In fact, one of Metheny’s signature achievements was to bring these influences into jazz through his composing and guitar playing.

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.)

Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life

The Gary Burton Quartet: Gary Burton’s Bootleg Series 1976b

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Since “Midwestern Nights Dream” isn’t a typical jazz tune, you can’t just look at the leadsheet and begin playing it right away. You’ll need to get a sense of “how it goes” from listening to the recording. The version on Metheny’s Bright Size Life, which I’ve linked to, above, will get you started. And, since the recording just features guitar, bass and drums, you can play your piano or keyboard along with Metheny, Jaco Pastorious and Bob Moses, as if you’re the pianist in the group!

The tune itself is based around the Bm9 – Gmaj9 chord progression, with just enough additional harmonies added to give some variety and contrast.

Most songs like this that feature finger-style guitar playing sound great when translated to the piano. To craft your own piano arrangement of “Midwestern Nights Dream,” begin by playing measures 1-2 as a vamp, and work out a nice, arpeggiated pattern that brings the GMaj9th chord in on the “and” of beat 2. This will be the basis of the tune, and you can now adapt the pattern to change according to the harmonies throughout. The solo section is easy, since it’s just almost the same as m. 1-2 over and over again, with the addition of a ¾ measure of Em-CMaj9. Notice how these chords are related in the same way that the opening chords were: a m7th chord is followed by a Maj9th chord that’s the interval of a Major 3rd lower. The quality of this chordal motion gives the tune an open, expansive feeling that works well on the piano. “Midwestern Nights Dream” sounds great on piano, whether you’re playing it solo, while leading a trio, or as part of a larger group.

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

Further links and resources:
The Best Way To Use The Real Book

Bright Size Life
An interesting and informative discussion of this landmark album, from ECM records

How To Learn Jazz Piano
A podcast to help you learn jazz piano more effectively

Jazz Piano Video Course
This extensive, well-sequenced video course will get you playing jazz standards with a sense of flow and fluency.

Jazz Piano Lessons via Skype
Personal guidance from an expert, caring teacher. Beginning through Advanced.

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

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