A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“Sirabhorn” is an early Pat Metheny tune from his first album, Bright Size Life. It’s in ¾ time and has straight 8th notes. Even a quick glance at the leadsheet tells us that we’re not in the land of bebop anymore. This is a type of jazz that sounded very fresh when it first appeared in the 1970s and is still a big part of the jazz world today.

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 Pat Metheny Group: Hamburg 1980 (Video)

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Harmonically, “Sirabhorn” uses the kind of chord progression that was pioneered in the Wayne Shorter in his compositions. The harmonies move freely between tonal centers that may or may not be related. For instance, after the opening C chord, Metheny immediately goes to Bbm. From a key with no flats, to a key with 4 or 5 flats, depending on which mode you use. The Gb which follows this is still on the “flat side,” but Metheny then almost jarringly takes us to Em, just for a moment.

Improvising on a chord progression like this can be fun and exciting, but only after you’ve practiced it enough to not only thoroughly know the chords but to also mentally “hear” them in sequence.

To do this, start by playing just the chords, without improvising yet. Just play them, over and over, slowly as you simply listen to them. This kind of “listening practice” is invaluable and it surprises me that many jazz pianists avoid spending the time doing it. But it’s fun! Become fascinated with how each chord sounds, and how they flow from one to the next.

After a week or so of this intensive listening practice, begin improvising simple melodies over the progression, using the melody as a guide. After a while, you’ll find that your fingers will naturally begin to play more complex lines, almost by themselves. Don’t force, it, but practice chord progressions like this simply, slowly, and let the process take all the time it needs. You’ll go farther in the long run this way.

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

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

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

Take a Free Jazz Piano Lesson

Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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