When learning jazz piano, what’s your next step?

You’re learning jazz piano. You can play some tunes well but don’t sound so good on others (“Giant Steps, anyone?). Rhythm Changes in Bb? No problem! Rhythm Changes in E? Well…. maybe in a few years….

You enjoy learning new chord voicings and have recently discovered new ways to voice dominant 7th chords in the style of your favorite pianist. Excellent! You occasionally get together with some musician friends for a informal jam sessions, but you’re still hesitant about going down to the local club and “sitting in.”

I know the feeling. I was there once too, exactly as I’ve described it.

Do you want to get to a new level? A level where jazz comes easier for you? If so, you need to continually ask yourself the question, “What’s the next step?”

Although answering this question sounds easy in concept, in actual practice it’s very, very difficult. Extremely difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most pianists stay at the same level for years. This is OK sometimes, since you can and should have fun playing music at whatever level you’re at, all the time. But if you want to reach your musical potential, which you know you’re capable of, then you need to always ask and answer this question: “What’s the next step?”

What do you need to practice now? Do you need to stay with one tune for a month and dig deeper into all aspects of it, or would you benefit more from learning the chord changes to 10 new songs? Should you focus on learning a “hard” key like E major very well right now, or would you improve more by transposing “Body And Soul” into all 12 keys, like one of my teachers had me do in college?”

It’s very difficult to know what your next step needs to be. But answering this question will enable you to eventually play jazz at the level you dream of. The level you’re capable of reaching!

Here’s a jazz listening exercise you’ll enjoy!

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