How To Play Beginning Jazz Piano - A Lesson On Developing Your Style

The Late, Great, Dave Brubeck
The Late, Great, Dave Brubeck

Simple Jazz Chords by Audrey Hunt

Learn How To Play Simple Jazz

If there's anything more enjoyable for a pianist than arranging music by creating his own style, I don't know what it is. Working with the late, great, jazz genius, Dave Brubeck, inspired me to do what I can to teach other pianists to reach out and give it a try.

One of the best and easiest ways to develop your piano style is with the use of simple jazz chords.

  • Seated at the piano, pick out the notes to 'Mary had a little lamb.' Play it in the key of C Major, beginning on E with the right hand.
  • Now add left hand triads ( 3 note chords ). The only 2 chords you will play are the 1 and V7 which will be a C chord and a G7, root positions or inverted if you like.
  • Play hands together a couple of times before continuing.
  • Next, you will be playing the same melody, jazz style. This will be so much fun.
  • Again, keeping it simple, let's add the 7th tone to the triads you've just played.
  • Concentrating on just the left hand, play a CMaj7 chord in root position (CEGB.)
  • Correct fingering for this chord is 5321. Play this chord solid, not broken.
  • The next chord is a dm7 in root position (DFAC.)
  • If you're a beginner, stop here and take time to practice forming these chords. Practice until you can play first the CMaj7 to the dm7 and back again. When this becomes automatic and easy proceed to the next step which will show you how to play two popular jazz chords.

Chord
Root
Major Third
Perfect Fifth
Major Seventh
Cmaj7
C
E
G
B
Dm7
D
F natural
A
C natural
 
 
 
 
 
These are your two beginning jazz chords to be played with the left hand

Mary Had A Little Lamb (Simple Jazz, Classical and New Age Style) by Audrey Hunt

Playing Hands Together

Having fun? Want to learn more? Sure you do.

So let's begin by playing hands together.

For beginner's, begin by playing Mary Had A Little lamb adding the jazz chords in the left hand. Note: Play the right hand melody one octave higher instead of the middle of the keyboard. Otherwise the left and right hand will end up sharing middle C when playing some of the chords.

  • Begin by playing the left hand CMaj7 chord and the right hand E together at the same time. You'll hear a popular jazz sound.
  • Next - Hold the left hand CMaj7 chord down while the right hand plays D. Sustain the chord until the next step.
  • Now you will step up one key and play the dm7 chord with the left hand. At the same time, the right hand plays C.
  • Hold down the dm7 chord with the left hand while the right hand plays D.
  • Bring the left hand back down 1 step and play the CMaj7 chord again. The right hand plays E, E. E as the left hand chord is sustained.
  • With the left hand playing the dm7 chord, play D, D.D with the right hand. Hold the chord while you play the 3 D's.
  • Continue on with the left hand playing a CMaj7 chord as the right hand plays an E,G,G. Again, hold the left hand chord until you complete the final G.
  • Then the left hand will play another CMaj7 chord while the right hand plays an E, D. Sustain the left hand chord.
  • Left hand now plays the dm7 chord as the right hand plays a C, D.
  • Play the CMaj7 chord with the right hand playing E, E, E, E. Be sure to hold the chord down.
  • Left hand plays the dm7 chord as the right hand plays D, D, E, D.
  • Then play the CMaj7 chord with the left hand to finish the song with the right hand playing C.


Blues Scale for the Piano by Audrey Hunt

The Blues Scale

The Blues Scale for Piano
The Blues Scale for Piano | Source

How To Play The Blues Scale

The blues scale can be heard in most piano genres from rock and jazz to of course, the blues.

This scale is fun to play and experiment with, and a real buddy for learning to style your piano pieces. Here's how you build a blues scale.

The step pattern for this seditious little scale is 11/2-Whole-Half-Half-11/2-Whole.

  • It has only seven notes
  • It begins with one and one-half steps
  • It has two half-steps in a row

The blues scale consists of 6 different notes. They are simply the 5 notes of the minor pentatonic scale plus one additional note.

The note added is the diminished 5th measured from the scale tonic( the first tone played - the home tone.). Here's an example:

adding to the C minor pentatonic scale: C - Eb - F - G - Bb - C

the diminished 5th - Gb

produces the C Blues scale: C - Eb - F - Gb - Bb - C

In relation to the major scale the notes of the blues scale are: 1 - B3 - 4 - B5 - 5 - B7 - 1

The b3, b5 and b7 notes of the scale for C blues scale: Eb, Gb and Bb are the so called blue notes of the scale.

Warning - the blues scale can become addictive. Watch the video to the right as I play this scale and do a little improvising.

Blues Scales - C - G - D - A - E

Here are the Blues scales for C, G, D, A and E:

C - Eb - F - Gb - G - Bb - C

G - Bb - C - Db - D - F - G\\

D - F - G - Ab - A - C - D

A - C - D - Eb - E - G - A

E - G - A - Bb - B - D - E

Quick Tips For Piano Stylings

Here they are. I'm sharing with you what has taken me a lifetime to learn. Make these tips a priority and the rest is all downhill.

  • Know all major and minor scales like the back of your hand. Why? Because all music is built around scales. When you really know scales, you know musical form. Also, you find that you play piano music well - whether you're playing a Chopin Prelude or Country music, you've learned through scales pretty much what has been written. Your technique allows you the freedom to play without error.
  • Practice playing all kinds of chords in all keys. Arrange them differently to give you that edge when improvising.
  • Never rest on your laurels. This is the fastest way to slide backwards and lose all the knowledge and practice you've put in to your piano playing. You will never maintain a certain level of technique. You either go backwards or forwards. Choose to continue going forward.
  • Sit at the piano and just play. You must become one with the instrument.
  • There is no wrong or right to finding your style of playing. There is also no limit.

2 Must Have Books For Your Piano Library

Mildred Portney Chase
Mildred Portney Chase

...Works toward developing the musician's sensory awareness of the sound, of the touch, of what the entire body is experiencing, so that each tone may sing." - Lee Strasberg

 
Jazz-Blues Piano: The Complete Guide with Audio! Hal Leonard Keyboard Style Series Bk/online audio
Jazz-Blues Piano: The Complete Guide with Audio! Hal Leonard Keyboard Style Series Bk/online audio

(Keyboard Instruction). This comprehensive book/CD pack will teach you the basic skills needed to play jazz-blues piano.

 

Finding Your Own Piano Style

You love to play the piano and you're quite proficient at it. You've had lessons, studied music theory and sight-read well. You love to play all genres of music and even get compliments now and then. But something is missing as you play through some of your favorite songs. You're not sure what it is.

This is where I step in. As a long time professional pianist on cruise lines and other venues I would ask you the following questions. "Are you using your own style? " "What do you experience as you engage yourself with each musical passage?".


"What feelings come up for you? How involved in the music are you?" Because you are the music maker you must be totally involved. It is you alone who is responsible for breathing life into each key you touch, each note you caress.

What then is style as it pertains to the pianist? Scan through the following list to get an idea about piano styles, then go to the very next section to learn how to play 'jazz style.' You're gonna love what you learn here.

Greatest Jazz Pianist of All Time Art Tatum

Lesson on Finding Your Piano-Playing Style

Audrey Hunt's Piano Students - Lesson on Piano Styling
Audrey Hunt's Piano Students - Lesson on Piano Styling | Source

A List of Piano Styles For The Pianist

There are endless combinations of piano styles which influence your own passion for playing a particular style:

  • Classical - This style involves intense training and is basic for most other styles. It's through classical training that we learn about music theory. I was privileged to study Classical piano under my mentor and teacher, Peter Yazbeck at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

It's also important that a classical pianist be introduced to other styles early in their training. Classical artists usually have difficulty trying to learn other styles. For this reason I train my classical pianists within the first year to adapt to and include a variety of other styles.

  • Rhythm and Blues - Based on blues, jazz and gospel, the strong rhythm claims the emphasis along with syncopation (placing the stress on other than the normal stressed beat.) Learning syncopation demands a certain balance using both hands. The great composer Ludwig Beethoven uses syncopation in many of his sonatas.
  • Blues - Most blues songs are based on the 12 bar blues. When playing 1-1V - V chords of a scale, this pattern creates a foundation for melodies. Take time to learn the 12 bar blues pattern.
  • Jazz - This style is impossible to describe as it covers such a broad spectrum of styles. Many styles borrow from jazz, including yours truly. I love playing jazz chords and modulating into other keys. Most improvisation uses jazz voicings and chords.
  • Cocktail Piano - This style is mostly associated with Liberace, Eddy Duchin, Roger Williams and the like. I usually play cocktail style when I have a cruise ship gig or for private parties. This style specializes in difficult runs and flourishes. Show tunes are part of this style.
  • Country and Western - Stems from earlier folk styles and uses the same roots as the blues. Country western uses simple chord progressions and is not as challenging to play .
  • Ragtime - Ragtime uses syncopation in its melodies by placing melodic notes between the stressed beats of the rhythm. Everyone enjoys hearing this style of piano. Ragtime is often considered the first completely American genre, even predating jazz.
  • Boogie-Woogie - This fun but difficult style is based on the blues. It is considered dance music and was popular in the 40's and 50's.
  • Traditional Sacred Piano - This is a style heard mostly in church and is played by reading notation. These hymns allow less of a personal interpretation (although I have been known to do this often,)
  • New Age Piano - This style is hard to define. It reached it's peak in the 80's and 90's with the release of recordings of Enya and Keith Jarrett to mention a few. New Age Music relies on poly chords (two different chords are played at once) and simple two chord progressions. This technique is taken from earlier classical composers such as Stravinsky.


Where Jazz Was Born

A markerNew Orleans -
New Orleans, LA, USA
[get directions]

The Birthplace of Jazz

The #1 Tip To Styling Is Retentive Listening

Retentive listening is one of 14 different ways to listen. When listening to music in this way, your goal is to retain what is being heard. I can't stress the importance of this tip enough. Listen to other piano styles. This is the only way to discover the style you like best. Listen to a different genre of piano music everyday. Even after you decide on a particular style, continue to listen to your favorite artist daily.

As you listen make a mental note of exactly what runs and chords you would like to use in your own playing. Then play a simple melody like 'Mary Had a Little Lamb', 'Silent Night' or 'You Are My Sunshine' and begin building the chords and runs that appeal to you.

As you try different styles, don't get discouraged if you don't sound professional at once. Keep on trying and then try again. The very sounds that you memorize in your mind will begin to take form on the piano.

Also, listen to different artists playing the very same song. Define the differences, selecting what you'd like to play as you work toward developing your own style.

As a college teacher in the Music Theory and Piano Department, I made it a point to assign students musical listening exercises. I even went as far as to hold classes at the beach to teach rhythm and sound by listening to the waves.

I had one piano student who taught himself a mighty impressive jazz style just by duplicating jazz sounds he heard from different recordings of the jazz greats. And he didn't limit himself to all piano arrangements, he also listened to trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, the great upright bass and vocalists such as Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme and more.

Make listening to music a daily, consistent and joyful habit. It will bring you more enlightenment and more ideas than you ever could imagine.


Listen to a variety of piano music to find a style you would like to play.  This is also a good way to help develop ear-training.  Focus and concentrate on musical sounds.  Duplicate bits and pieces on your piano. (Don't worry about mistakes.)
Listen to a variety of piano music to find a style you would like to play. This is also a good way to help develop ear-training. Focus and concentrate on musical sounds. Duplicate bits and pieces on your piano. (Don't worry about mistakes.) | Source

Just Sit at the Piano and Be

Author Mildred Portney Chase wrote a marvelous book. "Just Being at the Piano." This is one of my favorite passages:

"Just being - at the piano - egoless - is to each time seek to reach that place where the only things that exists is the sound and moving toward the sound. The music on the page that was outside of you is now within you, and moves through you. You are a channel for the music, and play from the center of your being. Everything that you have consiously learned, all of your knowledge, and the feelings evoked by that knowledge, emanate from within you. There is a sense of oneness in which the heart of the musician and the heart of the composer meet, in which there is no room for self-conscious thought. You are at one with yourself and the act, and feel as if the playing has already happened and you are effortlessly releasing it. The music is in your hands, in the air, in the room, the music is everywhere and the whole universe is contained in the experience of playing.

Marvelous Book for The Pianist - $8.95

Just Being at the Piano
Just Being at the Piano

"...Works toward developing the musician's sensory awareness of the sound, of the touch, of what the entire body is experiencing, so that each tone may sing." - Lee Strasberg

 

A Quick Review

What important points will help you the most? Let's see how many you can remember.

  • You, alone are the master of your piano music. You are your own muse.
  • Pay attention to your feelings for expressive playing.
  • Your own style lives within you - release it now.
  • Become familiar with all styles of music.
  • Learn simple jazz chords to begin styling and improvising.
  • Select easy melodies and add simple jazz chords.
  • Listen everyday to a variety of artists. Choose the style of piano you are passionate about.
  • Become proficient with left hand chords.
  • Each day review all scales. This is how music is born - from scales.
  • Never 'rest on your laurels.'
  • Sit at the piano and just 'be.' Allow your music to flow through you to each piano key.
  • There is no right or wrong to styling your music. And there is no limit.

I tell my piano angels (students) to "Play from the inside and your music will be found on the outside."

A Final Word

Developing your own piano style is fun. Once you get the hang of it you won't be able to stop experimenting.

Please don't worry about making mistakes. You can't. You are on a journey of discovery filled with surprises. All mistakes are simply stepping stones to progress. The more you practice, the easier it all fits together.

Try some or all of the suggestions listed. Experiment and even combine different styles. Whether you're a beginner or long-time pianist, you are the master and the muse of your own creation.

Be confident and above all, don't judge yourself. Enjoy the journey.

Written by Audrey Hunt aka vocalcoach - © 2013. Permission must be granted by the author for any and all use.


Resources:

http://www.playpiano.com

http://www.basicmusictheory.com

What is your favorite style of piano music?

See results without voting

Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you're listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.

Kelsey Grammer quotes

© 2013 Audrey Hunt

More by this Author


Comments 25 comments

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Great hub here! We have a piano, and I wish I was gifted and could play, but . . . : ( However, my husband and son can play, and I love listening to the piano when they play. They do not play much at all, but I am going to share your hub with them, and maybe it will inspire them to do so more often.

Voted up +++ and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

You are the Queen of Musical Instruction, Audrey. It is always a pleasure reading your hubs because your love of music shines through with each chosen word.

Sending hugs, blessings and love your way

bill


always exploring profile image

always exploring 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

Oh i wish i could play the piano. I have always wanted to learn how. I loved learning about your life as a musician. ( cruise lines ) sounds exciting. Music is a big part of my life, i can't imagine a day without it. Thank you Audrey..Cheers.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

If it was not almost midnight down here I would have practiced jazz now. Will surely do first thing in the morning. Fabulous hub, Àudrey, and those videos are priceless.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

It is so many years since I played the piano but we never forget do we. Voted up Audrey and here's hoping you are having a great weekend my dear friend.

Lots of love from Wales.

Eddy.


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Dear Audrey,

This is a masterpiece of your talent and passion for the piano...I loved each of your videos and the gentle teaching style you exhibited.

I have a penchant for R and B, although I love all styles of music on the piano. This was a delight from start to finish.

Voted UP and UABI. Love, Maria


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

You have definitely outdone yourself, Audrey, with this remarkable, enjoyable hub. Brava, m'dear. You make me wish I had paid greater attention to the piano teacher I had as a child. I didn't progress much farther than 'Fur Elise.' I know if you had been the teacher, I would be in a class beyond compare as a pianist by now. Your videos are marvelous and I especially liked the final one with the 3 piano styles. Thank you, thank you.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 3 years ago

I only wish I had a piano in my home. It has been years since I have played and I think I need a brush up. Your quick review is excellent. I so enjoy listening to classical piano, but jazz is also one of my favorite styles. Enjoyed your post, as always.


tamron profile image

tamron 3 years ago

Great Hub! I took piano lessons for many years as a child. I only wished I would have kept them up into adulthood. Great and inspiring hub!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

Faith ~ How marvelous that the two men in your life both play the piano. So nice to see you here, lending your support to me. Thanks for the votes and for sharing. Hugs ~ Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

billy! Hello my friend. I need to talk with you about the book I'd like to write. You give me such confidence as I read your comments. What a guy!

May your day (and life) be filled with blessings, love and good health. ~ Love, Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

always exploring - Well, I wish you were closer and I'd hop on over and give you some fun piano lessons:) I'm so glad to know that music plays a big part in your life. Remember to sing a song each day. Thanks my beautiful friend ~ Love, Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

Martie - So happy to hear you enjoyed the videos. (My gosh - the camera must add 10 pounds and then some) :)

I plan to make more videos, some for singing and more for piano. Let me know if you need my help or would like to add more jazz chords. Thanks Martie. Love ~ Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

Dear Eddy - Do you still have a piano? Playing is such good therapy. So nice to see you - I love your smile!

Love and hugs ~ Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

marcoujor - Hello my friend. I'm so glad you enjoyed my videos. And thank you for mentioning my 'style' for teaching. Teachers should never be harsh - that's just wrong. I, too, love R and B along with all styles for piano.

I appreciate the generous votes Maria. Thank you and lots of love ~ Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

drbj - Hello Doc! Gee, thank you so much for the very nice 'review.' I'm thrilled to hear that you liked my efforts. And 'Fur Elise' is an accomplishment to be proud of. Thanks for liking the final video. I wanted to record more styles but ran out of ' you tube time." I'd be happy to hitch hike to South Florida and give you a piano lesson or two. :) Thanks a lot!


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

teaches 12345 - How great it would be for you to resume playing piano. I hope you can do that. My favorite music to listen to is Classical too. So pleased that you enjoyed my hub and thank you! ~ Audrey


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

Hi tamr on - I hear this quite a bit :) It's so much easier to learn an instrument when we're young. Thanks for being here and love your comments. ~ Audrey


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Hi Audrey--I love to improvise on a pentatonic scale--fun and easy!


Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya Ghimire 3 years ago from Nepal

I never wanted to learn to play a piano, even though I loved the music. I once tried to learn guitar. However, after 6 weeks of guitar class, I came to know playing music is not my cup of tea.

This is very useful article for piano beginners. I'm sure lots of people with find your tips helpful.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

Audrey - I was hoping you would come here and pay me a visit. I'll bet you are just awesome at improvisation. Thanks my " angel of music."

Vinaya, my friend. So good to see you here. I'm teaching myself the guitar and it's going quite slow:) Thank you for your support. My best to you!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Great instruction, Audrey. I feel like I could sit down and play some jazz. I did study music for 12 years when I was a child and teenager. I loved playing the piano but I cannot play by ear. I have to practice, practice, practice to be able to play. Alas, I gave my piano to my niece and nephews so they could learn piano and I don't have the piano anymore. This hub makes me want to go right out and buy one! I so enjoyed reading this and it brought back pleasant memories.


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 2 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

Hi suzettenaples - Oh, thank you so much for sharing your experience with me. Your kind words just fill my heart with joy! Happiness to you! - Audrey


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

I'm a long time player, and I learned some things from this. And to illustrate a hub on developing your own style, how could you beat that photo of Liberace?


vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 2 years ago from Nashville Tn. Author

RonElFran

Hello there. Your comments mean the world to me, especially with your background in piano performance. Thanks a heap my friend!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working